Please do feed The Boxtrolls

Mr Duncan-Smith will see you now

Yesterday I took my children to see The Boxtrolls. It was my youngest’s birthday the other day and he chose a cinema treat. I was pleasantly amazed to find out that Cineworld do an offer for children on Saturday mornings called Movies for Juniors with tickets costing only £1.50 each. It was also nice to discover that cinemas still show films on a Saturday morning, as I’d formed the impression this had gone out of fashion in about 1965.

Cineworld had one other film to choose from in Movies for Juniors but it looked a bit babyish, and as my juniors are now 8 and 9, a PG movie seemed more suitable. Otherwise, I hadn’t heard of The Boxtrolls, which turns out to have been released in the UK last September. It was one of the few films I’ve ever gone to watch at the cinema purely because it was “on”, rather than because I’d heard anything good about it beforehand, or anything about it at all in this case, so I had no preconceptions. So the last thing I expected to be doing afterwards was blogging about it, but the film had such a superb message that I couldn’t not. (Spoiler warning for the below.)

The Boxtrolls threatened to put me off almost immediately with its grotesque styling and the apparent abduction of a child. Don’t let me put you off, though, as it gets better. The style didn’t improve, as such; everything in this film is ugly, from the characters brutally caricatured to the Tim Burtonesque twisted Dickensian backdrops. I couldn’t tell whether it was live animation or Toy Story-strength CGI run through a steampunk filter, although an easter egg after the main end credits appears to show it was the former. The Boxtroll creatures eat handfuls of chunky insects; an allergic reaction causes an already-ugly character’s face to swell to Elephant Man proportions; someone spits out a gigantic mouthful of cheese… and let’s not get into the leeches. It’s basically gross, and arouses more disgust than hilarity. But the way most of the characters feel, think and behave is worse.

At the start of the film the Boxtrolls are monsters. We know this because there’s a team of “exterminators” out trying to catch them, and the creatures are also blamed for the abduction of the baby – albeit the town’s aristocratic mayor-figure isn’t interested in the child’s fate, still less who took him. The funny green creatures dressed in cardboard boxes are then shown popping up from the sewers around the town in the dead of night, hunting for things: specifically, metal and mechanical objects. Some of these are stolen, such as metal house-numbers off front doors, but the Boxtrolls mostly seem to rummage in dustbins and alleyways for discarded trinkets. One demonstrates skill and intelligence by fixing a broken alarm-clock, another goes around oiling anything that squeaks. The exterminators are three men, two of whom chat to each other and ponder their role as “the good guys”; they decide that’s what they must be because their job is to rid the town of monsters. The third exterminator never engages in conversation, and in fact is clearly insane, trigger-happily shooting anything that moves.

Their leader Snatcher is a vile and unscrupulous caricature, somewhere between the Child-Catcher, Fagin and one of Gerald Scarfe’s teachers from The Wall. Voiced unrecognisably by Ben Kingsley in full East End gangster mode, he and his team operate out of a giant factory-like building accessorised with a furnace. They wear crumbly red top-hats, but the “mayor” (his name is Lord Portley-Rind – his official role isn’t actually very clear) and his cheese-gorging cronies all wear perfect white hats. Snatcher desperately wants a white hat as compensation for “saving the town” from the “menace” of the Boxtrolls, but Portley-Rind is having none of it; the White Hat has to be earnt (or you can simply get one by “being rich”, as one of the White Hat-wearers explains, without irony). When we see how grotesque Snatcher is, and get a glimpse into the Boxtrolls’ industrious subterranean community, and see how little the white-hatted elite care about anything but their cheese parties, and hear how terrified the townsfolk are of the Boxtrolls despite never having seen one, it becomes clear who the actual monsters are in this particular social equation.

The film is an allegory about any government-terrorised modern society, but rings especially true with Britain under the current coalition. To say Snatcher is Iain Duncan-Smith would probably be libellous if only because the comparison makes the Work & Pensions Secretary out to be more pleasant than he actually is. The Boxtrolls could be people on benefits, disabled people, poor people, unemployed people, “scroungers”, immigrants, ethnic minorities, anybody “different” or not playing by the “rules”, or all of these; they may dress in cardboard boxes but are shown by their orderliness, teamwork and desire to quietly get on with their lives to be valuable members of society. Snatcher’s desperation to become part of the elite by sucking up to it through any means possible, and its snobbish refusal to give him the recognition – and white-hatted “good guy” validation – he craves, is telling of both the psychological motivation of a sociopath and of the aristocracy’s hypocrisy (those two words go together so well in fact that there should exist a mashup neologism like “arihystopracy”). The elite will employ the real dregs of society to do their dirty work to weed out what they, the elite, decide are the actual dregs, but the relationship only goes one way. Snatcher even covets the cheese the White Hats spend their days feasting on, despite suffering monstrous anaphylactic shock if he so much as touches the stuff. (My only criticism of the film in fact is its unfair portrayal of cheese as either a luxury of rich wasters or a trigger for monsterdom.)

