What did Philip K Dick think of Blade Runner?

September 2022 | 4,850 words | Contents | They say…

Digest: He hated the first screenplay but loved the second one – and the special effects he saw.

Dystopia: Blade Runner‘s Los Angeles | Warner Bros


What did Philip K Dick think of Blade Runner?

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Contents

Preamble

Introduction

Dick’s notes for proposed Sheep film, 1968

SelecTV Guide article: early screenplay

Interview: Hollwood, novelisation, screenplays

Dick’s letter praises production

Dick enthuses after seeing shots at studio

Conclusion

The end bit

Sources

A personal opinion

Blade Runner 2049 was crap

Footnote

Versions of Blade Runner


What did Philip K Dick think of Blade Runner?

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Preamble

Why I wrote this post

In the ’70s – I’m now in my 70s – I read one of Dick’s sci-fi books and was hooked. I avidly read them all, in no particular order. (Or most of them, anyway. I just started Valis. God knows [!] where it’s going, but I’m loving it.)

As novels – as stories – Dick’s books are flawed. Sometimes plots wander and endings disappoint. But I just loved the humour, humanity and genius imagination in his writing. I continued to be fascinated by the man and his ideas.

Then recently, in a local charity bookshop I came across and bought The Shifting Realities of Philip K Dick: Selected Literary and Philosophical Writings (1).

After reading in the book Dick’s article, Universe Makers…And Breakers, about the Blade Runner screenplay he’d read, I posted about it on Facebook. Then I decided to write this post.

I hope it’s a useful contribution to the huge amount of stuff out there about the fascinating Philip K Dick.


What did Philip K Dick think of Blade Runner?

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Introduction

We want to know

Genius sci-fi writer Philip K Dick sadly died young(ish) in 1982 (aged 53, from two strokes) shortly before the release of Ridley Scott‘s film Blade Runner, adapted from Dick’s book, Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?

Fans like me of the book and the film, aware of the great differences between the two, may anxiously wonder what the famously obsessive Dick knew about the film-in-progress – and what he thought of it.

This post considers what’s known about Dick’s views on:

  • A 1968 option for Sheep
  • An early screenplay for Blade Runner
  • Hollywood – good and bad
  • The screenplay rewrite
  • The pre-release shots he saw.


What did Philip K Dick think of Blade Runner?

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Dick’s notes for proposed Sheep film, 1968

Grace Slick as Rachael!

In 1968 Dick’s recently published Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? was optioned by film producer Bertram Berman. Dick sent Berman some notes (10) on how the book might be made into a film.

In his notes to Berman, Dick analysed the possibilities with enthusiasm. He discussed changing the story and ditching parts of it. He analysed the characters and how their characteristics and relationships might be altered.

He wanted Deckard’s darkness and violence to be emphasised. He examined at length the philosophy of sex with an android.

He made casting suggestions: Gregory Peck as Deckard – and Grace Slick as Rachael!

Wikimedia

Berman apparently didn’t respond. His option expired in the mid 1970s. His apparent indifference poignantly mismatched Dick’s confident eagerness.


What did Philip K Dick think of Blade Runner?

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SelecTV Guide article: early screenplay

He hated it

In early 1981 Dick wasn’t being consulted for Blade Runner but having heard about it he managed to get a copy of the screenplay via his agent.

He hated the screenplay and wrote a snarky article (1) about it (for a sci-fi edition of LA cable company magazine SelecTV Guide).

The ostensible point of Dick’s article was that a breakthrough in special effects gave sci-fi movies box-office success but at the expense of story. The real point was to criticise Scott and Blade Runner.

This excerpt from Dick’s SelecTV Guide article gives his views not only on the Blade Runner screenplay (suppressed anger and disgust) but also on Alien (bad), Star Wars (not bad) and early Star Trek (very good):

    ‘Ridley Scott, who directed Alien and who now intends to bring into existence a $15 million* film based on my novel Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?, confessed to an interviewer from Omni magazine that he “found the novel too difficult to read,” despite the fact that the novel appeared as a mass-circulation paperback. On the other hand I was able rather easily to read the screenplay (it will be called Blade Runner). It was terrific. It bore no relation to the book. Oddly, in some ways it was better. (I had a hell of a time getting my hands on the screenplay. No one involved in the Blade Runner project has ever spoken to me. But that’s okay, I haven’t spoken to them.) What my story will become is one titanic lurid collision of androids being blown up, androids killing humans, general confusion and murder, all very exciting to watch. Makes my book seem dull by comparison.’

* Blade Runner’s budget was actually about $30 million. (It’s made about $40 millionsurprisingly little for one of the best movies ever.)

    ‘Still, you wouldn’t want to see my novel on the screen because it is full of people conversing, plus the personal problems of the protagonist. These matters don’t translate to the screen. And why translate them, since a novel is a story in words, whereas a movie is an event that moves?…

    ‘As a writer, though, I’d sort of like to see some of my ideas, not just special effects of my ideas, used. For all its dazzling graphic impact, Alien (to take one example) had nothing new to bring us in the way of concepts that awaken the mind rather than the senses … Star Trek, years ago, delved more into provocative ideas than most big-budget sci-fi films today, and some of the finest authors in the science-fiction field wrote those hour TV episodes … But I must admit that the eerie, mystical, almost religious subtheme in Star Wars and The Empire Strikes Back enchanted me.’

    (My bolding)

In this article, Dick said the Blade Runner screenplay was terrific and in some ways better than his book. But given his later comments (see below), he was clearly being sarcastic.

In a later interview (9), Dick described his SelecTV Guide article as ‘smartassed’.


What did Philip K Dick think of Blade Runner?

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Interview: Hollwood, novelisation, screenplays

He loved the new screenplay

Interviewed in 1981 (2), Dick expounded on many aspects of his life and writings, including his hate/love relationship with Blade Runner.