In a superb twist, the Boxtrolls’ “child abduction” – the semi-mythical “Trubshaw Baby” event on which the town’s fear of the creatures is based – turns out to have been a humanitarian adoption after Snatcher’s team dispensed with the baby’s father for consorting with the Boxtrolls. By contrast with the exclusionary elite and its henchmen, the father, a gifted inventor, embraced the creatures for their ingenuity and treated them as equals, in a symbiotic learning/teaching relationship. The boy grows up thinking he is a Boxtroll, knowing nothing of his real father. The Boxtrolls’ names come from the labels on the packaging boxes they wear, so the boy is called Eggs, while his adoptive father is Fish; later Eggs witnesses Fish being abducted, in turn, by the exterminators, and this prompts him to visit the town disguised as a “real boy” to try and find his “father”. Here he finds the “real people” being spun lie after lie about the Boxtrolls, who, unbeknown to both the people and the creatures, are keeping their lives in check: as long as there is an ongoing war between the two, the people feel protected and the exterminators and their employers, paid for out of their taxes, self-justify by being seen to be doing that protection. It’s a wheeze we’ve all seen so often.

Luckily meanwhile, Eggs runs into Portley-Rind’s daughter Winnie, who with her pink cheeks and gold hair is stylised as the only non-ugly thing in the film. (One other disappointment is that there aren’t many female characters to identify with.) Winnie follows Eggs into the Boxtrolls’ subterranea and is livid at not seeing the “piles of baby bones” and “rivers of blood” propagated by the townsfolk myths. This use of the term commonly associated with Enoch Powell may seem crude, but it cleverly takes a phrase of threat (i.e. “mass immigration will create rivers of blood”, in other words your blood, so it mustn’t happen) and turns it into one of promise (“believe me, these monsters are so wonderfully despicable that they positively bathe in rivers of blood”, i.e. this is already happening and has to go on happening for you to continue to find them monstrous). Neglected by her father, whose idea of parenting is to give her a castle to live in yet not actually listen to anything she says, Winnie and Eggs try to work out how to set the record straight and tell the town the truth about the Boxtrolls. “We need a father!” says Eggs, naively believing that Lord Portley-Rind will help them. Indeed, when they manage to infiltrate a party thrown by Portley-Rind for top society folk, Eggs has a scene revealing himself to the crowd as the Trubshaw Baby, but nobody wants to believe it. Instead the mayor announces that “We were going to build a children’s hospital, but we decided to spend the money on the world’s biggest wheel of cheese.” When this enormous Emmenthal becomes as unhinged as the exterminators and ends up in the sea, white-hatted “good guy” Portley-Rind sighs “We may as well have built a children’s hospital now…”

The final scene sees Snatcher controlling a gigantic steampunk power-loader, having apparently exterminated all the Boxtrolls and now symbolically finishing off Eggs in front of a baying crowd, albeit only on the condition that Portley-Rind gives him his White Hat once he can say Mission Accomplished. Portley-Rind is still reluctant but, like all terrible leaders, gives in to the demands of the crowd, and it’s only when Snatcher’s two chattering henchmen finally realise the only way to become the good guys is to turn tail on their paymaster that the day is saved. Asked to press the button on Snatcher’s monstrous machine that will drop Eggs into a bonfire, one exterminator reflects that “This certainly stretches the definition of ‘hero’,” one of the best and truest lines of the film. The Boxtrolls have not, in fact, been exterminated at all: earlier, Eggs railed at the creatures for not doing more to stand up and defend themselves – an accusation that our society’s most vulnerable may very well be levelling against each other under the coalition’s divide-and-rule ideology – but finally they do. It may be depressing that they only set themselves free at the behest of Eggs, who bears more resemblance to the ruling society than to the Boxtrolls and whom they look up to perhaps like a charismatic political leader, but their self-liberation is nonetheless a positive characteristic, compared to what may instead have been a social uprising with all its attendant blood-spillage.

Having said how superb the film is, I doubt I would go and see it again because it is pretty revolting, as I say. But it is worth seeing, with or without your kids in tow (preferably with), and I am heartened that a children’s film was wise enough to tackle inequality and fascism in such a bold way.

Plain packaging law will make it impossible for Ukip to draw up policies on back of a fag packet, complains Farage

nigel-farage-smokingUkip leader Nigel Farage today criticised proposed new plain cigarette packaging laws as “unworkable”.

“This legislation will make life very hard for our policy team, who work on the backs of fag packets all the time,” said Farage.

“These aren’t plain packs at all, they will be plastered with pictures of blackened lungs, tumours and God knows what else. It’s an unacceptable intrusion into the manufacture and promotion of political propaganda.”

Nigel Farage has a postgraduate degree in smoking, and claims to have studied Advanced Tobacco Consumption at the University of Middle England, Britainshire.

Public Health Minister Jane Ellison told MPs that the government’s move to prohibit branded cigarette packaging was likely to have a positive impact on public health, particularly for children.

“My children are proud passive smokers,” railed Farage. “Giving yourself and others around you lung cancer is a fundamental British right.

“Since Sir Walter Raleigh introduced the weed to Britain we have had a great tradition in this country of many disgusting chest conditions and making the environment horrible for other people.

“I’ve nothing against our non-smoking neighbours, they’re very welcome to come to Britain just as long as they leave after 24 hours, don’t take benefits and don’t use our beloved NHS, which I want to privatise as soon as possible.”

Further reading:

Victory for the Conservatives in Rochester

The Conservatives scored a victory over the Conservatives last night at the closely-fought Rochester and Strood by-election.

Conservative candidate Mark Reckless, whose defection from the Conservatives triggered the by-election, said: “I am delighted to have been re-elected as the Conservative member of Parliament and promise to continue to represent this area’s Conservative interests, such as being horrible to poor and disabled people and immigrants, and privatising the NHS.”

Conservative party leader Nigel Farage said, “Mark Reckless’s win for the Conservatives in Rochester shows that the Conservatives now have serious support in the United Kingdom, and voters can clearly see that as a public-school educated ex-hedge-fund manager, I represent a true alternative to the Conservative government, which is woefully out of touch with the man on the street.”

The man on the street said, “I was proud to have voted for the Conservative Mark Reckless because the Conservative Mark Reckless had been my MP for quite a while, and it’s time to give someone else a chance. We need real change.”

Conservative party leader and Prime Minister David Cameron commented, “Our loss to the Conservative candidate Mark Reckless, who until very recently don’t forget was a Conservative, is a sign of the total stupidity of the voting public.”

Conservative party leader Ed Miliband, whose candidate Naushabah Khan came third in the poll, said: “We the Conservatives are not deterred by the result. Don’t forget that this constituency was a Conservative stronghold until we lost it to the Conservatives just a few years ago. We will continue to campaign for those hit hardest by Conservative policies, such as the Bedroom Tax, which don’t forget we introduced in the first place, and will repeal at the earliest opportunity because it isn’t very popular with our core voters, who are the affluent middle-classes in Islington. Or possibly it’s those quaint people with white vans and England flags draped outside their windows… I honestly can’t remember. I need to see today’s Sun before I can tell you.”

Conservative candidate Kelly Tolhurst, who came in second behind Reckless, said: “Vote BNP.”

Sick of this? Vote Green.

Please donate to help children in Gaza

Recently my children went on holiday for a few weeks with their mum, and one of the things I did with them before they went was play football with them in a field nearby. As we played, two boys we didn’t know came over and asked if they could join in. So here was dad wheezing around being beaten at football by four boys aged between 7 and 11. At the end of the afternoon when the other boys had to go home one of them said to me “Thanks for playing with us.” I was profoundly touched by his politeness, and it came back to me the other day when I saw on the news that four Palestinian boys, also aged from 7 to 11, had been killed in deliberate targeting by the Israeli army while they were playing football on a beach in Gaza. Children are fair game in Israel’s vile war, so until the perpetrators are brought to justice and all this shit stops, please donate to a cause such as Save the Children’s emergency campaign because by any stretch of the imagination, however you define a terrorist, it isn’t a kid playing football. Thank you.

Democracy, DRIP and digital dunces

Yesterday I replied to a tweet by the excellent campaigning organisation 38 Degrees asking for experiences of “so-called digital democracy”. In the past few days I’ve been emailing my MP to ask that he not support the outrageous, and outrageously rushed-through, DRIP bill (for a useful summary of what this is and “how it will help MPs ruin our lives”, see today’s superb article by Charlie Brooker). I’ve still received no reply from my MP (and have only ever had standard letter replies to similar approaches in the past) and said as much to 38 Degrees. Ironically MPs must have been paying attention to that because today I got a reply to that tweet from the Twitter account for the Speaker’s Commission on Digital Democracy, “engaging” with me, or at least asking me to take their survey on what I really feel about the subject. Later I attempted to watch today’s live stream of the commission hearing, although despite their website saying the link to this would be posted on their website the day before the hearing, it wasn’t even posted on there today. An inauspicious start, you might say. Anyway, copied below are my answers to their survey questions.

Question: Members of Parliament are elected to represent local people’s interests in the House of Commons. How can the internet and social media help with this?
TC: I think this is a red herring. Politicians like to think they can use the latest technology to connect with the people, but all they want to do is use it for propaganda and to curtail our privacy. There are very few politicians who use either the internet or social media to any effect. Caroline Lucas and the Green Party do it very well. The lunatic fringe of UKIP and the Tories just use it to spread hate and fear. Labour constantly use it to make announcements but don’t care what even their own voters have to say by way of comment. Politicians don’t have to use these channels to be effective, for instance Glenda Jackson is a true conviction politician I admire but I never hear about her Twitter account, whereas I do see her Commons performances circulated on social media by others. It’s the content that’s important, not the medium.

Does social media enhance the local link for MPs, or undermine it by involving them in more national and international discussions?
It probably gives them more to do, and a greater opportunity to connect with the people they represent, which could be exploited to better effect. “National and international discussions” is irrelevant, unless the MP in question is a cabinet minister or foreign secretary etc. My local MP does tweet about things he’s doing in the area although it often comes across more as a self-justification/party political broadcast exercise.

Use of interactive technology is increasing. Is this likely to increase pressure for more direct democracy, such as crowd-sourcing, referendums and citizens’ initiatives?
“Direct democracy” is a joke. It’s gesture politics. Barely any politicians are interested in democracy and certainly don’t want to use the internet or social media to give people *more* power.

What will democracy look like in 15 – 20 years?
I hold out very little hope for the future of “democracy”. Politicians are only interested in serving themselves and their peers. They will continue to curtail people’s freedoms as long as people let this happen.

Most people still get most of their news from television, although this seems to be changing in favour of online information. Traditional news organisations are also changing. What impact will this have on elections and democracy in general?
Traditional news organisations are changing for the worse. The BBC is no longer independent and doesn’t represent what people need to see or hear. The BBC censors news that isn’t in the interests of the government and gives disproportionate amounts of airtime to unelected extremists. None of this bodes well for “democracy”.