He spoke about his relationship with Hollywood (fraught), the film company’s lucrative offer for him to write a film novelisation (rejected), the early screenplay (despised), and the revised screenplay (adored).

Interview 🔺

Hollywood

    Dick: ‘I was supposed to go up there [to the studio]. They called me up and called me up, and I temporized and temporized. I thought — no, I’ll go up there and I’m on a diet, so I can’t eat the rich foods they’ll serve me, and what I’ll really hope for is a whole lot of free cocaine, and there won’t be any free cocaine, and I’ll be real pissed because of that. I’ll keep querulously, petulantly saying, “Where’s the cocaine?” and they’ll say, “No, that’s a myth, you’ve been reading TV Guide.”

    ‘I have been up there to another film project, the little Capitol Pictures one, called Claw [subsequently retitled Screamers, based on Dick’s short story Second Variety]. They’re very nice. I really like them. Every change that’s made, they send me a copy to get my opinion. They just treat me like a human being.

    ‘In other words, I am able to discriminate between essentially reputable people up there, and these high-pressure types. Shit, Blade Runner started yelling at me because, in an article that I wrote in the SelecTV Guide, I mentioned androids. They said, “That’s very dangerous talk, mentioning androids in connection with this film. We’re not using the word android.” Well, it seems hard to avoid a word that’s in the title of your own book. And they wanted to know how I’d gotten hold of a copy of the screenplay. “How did you get hold of it?” they said, with the emphasis on the word “you,” you know?…

    Interview 🔺

    Film novelisation

    Dick: ‘The amount of money involved [in the proposed film novelisation] would have been very great, and the film people offered to cut us in on the merchandising rights. But they required a suppression of the original novel, Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? in favor of the commercialized novelization based on the screenplay. My agency computed that I would accrue, conservatively, $400,000 if I did the novelization. In contrast, if we went the route of rereleasing the original novel, I would make about $12,500.

    Blade Runner’s people were putting tremendous pressure on us to do the novelization — or to allow someone else to come in and do it, like Alan Dean Foster. But we felt that the original was a good novel. And also, I did not want to write what I call the “El Cheapo” novelization…So we stuck to our guns, and at one point Blade Runner became so cold-blooded they threatened to withdraw the logo rights. We wouldn’t be able to say, “The novel on which Blade Runner is based.” We’d be unable to use any stills from the film. Finally we came to an agreement with them. We are adamant about rereleasing the original novel*…

    ‘You know, I was so turned off by Hollywood. And they were really turned off by me. That insistence on my part of bringing out the original novel and not doing the novelization — they were just furious. They finally recognized that there was a legitimate reason for reissuing the novel, even though it cost them money. It was a victory not just of contractual obligations but of theoretical principles. And although this is speculation on my part, I think that one of the spin-offs was that they went back to the original novel. Because they knew it would be reissued, you see. So it is possible that it got fed back into the screenplay by a process of positive feedback.

* Both Sheep and a novelisation were published. Wikipedia:

    Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? was eventually reprinted in 1982 as a tie-in [the film company got one percent], with the film poster as a cover and the original title [and, on the cover shown below, the author!] in parentheses below the Blade Runner title. Additionally, a novelization of the movie entitled Blade Runner: A Story of the Future by Les Martin was released in 1982.
    (My bolding)

    Interview 🔺

    Early screenplay

    Dick: ‘I was such a harsh critic of Hampton Fancher’s original screenplay, and I was so outspoken, that the studio knows that my present attitude is sincere, that I’m not just hyping them. Because I was really angry and disgusted. There were good things in Fancher’s screenplay, but it’s like the story of the old lady who takes a ring into a jeweller to have the stone reset. And the jeweller scrapes all of the patina of years and years and shines it up, and she says, “My God, that was what I loved the ring for — the patina!” Okay, they had cleaned my book up of all of the subtleties and of the meaning. The meaning was gone. It had become a fight between androids and a bounty hunter.

    ‘I had this vision in my mind then that I would go up there and be introduced to Ridley Scott, and be introduced to Harrison Ford, who’s the lead character, and I’d just be so dazzled I’d be like Mr. Toad seeing the motorcar for the first time. My eyes would be wide as saucers and I’d just be standing there completely mesmerized. Then I would watch a scene being shot. And Harrison Ford would say, “Lower that blast-pistol or you’re a dead android!” And I would just leap across that special effects set like a veritable gazelle and seize him by the throat and start battering him against the wall. They’d have to run in and throw a blanket over me and call the security guards to bring in the Thorazine. And I’d be screaming, “You’ve destroyed my book!”

    ‘That would be a little item in the newspaper: “Obscure Author Becomes Psychotic on H’wood Set; Minor Damage, Mostly to the Author.” They’d have to ship me back to Orange County in a crate full of air holes. And I’d still be screaming.

    ‘I started drinking a whole lot of scotch. I went from a thimbleful to a jigger glass and finally to two wine glasses of scotch every night. Last Memorial Day I started bleeding, gastrointestinal bleeding. And it was because of drinking scotch and taking aspirin constantly and worrying about this whole goddamned thing. I said, “Hollywood is gonna kill me by remote control!”

    ‘One is always haunted by the specter of F. Scott Fitzgerald, who goes there and they just grind him up, like in a garbage disposal.’

    Interview 🔺

    Revised screenplay

    Interviewer: All of that changed when you saw David W. People’s revised screenplay?

    Dick: I saw a segment of Douglas Trumbull’s special effects for Blade Runner on the KNBC-TV news. I recognized it immediately. It was my own interior world. They caught it perfectly.

    ‘I wrote the station, and they sent the letter to the Ladd Company. [See below.] They gave me the updated screenplay (3). I read it without knowing they had brought somebody else in. I couldn’t believe what I was reading! It was simply sensational — still Hampton Fancher’s screenplay, but miraculously transfigured, as it were. The whole thing had simply been rejuvenated in a very fundamental way.

    ‘After I finished reading the screenplay, I got the novel out and looked through it. The two reinforce each other, so that someone who started with the novel would enjoy the movie and someone who started with the movie would enjoy the novel. I was amazed that Peoples could get some of those scenes to work. It taught me things about writing that I didn’t know.

    ‘… I was so disappointed when I read the first Blade Runner screenplay, because it was … a destruction of the novel. But now, it’s magic time. You read the screenplay and then you go to the novel, and it’s like they’re two halves to one meta-artwork, one meta-artifact. It’s just exciting.

    ‘… It’s been the greatest thing for me. I was just destroyed at one point at the prospect of this awful thing that had happened to my work. I wouldn’t go up there, I wouldn’t talk to them, I wouldn’t meet Ridley Scott. I was supposed to be wined and dined and everything, and I wouldn’t go, I just wouldn’t go. There was bad blood between us.

    ‘That David W. Peoples screenplay changed my attitude. He had been working on the third Star Wars film, Revenge of the Jedi. The Blade Runner people hired him away temporarily to do the script by showing him my novel*. I’m now working very closely with the Ladd Company and I’m on very good terms with them. In fact, that’s one of the things that’s worn me out…’

    * However, apparently Peoples never read Dick’s book – and he thought Fancher’s script was excellent. (11) (Dick was hard on Fancher, but at least he’d read the book – and, according to Peoples, had written an excellent script.)

(My subheadings and boldings)


What did Philip K Dick think of Blade Runner?

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Dick’s letter praises production

I think he liked it

In October 1981 Dick wrote a gushing letter (4) to the production company after seeing a TV show featuring shots from the film:

    ‘…After looking [at the shots] – and especially after listening to Harrison Ford discuss the film – I came to the conclusion that this indeed is not science fiction; it is not fantasy; it is exactly what Harrison said: futurism. The impact of Blade Runner is simply going to be overwhelming, both on the public and on creative people — and, I believe, on science fiction as a field. Since I have been writing and selling science fiction works for thirty years, this is a matter of some importance to me. In all candor I must say that our field has gradually and steadily been deteriorating for the last few years. Nothing that we have done, individually or collectively, matches Blade Runner. This is not escapism; it is super realism, so gritty and detailed and authentic and goddam convincing that, well, after the segment I found my normal present-day “reality” pallid by comparison. What I am saying is that all of you collectively may have created a unique new form of graphic, artistic expression, never before seen. And, I think, Blade Runner is going to revolutionize our conceptions of what science fiction is and, more, can be.

    ‘Let me sum it up this way. Science fiction has slowly and ineluctably settled into a monotonous death: it has become inbred, derivative, stale. Suddenly you people have come in, some of the greatest talents currently in existence, and now we have a new life, a new start. As for my own role in the Blade Runner project, I can only say that I did not know that a work of mine or a set of ideas of mine could be escalated into such stunning dimensions. My life and creative work are justified and completed by Blade Runer. Thank you … It will prove invincible.’


What did Philip K Dick think of Blade Runner?

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Dick enthuses after seeing shots at studio

He definitely liked it

In early 1982 the Blade Runner production company, after getting Dick’s letter of approval and giving him the new screenplay, arranged for him to see some pre-release shots. After the showing, Dick expressed great enthusiasm.

Dick was shown the shots by special effects chief David Dryer (who’d taken over from Douglas Trumbull).

In his book about Blade Runner (5), filmmaker and photographer Paul Sammon – who was making a photographic record of the production – relates Dryer’s recollection of the event (plus a few words from the famously laconic Scott).

    [Dryer:] “I could tell right away that Dick was unhappy; he acted like somebody with a burr up their ass. First he started kind of grilling me in this grouchy tone about all kinds of things. He wanted to know what was going on, told me that he’d been very unhappy with the script, and so on and so forth.

    “So first we gave him a quick tour of the EEG [Entertainments Effects Group] shop, which I thought might settle him down. But Dick didn’t seem impressed, even when we showed him all the preproduction art and the actual models we’d used for certain effects shots. Then after Dick and Ridley had a meeting we went into the screening room.”

    “Dick was a bit guarded at first,” recalls Ridley Scott. “Until we doused the lights, turned up the music, and ran the reel for him,” adds Dryer. “Dick didn’t say a word at first. He sat there for twenty minutes like a statue. Then the lights came up, and Dick turned around to me. He said in this gruff voice, ‘Can you run that again?’ So the projectionist rethreaded and ran it again.”

    “Now the lights come up a second time. Dick looks me straight in the eye and says, ‘How is this possible? How can this be? Those are not the exact images, but the texture and tone of the images I saw in my head when I was writing the original book! The environment is exactly as how I’d imagined it! How’d you guys do that? How did you know what I was feeling and thinking?’

    “Let me tell you, that was one of the most successful moments of my career,” Dryer concludes. “Dick went away dazed.”

    (My bolding)

Sammon, who’d known Dick since the early 70’s, said (6) Dick called him after the showing and said, ‘I can’t believe it. Where can I get a Deckard action figure?’.


Interviewed by Sammon (7) about the film, Dick enthused about the thrilling detail of the street shots he’d seen.

It wasn’t all sweetness and light at the showing. In the Sammon interview, Dick said during his conversation with Scott they disagreed about the androids (or replicants).

Dick said he based Sheep‘s androids on his research for The Man in the High Castle. He told Scott the androids, lacking empathy, were a threat to humans; and Deckard, in hunting them, became like them.

Dick said Scott wasn’t interested in that intellectual aspect, but saw the replicants as superior. Dick said the conversation was nevertheless cordial.

Cordially awkward – Scott v Dick at the showing
Photo: Ladd Company


What did Philip K Dick think of Blade Runner?

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Conclusion

Kind of

At first, Dick hated the film. He called it Road Runner. But after he read the rewrite and saw some pre-release shots, he dramatically changed his smind.