How can online provision of information about elections be improved, including details of where to vote, how to vote and the results?
Central website independently managed (not political) with details of all polling stations (with maps and transport links), details of all candidates and their policies, and results. [Note: I nearly offered my services in building such a site, but thought better of it.]

Can we expect continuous election campaigning through digital channels – what would citizens feel about that and would it undermine or strengthen representative democracy?
This happens already through the existing channels and I pay little attention to it. The extremists just use it for inflammatory speech, which gets all the attention anyway. Campaigning is mostly depressing, meaningless nonsense and has little to do with really connecting with the public. You don’t engage with me by standing on a soap box in an M&S jumper, or “digital equivalent”, you do it by not making the police kettle me when I exercise my democratic right to protest against your policies.

Do you have any other comments?
I’d like to think there is a point in this exercise but I really have no confidence in most MPs or in the “democratic process”. I doubt that anyone reading this [at the Commission] will care about that. It seems to be the sole aim of the political system to make voters feel impotent to change anything or find a political party that actually represents their interests. The internet, social media and digital privacy/civil liberties are being largely abused by politicians, as they do with everything else. These comments come not from some radical 15-year-old but from a white, middle-class, middle-aged, reasonably well-educated, self-employed ethnically British voter. I hope you’re all feeling suitably ashamed of what you’ve done to the democratic process.

#NoMoreAusterity coverage – a response from the BBC

I have received a reply from the BBC to my complaint, as follows (with my comments inline):

Thanks for contacting us about coverage of the People’s Assembly anti-austerity demonstration on 21 June.

We understand you feel there was insufficient coverage of this demonstration by BBC News.

We have received a wide range of feedback about our coverage of this story. In order to use our TV licence fee resources efficiently, this general response aims to answer the key concerns raised, but we apologise in advance if it doesn’t address your specific points in the manner you would prefer.

Your concerns were raised with senior editorial staff at BBC News who responded as follows:

“We covered this demonstration on the BBC News Channel with five reports throughout Saturday evening, on the BBC News website on Sunday, as well as on social media.”

I kept looking for a report on the BBC News website and their iPhone app throughout the weekend and never saw anything. The BBC did tweet just before 11am on the Sunday, at exactly the same time I was writing my complaint and blog post (having waited, I feel, a very reasonable length of time before doing so). The news report consisted of three short paragraphs, with a link to a video of 24 seconds of footage of random marchers with no commentary and no mention of any speakers, despite these being the usually high-profile Russell Brand as well as an elected member of parliament, Caroline Lucas.

The BBC reply continues:

“We choose which stories we cover based on how newsworthy they are and what else is happening and we didn’t provide extensive coverage because of a number of bigger national and international news stories that day, including the escalating crisis in Iraq, British citizens fighting in Syria and the death of Gerry Conlon.”

Also reported extensively that day was a fire in a retailer’s warehouse in which nobody was hurt, as well as a story about a man who tried to grab the Queen’s baton. Both “bigger national and international news stories” I’m sure.

The point here is that nobody is expecting the BBC to prioritise a peaceful march (even one by 50,000 people) over the stories about Iraq and Syria they cite above, but to include it as part of their normal news coverage on the website and the app. In the old days (i.e. before the Internet), TV and radio programmes were the BBC’s only news outlets, and those bulletins obviously had a time-limit (and still do, 24-hour rolling news channels notwithstanding). A website and app however can contain and feature as much content as they want it to, and can be updated whenever they like as news changes. The story about the march was plainly buried on both platforms.

“We frequently report on the UK economy and what it means for the British public. We also reflect the concerns of people such as those demonstrating, and others who hold opposing views, across our daily news output on TV, radio as well as online, and we also explore them in more depth including in our political programming and current affairs investigations, debates on ‘Question Time’ and during interviews and analysis on programmes such as ‘PM’ and ‘Newsnight’.

Ooh, sounding a tad defensive there. I wonder why?

“Inevitably, there may be disagreements over the level of prominence we give to stories, but we believe our coverage of this subject has been fair and impartial.”

Dear BBC. Please don’t patronise me. During the European elections all Nigel Farage had to do was fart and the BBC News app was updated to inform us within seconds. We all know you have an agenda. Or are you trying to tell me that it’s purely a coincidence that your new head of press and media relations, who starts in post next month, used to work for the Department for Work & Pensions?

My complaint to the BBC about lack of coverage of #NoMoreAusterity

I have just submitted the following complaint to the BBC:

I was shocked and disappointed not to see any coverage on your news website or iPhone news app either yesterday or so far today about the “No More Austerity” march in central London yesterday. An estimated 50,000 people attended the march which was addressed by people including Caroline Lucas MP and TV personality Russell Brand. The crowd were protesting peacefully against the government’s relentless austerity measures and its dire effects on public services and the poor and vulnerable in society. In the afternoon yesterday, Russia Today reported on the march. Later in the evening the Guardian reported on it.  Members of your news staff on Twitter such as @jameshardy61, @tobycastle and @charlierose1 had not tweeted about it despite (re)tweeting other news items in the previous few hours, and did not reply to my tweets asking why this was. This lack of coverage of a large protest is craven to the government and as such a complete betrayal of your values as a public service broadcaster. BBC current affairs has become the shame of a once-great broadcasting service. I await your explanation of the reasons for the lack of coverage with great interest.

Send your own complaint here.

The Top 44 Swears from @GaiaTheorist

Badger I didn’t expect to be doing another of these (or in fact any ;-)) blog posts quite so soon, but, having had far too much fun with The Kraken Wakes’s top swears a couple of weeks ago, I couldn’t resist doing the same for GaiaTheorist. A bit of background: I started following Gaia in around December 2012 when either someone I was following retweeted something by her, or I just noticed their conversation – I can’t remember which – but the first tweet of hers I ever read contained the unforgettable outburst “badger-vajazzling fucknuts”. I actually can’t locate that precise tweet right now, and I fear the third word may have been “fuckcrumpets” or “cocktrumpets” or “bumgraters” or something else, even, but the “badger-vajazzling” element was definitely present. I was on a busy train heading home from an evening out at the time and I could barely contain myself, just sat there staring at this tweet in hilariated disbelief through watering eyes. My faith in humanity was reassured by the very existence of such inventiveness. I mean what sort of imagination comes up with the adjective “badger-vajazzling”? I started following Gaia immediately on the strength of it.

Gaia also blogs and, even though she herself would probably disagree, she is a very good writer with a fantastic feel for language and a true passion for a number of subjects. Her blog is not for the faint-hearted and she never dresses anything up; in this way she is similar to The Kraken Wakes, although Gaia’s posts are personal, not political; the honesty’ll kill ya. I have implored her many times to write a novel or a memoir or something; for all I know there is actually an epic Gaiatheory in progress but I certainly hope not too much time passes before we see something substantial issue from her laptop. By “substantial” I only mean quantity; I hope she never changes her style, or stops being so direct.

Throughout 2013 I favourited Gaia’s best outbursts and the other day created a custom timeline (below) of selected tweets from her account using Tweetdeck’s nifty new feature. (Technical note: I did this by first showing a column of all my favourites by all users, then filtered that column by her username, then created the new, empty, timeline and dragged selected tweets into it; TweetDeck then lets you “share” the custom timeline including embedding it into your website using a widget from The tweets aren’t in any particular order (it seems that once you get past a certain number of tweets in a custom timeline, you can no longer manually order them, they just go to the top or the bottom or in the middle, which is a bit rubbish) but perhaps that makes this list (of 44 tweets by my count) even more exciting because you simply don’t know WHAT’S going to come next. You may start to notice a couple of themes developing, such as the dilapidated boiler, “Goatchild” (her teenage son, his privacy protected by a pagan pseudonym), office madness, coffee consumption, personal injury and more. Also, a few of these tweets are not actually sweary but were chosen for other literary qualities.

So here’s the list. CAUTION: 99% of these tweets contain SWEARS. As for my previous post, if you are of a delicate disposition and feel that saying “badger-vajazzling fucktrumpets” is somehow more offensive than, say, what the government is doing to half the country at the moment, LOOK AWAY NOW!

UPDATE 22/6/14: The tweets have since disappeared from the custom timeline because Gaia’s account has recently become protected. They were very funny though, believe me, and you can still send her a follow request.

The Top 20 Swears from The Kraken Wakes

Happy new year! For my first post of 2014 I’d like to talk a bit about one of my favourite blogs, The Kraken Wakes. Professional wordsmith and “rantologist” Cath Janes regularly takes to task (well, ok, rages against) the very worst of the media, the internet, and people in general who are just basically wrong and infuriating. Cath also has a very distinctive style, perfectly expressing how close she is to exploding with the use of a unique and original vocabulary of swears. Some reading this might think “Hmm” (and indeed if you are easily offended please look away now), but trust me, swearing can be hilarious and justified when done properly and with imagination. Writerists and bloggeuses of all persuasions may also note that one of the reasons the blog works so well is because the tone is so honest and unusual; to make a mark with a blog (The Kraken Wakes has been shortlisted for a number of awards) you don’t just have to write well, or write about something interesting (or about something which interests you), you should also use your own, personal, real voice – and Cath does this in spades.

So anyway, the other day Cath tweeted a rant (yes, she also rants on Twitter) which prompted this conversation:


Which made me think: That’s an idea 🙂 So I did.

I first of all went through her blog for some of my favourite rants and found about 25 excellent swears in around only a dozen posts. I then attempted to whittle them down to 10. This proved impossible so I decided on a top 20. I made a few daft notes and, with the aid of a backing track of a cheesy compilation I found on YouTube, recorded this to Audioboo. Needless to say, it contains some very strong language! NSFW etc. If you’re listening in the office or something, the actual text is provided below (which also has links to some of the original posts).

Thoughtcat’s favourite 20 swears from The Kraken Wakes

20. “Oh, for the love of fuck!” (Kraken Wakes passim)

This is pretty standard Kraken swearage but we here at Thoughtcat FM like it because it neatly combines a common idiomatic phrase with the word “fuck”.

19. “arse-tearing short-sightedness”

And I don’t think she’s wishing she went to Specsavers!

18. “the intellectual equivalent of being forced to roam barefoot through Satan’s polyp-riddled colon”

Here at pop towers we’ve never actually done this but we don’t feel like trying!