Fans like me of both the book and the film may wonder at this point: how come Dick so loved the new screenplay and the special effects he saw on TV and in the studio, when the film – as it was shaping up – was so different from his precious book?

Was Hampton Fancher’s script really that bad? David Peoples, who’s rewrite was highly praised by Dick, thought Francher’s script ‘excellent’. And was Peoples’ rewrite really that good? Dick praised Peoples’ respect for his book, unaware that Peoples hadn’t read it. (11)

Was Dick’s U-turn enthusiasm justified?

A 2017 article (8) by Rob Harvilla addressed that question in detail with wit, empathy and appreciation. Harvilla convincingly concluded that while Blade Runner isn’t a faithful adaption, it’s nevertheless true to Dick’s vision.

Dick, in a 1982 interview with James Van Hise (9), said the original screenplay was ‘Philip Marlowe meets The Stepford Wives’ and he expressed his despair:

    ‘When I read it originally I thought that I will move to the Soviet Union where I am completely unknown and work making light bulbs in a factory and never even look at a book again and pretend I can’t read.’

But he thought the new screenplay miraculously complemented the book:

    ‘They took a good book* and made a good screenplay. The two reinforce each other, two parts of a single whole. If you start with the book, the screenplay adds ma­terial to it. If you start with the screenplay, the book adds to that. They’re beautifully symmetrical, a real miracle.’ [My precis]

    * Apparently, however, screenplay rewriter David Peoples never read Dick’s book. (11)

As for the special effects that so impressed Dick, although he credited them to Douglas Trumbull, during production Trumbull was replaced as special effects supervisor by David Dryer.

Dryer was appointed on Trumbull’s recommendation when Trumbull left by prior arrangement to direct Brainstorm.

Blade Runner’s designer was neofuturist artist Syd Mead. Mead was inspired by Scott’s well known idea of ‘Hong Kong on a very bad day’ and by French comic book artist Jean Giraud.

Scott’s and Mead’s sketches were realised by production designer Lawrence Paull and art director David Snyder.

So the film’s design was, of course, a team effort. But the wonderful special effects created by Trumbull and Dryer made a world Dick recognised as his own.

The shots Dick saw at the studio prompted him to say to Dryer, ‘How did you know what I was feeling and thinking?’.

Regarding the disagreement about the androids/replicants (see above), Dick seemed to accept Scott’s replicants, perhaps as a necessary compromise.

In his novel, Dick faced the androids’ dangerous inhumanity. Scott humanised his replicants – but was making a brilliant film.

So… what did Philip K Dick think of (pre-release) Blade Runner? He loved it.

That makes this fan of the book and the film very happy. Less anxious.

(Dick couldn’t know significant plot changes would be made and a Marlowe-esque voice-over added. He might not have approved of the released version. But I like to think he’d have loved The Final Cut.)


What did Philip K Dick think of Blade Runner?

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The end bit

Vale

Dick lived much of his adult life in near poverty. The article about the earlier screenplay, quoted above, was written for his cable company’s TV guide. His payment was a year’s free cable.

Since the success of Blade Runner and other major films based on his books (such as the dodgy but high-earning Schwarzenegger Total Recall), Dick’s estate, run by his three children, has generated tens of millions of dollars from book royalties, rights and licensing fees.

It’s a shame Dick didn’t live to enjoy that deserved financial reward – and to see more of his ideas being used in films. His brilliant ideas have been used not as hooks to hang special effects on, but in their own right – as he hoped.

Blade Runner‘s production hoo-hah had a successful outcome, but it took its toll on Dick’s health.

Ironically, it probably contributed to Dick’s sad early death – which meant he never got to see the finished version (!) of the wonderful Blade Runner.

Forget it, Phil – it’s Hollywood… | Illustration: Timba Smits


What did Philip K Dick think of Blade Runner?

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Sources


Check it out yourself

1. SelecTV Guide article

February 1981 | SelecTV Guide article: Universe Makers…And Breakers by Dick | quoted above | written after he read an early Blade Runner screenplay | reproduced in The Shifting Realities of Philip K Dick: Selected Literary and Philosophical Writings (1995), compiled by author Lawrence Sutin

2. Interview on Philip K. Dick site

1981 | Interview on resource site Philip K. Dick | quoted above | collated from two 1981 interviews originally published in The Twilight Zone (June 1982) and The Patchin Review (October 1982)

3. Blade Runner screenplay

February, 1981 | Blade Runner screenplay by Hampton Fancher and David Peoples* | referenced above | given to Dick in August 1981 | reproduced in script format on resource site The Daily Script
* Scott used Peoples’ update but Fancher got equal credit. See Peoples, Fancher and Sheep, below. (See also Fancher and BR49, below)

4. Dick’s letter to Ladd Company

October 1981 | Dick’s letter to Blade Runner film company, Ladd | quoted above | written after Dick saw pre-release shots on TV | text and facsimile on many sites including Dangerous Minds

5. Paul Sammon book, Future Noir

2017 | Report on Dick seeing shots at studio (which he liked) | quoted above | from Future Noir: The Making of Blade Runner by filmmaker, author and photographer Paul Sammon (revised and updated 2017) | excerpt on Flavorwire

6. Paul Sammon: ‘Deckard action figure’

2017 | comment by Future Noir author Paul Sammon | referenced above | reported in KPCC article, Philip Dick wasn’t crazy about his novel being adapted into ‘Blade Runner’

7. Paul Sammon interview

1980-82 | interview with Future Noir author Paul Sammon on YouTube (audio only) | referenced above

8. Rob Harvilla article

2017 | Ringer article: ‘Blade Runner’ Is Still the Truest Philip K. Dick Adaptation by Rob Harvilla | referenced above

9. James Van Hise interview

late 1981 | interview: Philip K. Dick On ‘Blade Runner’ by historian and author James Van Hise | quoted above | originally published in Starlog (February 1982) | reproduced on Scraps from the Loft

10. Dick’s 1968 notes on Sheep film

May 1968 | Dick’s Notes on Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? as sent to film producer who optioned the book | referenced above | first published in Philip K. Dick Society newsletter #18 (August 1988) | facsimile on Cornell University Android Dreams site | reproduced in The Shifting Realities of Philip K Dick compiled by Lawrence Sutin (1995)

11. David Peoples didn’t read Sheep

Re script rewrite | referenced above: 1, 2 and 3 | from approved biography, Divine Invasions: A Life of Philip K. Dick (1989), by Lawrence Sutin:

    David Peoples, who in early 1981 was called in to do a rewrite of the Fancher script, doesn’t recall Phil’s name ever coming up in meetings. Peoples thought Fancher’s initial script excellent and never read Androids, before or after his rewrite.

    (Ch 12P 275 in Gollancz, 2006 – my bolding)

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What did Philip K Dick think of Blade Runner?

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A personal opinion

Blade Runner 2049 was crap

Gosling and Villeneuve: zzzzzz…

Several sources referenced here date from 2017. They were cashing in (and why not?) on the well publicised but crap Blade Runner 2049.

Yes, I saw it. I would have left after 20 minutes but my wife was there, so I saw the whole mind-numbing two hours, 35 (count ’em) minutes.

How was BR49 crap? It had great visuals and music; but – Ryan Gosling. Oh dear. He thinks he’s Robert Mitchum and doesn’t need to act. He isn’t – he needs a good director. But see below.

Great story? Can’t remember it, so… But I can remember long, boring scenes with nothing but pointless, dull dialogue.

I blame the director – one of Dick’s Sheep androids disguised as Denis Villeneuve.

As with the weirdly stilted and meaningless stuff produced by chatbots, BR49 was like a film made by a directorbot.

Guess who co-wrote the dreadful BR49. That’s right – Hampton Fancher, Dick’s former friend who so upset him with the early Blade Runner screenplay (before it was ‘miraculously transfigured’ by David Peoples 🔺).

Dick didn’t hold back on what he thought of Fancher’s Blade Runner screenplay. He said:

    It bore no relation to the book 🔺

    I was angry and disgusted. There were good things in Fancher’s screenplay…but the meaning was gone 🔺

    It was a destruction of the novel 🔺

    It was Philip Marlowe meets The Stepford Wives 🔺

(Although to be fair, Peoples – much praised by Dick – said Fancher’s script was ‘excellent’. 🔺)

Anyway, Fancher, Villeneuve and Gosling managed to turn BR49 into Blade Runner meets The Stepford Wives.

It was a similar thing – though Fancher and Gosling weren’t involved this time – with Villeneuve’s 2021 Dune.

As with BR49, Dune looked and sounded good. And it had Frank Herbert’s filmogenic book as the story. But that story – an exotic hippy classic known to many boomers like me – was squashed by the steamroller of Villeneuve’s vacuousness.

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What did Philip K Dick think of Blade Runner?

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Footnote

Versions of Blade Runner

Er…

How many are there? Seven, apparently. As to their relative merit, to be honest, I haven’t the foggiest. Untypically, I don’t even have an opinion.

(Although, typically perversely, I did quite like the apparently much criticised Marlowe-esque voice-over.)

Not even sure which ones I’ve seen. Sorry.

Author Ryan Britt has a well informed and good humoured take on the Great Debate in his Den of Geek article, Which Blade Runner Cut Is Really the Best?.

I’ve got the Final Cut on DVD. I’m trying to presuade my (uninitiated) wife to watch it with me, to expunge the BR49 atrocity.

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What did Philip K Dick think of Blade Runner?

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They say…

Quotes about this post. (OK, some were solicited. So what?)

I enjoyed reading your blog, which I thought was astute and thorough
Lawrence Sutin, author:

The Shifting Realities of Philip K Dick: Selected Literary and Philosophical Writings (1995) and Divine Invasions: A Life of Philip K. Dick (1989)

Dug your post a lot! You know your shit
Rob Harvilla, writer:

‘Blade Runner’ Is Still the Truest Philip K. Dick Adaptation
(Online article, The Ringer, October 2017)

It is well done
James Van Hise, historian, author and writer:

Philip K. Dick On ‘Blade Runner’
(Article, originally in Starlog, February 1982)

Nicely done
Paul Sammon, filmmaker and author:

Future Noir: The Making of Blade Runner
(Book, revised and updated edition, 2017)

Lots of cool research…nice work
Ryan Britt, author and writer:

Which Blade Runner Cut Is Really the Best?
(Online article, Den of Geek, November 2021)

Great blogpost!
Timothy Shanahan, professor of philosophy and author:

Philosophy of Blade Runner
(Book, 2014)

Great post
Special Agent Dale Cooper, admin:

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Mirror, mirror – the narcissistic universe

Who’s a pretty boy? Narcissus, in love with himself | Detail of paintitng by John William Waterhouse

June 2022

The impossibility of DNA needs explaining. The only explanation is meaning.

If the meaning of life is to create conscious beings (us) to reflect universal consciousness, that makes us mirrors, and the universe narcissistic.

Is it pathological, as with former US president Donald Chump and former UK PM Bonzo Johnson?

Does the universe have narcissistic personality disorder? Lets hope not.

In any case, it hasn’t worked. We’ve failed to connect with universal consciousness.

Whatever happened to Black Lives Matter?

An investigation

Begun April 2022 | 3,000 words | Contents

Digest: It disappeared down the postmodern rabbit hole of intersectional identity politics, but the beat goes on.

Washington DC, US, 2020 | Photo: Kevin Dietsch / UPI / Alamy

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Whatever happened to Black Lives Matter?

Contents

Introduction

Coming apart?