17. “crystal-fumbling knob-swab”

Sadly the context of this one has been misplaced but we get the impression The Kraken is heartily unimpressed with someone.

16. “it actually disables my various sphincters to the point where I nearly drown”

You said it! And we emphatically agree!

15. A tie between “Hot knackersacks!” and “the knacker-dragging world of knacker-draggers”

Hot knackersacks sounds incredibly like something we’d like to forget! And those knacker-draggers are sure dragging their knackers like some genitaltastic neanderthals.

14. “heartless twat-badger”

We weren’t sure about this one at first because here at pop towers we’re old friends with Brian May and we love badgers, and they’ve been getting a hard enough time as it is lately. But on balance, damn, it’s a great swear!

13. Tatler is “a magazine that is the equivalent of an aristocrat’s rectal polyp”

We couldn’t agree with you more Cath! In fact we’re tearing up copies as we speak.

12. “It’s bad e-fucking-nough”

We wholly concur with the insertion of “fucking”, if you’ll pardon the expression, between existing syllables of an adverb – or is “enough” here used as a determiner or pronoun? Answers on a postcard please!

11. “the piss-flapped stupidity of it exponentially stunned me”

Superb use of mathematical terminology here, Ms Janes!

10. “the cock-fumbling ball-cuppers who produce ‘sexy’ school uniforms”

Absolutely downrightly politically incorrectly correct you are Cath, it’s just disgusting.

9. “I’ll set fire to it with my own flaming piss”

That’s the best superhero power I’ve ever heard! This sure isn’t a woman you’d want to be near when she was about to burst!

8. “I couldn’t give a flying fuck in a fuck factory”

Now we know you don’t really think this Cath, we think you’re really pissed off! But we can dig it.

7. “Who in the caverns of Satan’s crucible of spaff wants to grow up in a world where all teenagers know how to shoot guns?”

Right on once again. I’d personally far prefer to swim in Satan’s spaff than live in such a world… sadly I don’t think this is an option open to me. Read into that what you will.

6. “ever-prancing snot-bangle”

Let’s face it, all kids go through that phase! It lasts about 18 years.

5. “why in the lurching fibroid of fuck are so many parents so incapable of controlling their kids in playgrounds?”

Simply geniusly expressed. Learn some manners, mums and dads!

4. “they should know one bollock of a lot better”

They certainly should, even if it means having an extra bollock. Give em a bollocking, that’s what we say. (Extra points for alliteration)

3. “I have no idea who created I Spy but I’d like to tie the fucker to the back bumper of my car and drag him over shards of frozen piss”

Whew! Is there nothing the Kraken won’t rage against?! Poor old I-Spy, really. Except when you’re on a long car journey and you’ve endured 52 rounds of it, then I know just what you mean.

2. “OK magazine hasn’t apologised for being fat-hating wank-tassels”

And as far as we know they still haven’t. All body sizes are good with us here at pop towers and a big wet fart to those media specimens who can’t see past the end of their own prejudices.

And at number one, the one that caused us the biggest L-O-L:

“Who in the blathering staggerment of ruptured cockage actually cares about this stuff?”

Absolutely, you go girl! Er, if that’s not a sexist comment or anything. Although to give her her due the Kraken’s pretty damn tolerant towards men and their appendages. We here at pop towers are counting our lucky stars for that one I can tell you.

Anyway I hope you enjoyed this. It was good fun to do and I may in fact have another crack at audio verbalisation and/or a list of good swears from other bloggers and tweeters in future, so stay tuned…

PCC: complaints about the Daily Mail’s coverage of the Mick Philpott story “not upheld”

A couple of days ago I received an email from Simon Yip of the Press Complaints Commission in response to my complaint about the Daily Mail’s coverage of the Mick Philpott case, which I blogged about back in April.

To my surprise there didn’t seem to be any coverage of this judgment in the media that day, so I’m reproducing here the text of Mr Yip’s email, with some further comments of my own beneath.

I write further to our recent correspondence regarding your complaint against the Daily Mail.

As you will be aware, the Commission received a number of complaints under Clause 1 (Accuracy) of the Editors’ Code of Practice, in relation to two articles which were published following Michael Philpott’s conviction. These were investigated with two lead complainants, in accordance with the Commission’s normal procedures for the investigation of articles which are the subject of multiple complaints.

The investigation of these complaints has now concluded, and the Commission’s rulings have been issued to the parties. The Commission’s decisions, which found no breach of the Code, are set out below for your reference.

I would like to thank you for bringing your concerns to our attention.

With best wishes,

Simon Yip

Commission’s decision in the case of
A woman v Daily Mail

The Commission received a number of complaints in relation to this article. As such, a lead complainant was selected for the purposes of the Commission’s investigation, in accordance with its standard procedures. The complainant was concerned about a front page article which reported Michael Philpott’s conviction for manslaughter following the deaths of six of his children. She considered that, in failing to distinguish clearly between comment, conjecture and fact, the article had breached Clause 1 (Accuracy) of the Editors’ Code of Practice. In particular she was concerned about statements that Mr Philpott had “bred” his children “to milk the welfare state”, that Mr Philpott “embodies everything that is wrong with the welfare state” and the headline: “Vile Product of Welfare UK”. The complainant considered that this inaccurately suggested that the death of Mr Philpott’s children had been caused by the welfare state. She also considered that it was misleading for the article to have omitted statements from the trial that Mr Philpott viewed his children as a symbol of his own virility; she was of the view that this demonstrated that it was inaccurate to suggest that he viewed the children as a source of income. The complainant was further concerned that the article had not emphasised Mr Philpott’s history of domestic violence.