BLM’s postmodern mission

What’s wrong with postmodernism

What next?

Update: the Transparency Center


Contents 🔺

Whatever happened to Black Lives Matter?

Introduction

Started outstanding

Trayvon Martin | Photo: Splash News / Corbis

In 2020, Black Lives Matter was big. Huge. Then it kind of faded. What was it? Was it a hashtag, a slogan, a protest movement, a campaign – or what? And what happened to it?

The Black Lives Matter movement was started in the US in 2013 by a small group of radical black feminists after the acquittal of a neighbourhood watch coordinator who shot and killed an unarmed black 17-year-old, Trayvon Martin.

The hashtag #BlackLivesMatter spread on social media, and the project expanded into a national network of local ‘chapters’.

The movement returned to the headlines in 2020 when George Floyd was killed by a police officer. There was widespread disgust, and BLM grew into an international campaign.

Here in the UK, BLM got a lot of support – and some opposition when racists promoted the slogans ‘White Lives Matter’ and the more insidious ‘All Lives Matter’.

As a white anti-racist, I’ve written a long-form blogpost on racism. I added a preface about White Lives Matter.

Whilst recently updating that section, I looked into what had happened to Black Lives Matter and discovered this tale of the unexpected. I put it in a footnote; and then this separate post.

Despite white allyship being controversial, I considered myself a white ally of BLM. Now, I’m not so sure. Next time the badge falls off, I might not put it back.

(Update, June 2022 – the badge fell off. I didn’t put it back on my jacket. Knowing what I know now, I’d feel a fool. I put it on the shelf: a memento of innocent enthusiasm.)


Contents 🔺

Whatever happened to Black Lives Matter?

Coming apart?

The centre didn’t hold

Noir noir: Patrisse Cullors, co-founder of Black Lives Matter | Photo: Jason Armond / Los Angeles Times

After the killing of George Floyd in 2020, some $90m was donated to Black Lives Matter. BLM grew fast – perhaps too fast for the small group of organisers to keep up. A year later, the disorganised organisation started to come apart.

BLM’s main organisation is the Black Lives Matter Global Network Foundation. There’s also an international network of locally based chapters.

In February 2021 the foundation said it gave $21.7m to BLM chapters, and its expenses were $8.4m. That left about $60m unexplained.

In May 2021 Patrisse Cullors, one of the three BLM founders, announced she was standing down as executive director of the foundation.

In February 2022 in a UK Guardian interview*, Cullors tearfully explained she resigned after the movement got black criticism for lack of transparency about the donations.

An April 2022 Washington Post column* criticised BLM’s use of its donations, including the secret purchase in 2020 of a $6m house in California.

The WP column drew on an April 2022 investigative article* on New York magazine news website Intelligencer about the BLM house, a 6,500-square-foot compound in Studio City, Los Angeles.

The Intelligencer article is hidden from the hard-up (like me) behind a paywall, but according to WP, it reported a $6m shambles:

  • BLM said the Studio City house was both a ‘safehouse’ and a place providing:
      Recording resources and dedicated space for Black creatives to launch content online and in real life focused on abolition, healing justice, urban agriculture and food justice, pop culture, activism, and politics’.
  • The only content produced there was a few videos made by Cullors for her YouTube channel.
  • On Twitter, in advance of the Intelligencer report, BLM urged followers:
      ‘Spread the word: we are redefining what it means to be an activist in this generation with our new Fellowship and Creator House‘.
  • On Instagram, Cullors said the purchase hadn’t been announced earlier because:
      ‘The property needed repairs and renovation‘.

In a May 2022 AP News interview*, Cullors denied wrongdoing but acknowledged she’d used the Studio City compound for non-BLM purposes, hosting parties to celebrate the inauguration of Joe Biden and Kamala Harris, and her son’s birthday. She said:

    I look back at that and think, that probably wasn’t the best idea

* Lest it be suspected these pieces challenging BLM were by racist white hacks, they were all by award-winning black journalists: Nesrin Malik (Guardian), Karen Attiah (Washington Post), Sean Campbell (New York/Intelligencer) and Aaron Morrison (AP News).

There’s more. BLM leaders, friends and family have apparently had large consultancy payouts; and the $6m house was apparently bought from a developer friend who’d recently paid $3m for it.

Sorry – racist white hacks may well have been involved in the sources for the above paragraph: they’re both from the right-wing UK Daily Mail. The Mail refers to revelations in New York Magazine – but that’s behind the pesky paywall.

The impression given by the many articles and comments about all this – and by BLM’s defensive and obfuscatory response – is that BLM is more like a nepotistic cult than a well-run campaign organisation.

However, BLM’s financial irregularities seem a matter of incompetence and mission-drift with a dash of ‘looking after’ people, rather than full-on fraud. Cullors said:

    Black people in general have a hard time with money. It’s a trigger point for us.

In spite of the irregularities, Black Lives Matter hasn’t quite come apart.

The BLM website gives the impression that all is well. But it’s not – as its mixed-up mission statement shows.


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Whatever happened to Black Lives Matter?

BLM’s postmodern mission

Down the rabbit hole

Fun with Foucault – postmodernist Michel Foucault at home in Paris, 1978 | Photo: Martine Franck / Magnum

So what’s Black Lives Matter about? Supporters may have assumed its idea was to oppose racist violence and institutional racism – but it’s more complicated than that.

BLM has a surprisingly radical agenda. According to BLM’s About page, its mission is to:

    Eradicate white supremacy and build local power to intervene in violence inflicted on Black communities by the state and vigilantes

Less predictably, it goes on to say:

    We affirm the lives of Black queer and trans folks, disabled folks, undocumented folks, folks with records, women, and all Black lives along the gender spectrum. Our network centers those who have been marginalized within Black liberation movements.

There’s more like that.

According to a thoughtful 2021 National Affairs article, BLM’s founders have said their ideology is rooted in postmodern cultural theory:

    A few rabid souls have ferreted out what they regard as the Marxist foundations of BLM. But this gives its prime movers too much credit. BLM has been shaped more by post-modern cultural theory than by Marxism. By their own account, the three young women who ignited this proudly “leaderless” movement have been shaped primarily by feminism and queer theory. Hence their vitriolic critique of the male-dominated black church, not to mention the traditional family.

This analysis evokes the controversial phenomena of intersectional identity politics and critical race theory.

Identity politics emerged in the 1960s and 70s from French postmodernism (which emerged in the 1950s and 60s mainly from the writings of Michel Foucault and Jacques Derrida).

Identity politics enables people of a particular ethnicity or other identifying factor to develop a political agenda based on their identity and their sense of oppression.

Some advocates of identity politics take an intersectional approach, addressing the range of interacting systems of oppression which result from people’s various identities.

The first written use of the term ‘identity politics’ was apparently in a 1977 statement by a US black feminist lesbian socialist group, the Combahee River Collective.

The radical BLM mission statement appears to continue the black feminist lesbian socialist theme. Co-founder Patrisse Cullors has described herself and her fellow organizers as ‘trained Marxists’. BLM has been sarcastically dubbed ‘Black Lesbian Marxists’.

Critical race theory (CRT) – also a branch of postmodernism – first arose, like identity politics, in the 1970s. According to Wikipedia, it’s:

    a cross-disciplinary intellectual and social movement of civil-rights scholars and activists who seek to examine the intersection of race, society, and law in the United States and to challenge mainstream American liberal approaches to racial justice…A key CRT concept is intersectionality

US conservatives publicly complained recently about the supposed surge in critical race theory being taught in colleges and universities.

However, an Aljazeera online opinion piece by a US professor said CRT informs BLM and that’s what scares the conservatives:

    The significance of Critical Race Theory at this particular juncture in American history is the way a sustained course of the theoretical groundwork now informs … Black Lives Matter. This fruitful dialectic between an academic theory and a grassroots social uprising is what frightens the custodians of the status quo who are fighting tooth and nail to protect and preserve their race and class privileges.

That’s fine, but perhaps BLM supporters wanted to stop police killing black men rather than have a fruitful dialectic with an academic theory.

Supporters – and donors – might sympathise with the complex and passionate ideas in BLM’s radical mission statement, but might be surprised to learn BLM isn’t the focussed and well-organised campaign against racist murder they – reasonably – expect it to be.

The Black Lives Matter mission, apparently inspired by postmodern intersectional identity politics, makes BLM seem more like Snowflake City than a campaign coordinator.


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Whatever happened to Black Lives Matter?

What’s wrong with postmodernism

It betrays the oppressed

Postmodernism critic Ambalavaner Sivanandan | Photo: Jane Bown / The Observer

If the Black Lives Matter organisation collapses, it’ll be – partly, at least – postmodernism’s fault.

Postmodernism is playful, exciting and seductive, but when its theories inform and shape a campaign against racism, it’s a dangerous rabbit hole.

The danger of postmodernism in this context was nailed by the late Ambalavaner Sivanandan, a founder and director of UK anti-racist thinktank the Institute of Race Relations. Sivanandan accused postmodernists of betrayal.

Sivanandan, described in an obituary as ‘a tireless and eloquent voice explaining the connections between race, class, imperialism and colonialism’, was a novelist, activist and writer.

In Catching History on the Wing – Race, Culture and Globalisation, Sivanandan wrote:

    The intellectuals have defected, and walled themselves up behind a new language of privilege… To justify their betrayal, the postmodernists have created a whole new language of their own which allows them to appropriate struggle without engaging in it.

Taking on the job abandoned by the treacherous postmodernists, Sivanandan analysed the murderous symbiosis of poverty and racism with angry eloquence:

    Racism and imperialism work in tandem, and poverty is their handmaiden. And it is that symbiosis between racism and poverty that, under those other imperatives of multinational capitalism, the free market and the enriching of the rich, has come to define the “underclass” of the United States and, increasingly, of Britain and Western Europe… It is there, where the poorest sections of our communities, white and black, scrabble for the leftovers of work, the rubble of slum housing and the dwindling share of welfare, that racism is at its most virulent, its most murderous.

Sivanandan also criticised identity politics as an inward-looking, naval-gazing exercise.

In his 1990 collection, Communities of Resistance: Writings on Black Struggles for Socialism, Sivanandan urged black and South Asian groups to look beyond their cultural identity in their struggle against racism:

    The whole purpose of knowing who we are is not to interpret the world, but to change it. We don’tneed a cultural identity for its own sake, but to make use of the positive aspect of our culture to forge correct alliances and fight the correct battles.

What’s wrong with postmodernism in this context is that Black Lives Matter was entrusted to oppose racist murder, but its postmodernist adherents of intersectional identity politics have lost focus. They’ve appropriated the struggle but not effectively engaged in it.


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Whatever happened to Black Lives Matter?

What next?

Good question

George Floyd: an ordinary black man murdered by the white police | Photo: Ben Crump Law Firm

At the time of writing (May 2022), the Black Lives Matter website gives no hint of any difficulties (except to say it’s a ‘target of disinformation’). However, it continues its mixed message.

On the one hand there’s a robust response to US government plans to advance racial justice:

    One of the greatest systemic factors affecting the livelihood of Black communities is the continued over-policing, brutalization, and incarceration of our people. Violence by police tears our families apart; leaves emotional, logistical, and financial gaps in our communities; and steals the lives of so many of our loved ones before they get the chance to achieve their dreams. We need the next phase of the action plan to explicitly address how federal agencies will update their policies to hold officers and departments at the local, state, and federal level accountable for the way they engage with Black people.