Clause 1(i) states that “the press must take care not to publish inaccurate, distorted or misleading information”; under Clause 1(iii) “the press, whilst free to be partisan, must distinguish clearly between comment, conjecture and fact”.

The newspaper said that the headline had referred to Mr Philpott, not his crime, as being the “vile product of welfare UK”. It said it recognised that this crime was uniquely horrific, and that it was not seeking to generalise from Mr Philpott to the millions of genuine benefits claimants in the UK. The suggestion that Mr Philpott viewed his children as “cash cows” had originally been made in court by the prosecuting barrister who said that “Michael Philpott did not want to work. He just wanted a house full of kids and the benefit money that brings.” The newspaper was of the view that the statement that Mr Philpott “embodies everything that is wrong with the welfare state” was clearly comment, and that its readers would have understood it as such.

Turning first to the complainant’s concerns about the headline, the Commission considered that, taken in the context of the article as a whole, this was an expression of the newspaper’s opinion of Mr Philpott’s character, rather than an assertion that the welfare state was responsible for his crime. In coming to this view, the Commission had particular regard for the fact that the three sub-headlines had referred explicitly to Mr Philpott, his guilt, previous history of violence, and “boasts” of a “sordid lifestyle” – as well as the fact that the article had commenced with a number of statements relating to Mr Philpott’s character, before turning to refer to the specifics of his crime. The headline was a subjective assessment of Mr Philpott in the light of his crimes; it was the newspaper’s opinion that he was “vile”. Consequently it was clear that this was not a statement of fact. As such the Commission did not consider that the newspaper had failed to clearly distinguish this as comment in breach of Clause 1(iii).

The statement that Mr Philpott “embodies everything that is wrong with the welfare state” was a metaphorical expression of the newspaper’s view that Mr Philpott personified its more general concerns about the welfare system. Such a view was clearly a matter of interpretation, and the Commission did not therefore consider that readers were being invited to treat it as a statement of fact. Similarly, the suggestion that Mr Philpott had treated his children as “cash cows” or had used them to “milk” the welfare state was an interpretation of his having funded a widely discussed lifestyle through benefits designed to support his children. The newspaper had been entitled to rely upon views expressed in open court in advancing its opinion on this point, and in doing so it had not presented these as statements of fact. In the light of this, the fact that the newspaper had not published alternative explanations for Mr Philpott’s having had a large number of children had not meant that the article was significantly misleading. Neither had the newspaper been obliged to focus upon his history of domestic violence, although the Commission noted that this was detailed in another article, published in the same edition of the newspaper. There was no breach of Clause 1.

The Commission noted the fact that many complainants had found this article, particularly the headline, deeply offensive; however, it made clear that the terms of the Editors’ Code of Practice do not address issues of taste and offence. The Code is designed to address the potentially competing rights of freedom of expression and other rights of individuals, such as privacy. Newspapers and magazines have editorial freedom to publish what they consider to be appropriate provided that the rights of individuals – enshrined in the terms of the Code which specifically defines and protects these rights – are not compromised. It could not, therefore, comment on this aspect of the complaint further.

Commission’s decision in the case of
A woman v Daily Mail

The Commission received a number of complaints in relation to this article. As such, a lead complainant was selected for the purposes of the Commission’s investigation, in accordance with its standard procedures. The complainant was concerned about an article which commented on the welfare state with reference to Michael Philpott’s conviction for manslaughter. She considered that this had contained inaccurate and misleading information, in breach of Clause 1 (Accuracy) of the Editors’ Code of Practice. The article, headlined “Michael Philpott is a perfect parable for our age: His story shows the pervasiveness of evil born out of welfare dependency”, was opinion piece which criticised what the columnist viewed as abuse of the welfare state highlighted by Mr Philpott’s trial, which the columnist considered to have “lifted the lid on the bleak and often grotesque world of the welfare benefit scroungers”.

The complainant had two general concerns about the accuracy of the article. Firstly, she considered that the article had inaccurately attributed responsibility for Mr Philpott’s crimes to the welfare state, or suggested that these crimes could be explained by the desire to claim benefits. In addition, the complainant was concerned that the article had misleadingly suggested that Mr Philpott and his family were representative of welfare claimants as a whole.

Clause 1(i) states that the press must take care not to publish inaccurate, misleading or distorted information”. Clause 1(iii) states that “the press, whilst free to be partisan, must distinguish clearly between comment, conjecture and fact”.

The Commission first turned to consider the complaint that the article suggested that Mr Philpott’s crimes were caused by the welfare state, and that this had constituted a breach of Clause 1. The complainant had identified a number of statements in the article which she considered to be of concern in this regard: that “the particular manner in which his nastiness was exercised, and the way in which he lived, was the direct consequence of his being able to live scot-free at the expense of the taxpayer”, that Philpott’s children were “killed not only by their father but also by the system which has been designed with the best intentions to help them but has now been corrupted seemingly beyond repair”, and that “what the Philpott trial showed was the pervasiveness of evil caused by benefit dependency”.

The newspaper explained that this was a comment piece, which had presented the columnist’s opinion that the lifestyle Mr Philpott enjoyed prior to his conviction constituted an abuse of the founding principles of the welfare state. For the most part, it was this lifestyle which the article drew attention to and criticised. The newspaper’s position was that, where the article had suggested that the “corruption” of the welfare state was connected to Mr Philpott’s crimes by supporting his lifestyle, this view was clearly distinguished as comment. The newspaper drew attention to statements made by the prosecution during Mr Philpott’s trial that “Mick Philpott did not want to work. He just wanted a house full of kids and the benefit money that brings”, and which furthermore identified the loss of £1000 a month in benefits as “the catalyst for everything which was to follow”, and in its view the opinion published was supported by these statements which had been made in open court.

The Commission acknowledged the fact that the complainant, like many of those who had contacted the PCC in relation to this article, disagreed with the articles suggestion that Mr Philpott’s crimes had some connection to the lifestyle he had led with financial support from the welfare state. However, it did not consider that, in suggesting this connection, the article had made a factual assertion that Mr Philpott’s crime was caused by the welfare state, or that the welfare state was responsible for his children’s death. The article was an opinion piece and, whilst the Commission acknowledged concerns expressed by many complainants about the manner in which these arguments were presented, it was satisfied that where a connection between Mr Philpott’s lifestyle and his crime was suggested, this was clearly distinguished as comment as opposed to fact. Indeed, in commenting on this connection the article’s author had concluded by stating that “it is a difficult matter to prove, but I know what I think”.

The complainant was also concerned that the article had suggested that Mr Philpott was representative of benefit claimants generally. She therefore considered that the article had misleadingly suggested that characteristics of Mr Philpott (particularly with regards to the horrific crimes he had committed) were shared by other individuals who were being supported by the welfare state. In particular, she was concerned by statements that “tens of thousands” of “welfare benefit scroungers” lived in the UK, and that “versions of the Philpott family can be found in any town in Britain”. She provided information to demonstrate that both the amount of benefits being claimed by Mr Philpott and his family, and the crimes which he committed, were exceptional. She therefore said that it was inaccurate to say that families like this could be found “in any town in Britain”.

The article presented the columnist’s opinion that the UK’s welfare system had grown disproportionately from its conception, and that this growth had led to individuals living lives supported by the welfare state which the columnist considered to be an abuse of that system. Michael Philpott was presented as an example of such an individual, as were a number of people who had featured in a BBC documentary series entitled “The Scheme”. Taking the article as a whole, the Commission was satisfied that the columnist had used the evidence disclosed at trial about Mr Philpott’s lifestyle to highlight his broader concerns about the welfare state. The article acknowledged the fact that Mr Philpott’s case was an extreme example, and the Commission did not consider that the article had suggested that his conduct was representative of welfare claimants as a whole. Whilst the Commission noted the complainant’s position that it was unclear which of Mr Philpott’s characteristics were being referred to in suggesting that these were widespread, it did not consider that this had resulted in the article being significantly inaccurate or misleading. The columnist’s view, that tens of thousands of welfare claimants were “scroungers” and his view that these individuals’ lifestyles constituted an abuse of the system, was clearly distinguished as an expression of his opinion. Whilst the Commission acknowledged the fact that, for many complainants, this opinion and the decision to use Mr Philpott’s case as an example in support of it was deeply offensive, the columnist was entitled to express his view so long as in doing so the article distinguished clearly between comment conjecture and fact. In the absence of a failure to comply with the terms of Clause 1(iii) there was no breach of the Code.

Simon Yip
Complaints Coordinator
Press Complaints Commission

I don’t think there are really many surprises here. Here are a few non-researched, non-academic thoughts of mine:

1) the Editors’ Code of Conduct may be designed to stop readers being misled, and perhaps it was clear that some claims were “comment” rather than statements of fact. That doesn’t mean that readers can’t be persuaded emotionally by a headline like “Vile product of welfare UK”.

2)  “the headline … taken in the context of the article as a whole … was an expression of the newspaper’s opinion of Mr Philpott’s character, rather than an assertion that the welfare state was responsible for his crime.” Oh really? Coulda fooled me. Are we really that stupid?

3) “the terms of the Editors’ Code of Practice do not address issues of taste and offence”. No kidding.

4) “The Commission acknowledged the fact that the complainant … disagreed with the articles [sic] suggestion that Mr Philpott’s crimes had some connection to the lifestyle he had led with financial support from the welfare state. However, it did not consider that, in suggesting this connection, the article had made a factual assertion that Mr Philpott’s crime was caused by the welfare state, or that the welfare state was responsible for his children’s death. The article was an opinion piece.” Weasel words, surely?

5)  “The columnist’s view, that tens of thousands of welfare claimants were ‘scroungers’ and his view that these individuals’ lifestyles constituted an abuse of the system, was clearly distinguished as an expression of his opinion.” This surely blurs a line between comment and fact: if you dress up prejudice in comment you don’t have to be accurate about numbers.

6) The PCC’s judgment was only in respect of one “typical” complaint because the poor things had so many complaints to wade through. The response I received did not comment on my complaints that the Mail’s reporting and so-called “comment” breached the Code on the grounds of harrassment, invasion of privacy, children, intrusion into grief or shock…

7) Daily Mail editor Paul Dacre is chair of the PCC’s Editors’ Code of Practice Committee.