On the other hand, there’s some deep woo*:

    Healing justice…a portal for revolutionary visions of Black freedom…something we deserve…something we own…something we embody…something each and everyone of us must have. This month our center is ‘Collective Imagination: The Art of Healing Part III.’ We turn our conversation to sacred and luminous practices of creativity and imagination in the healing journeys of Black people. Our healers examine…the multiple ways to access Spirit and wholeness through the individual and collective body. We affirm that healthy connections hold spaciousness for healing and love…sacred healing practices…can support the transformation of individual and collective grief into collective imaginings, futures, and liberation for cultivating sovereignty and co-sovereignty.

* Woo: short for woo-woo, a sarcastic term meaning unconventional beliefs regarded as having little or no scientific basis, especially those relating to spirituality, mysticism, or alternative medicine

The esoteric beliefs expressed in the BLM woo above are presumably intended to benefit activists who feel oppressed because of their intersectional identity. But such beliefs seem out of place in a campaign meant to protect ordinary black people like Trayvon Martin and George Floyd from racist murder by the police.

What next? Can Black Lives Matter be saved from disappearing up its postmodern woo-woo arsehole*? Maybe.

* I’m English – I can’t write ‘asshole’. Sorry 😉

Maybe it just needs organising properly – with mission focus and financial transparency.

Maybe BLM could keep the spirit of radical activism, but hive off the woo and postmodern cultural theory to a new sister organisation

(Black Snowflakes Matter? A suitable role for Patrisse Cullors, perhaps.)

I asked the Black Lives Matter Global Network Foundation for their comments. They haven’t replied.

Whatever happens with the complicated and troubled organisation, the central Black Lives Matter idea of opposition to racist murder lives on – and still has the reach and momentum to help make racism history.


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Whatever happened to Black Lives Matter?

Update, June 2022

BLM’s Transparency Center

See-through blackwashing seen through

The Black Lives Matter website now has a ‘Transparency Center‘ which addresses some of the issues raised. It says:

    We are embracing this moment as an opportunity for celebration, accountability, healing, truth-telling, and transparency. We aim to move forward into this next chapter with the lessons learned, achievements underscored, and a renewed commitment to justice and powerbuilding in service to our community.

It goes on to attack ‘misinformation from the right wing’, saying:

    The right has taken up this cause, hoping to sow mistrust in our work via their media outlets. They have spread misinformation and have taken what is really an important conversation for our community, trashed it, and used their coverage as some sort of validation of their racist allegations. We hope that this is the beginning of a real conversation for our people about the dynamics of our power and our relationship to money.

It says returns have been filed with the IRS (US internal revenue service), and goes on to say:

    An independent audit has revealed that Black Lives Matter’s finances are strong, the organization is financially sound, and its leaders have been good stewards of the people’s donations.

It says the foundation spends far less on costs than other similar organisations.

It says the foundation’s been fully reimbursed for private events held at the ‘Creator’s House’ (the $6m LA house). It says:

    The Creator’s House was purchased as a space of our own, with the intention of providing housing and studio space for recipients of the Black Joy Creators Fellowship in service of Black culture and the movement.

It announces three new board members ‘with an extensive background in racial justice work’.

That sounds good, but googling shows that one of the three has a history of financial delinquency, all three are financially linked through consultancy payments, and all three are connected to BLM founder Patrisse Cullors.

Cronyism, mismanagement, consultancy payments – it looks as though nothing has changed, and the ‘transparency’ is mainly whitewashing. Or should that be blackwashing?

Also, although there has been criticism from the nutty Right, it’s disingenuous to (wrongly) dismiss all the critics as right-wing racists and thereby swerve the criticism.

It’s like Israel saying all critics of Zionist oppression are anti-Jewish, or Muslims saying all critics of Salafi self-segregation are Islamophobic. They can’t or won’t respond to the criticism. Instead, they slur the critics.

It’s a shame. In 2020 I was an enthusiastic white ally of Black Lives Matter and, as a left-wing anti-racist critic of BLM, I’d like to wish the newly would-be-transparent organisation well. But it doesn’t look good.

I asked the Black Lives Matter Global Network Foundation again for their comments. Again, they haven’t replied.

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This post is also a footnote in my longform antiracist post, Colour me racist, blame my genes – racism explained as a redundant instinct


Please feel free to comment…

Identity politics – fun with Foucault

Here comes a snowflake! | photo: Anest / istockphoto

In the UK and the US the traditional left-right two-party political system seems to be running out of steam. Things are fragmenting. Consider the hot potato of identity politics.

Originally French, then mainly American and now exported back to Europe, the concept of identity politics enables people of a particular ethnicity or other identifying factor (they’re sometimes rudely called snowflakes) to develop a political agenda based on their identity and their sense of oppression.

Some advocates of identity politics take an intersectional approach, addressing the range of interacting systems of oppression which result from people’s various identities.


Fun with Foucault
– postmodernist Michel Foucault at home in Paris, 1978 | Photo: Martine Franck / Magnum

Identity politics emerged in the 1960s and 70s from the hotbed of French postmodernism, which emerged in the 1950s and 60s mainly from the writings of Michel Foucault and Jacques Derrida.

The term ‘identity politics’ was apparently first used in writing in a 1977 statement by a US black feminist lesbian socialist group. It surged in the US in the 1980s and rose to prominence again recently, attracting controversy and criticism.

Liberal critics of identity politics say reaction against its supposedly strident demands contributed to the 2016 US election of populist psycho Donald Trump. Trump voters were said to have voted ‘white’.

Leftist critics of identity politics (eg Ambalavaner Sivanandan) say it’s a distraction from the class struggle. Other critics say the idea fosters inherently wrong or unnecessarily divisive notions of identity, or an unhelpfully exaggerated sense of victimhood.

Some identity politics groups, snarkily dubbed snowflakes, are criticised for being quick to take offence and being vindictive in their ‘cancel culture‘ pursuit of offenders.

Identity politics has been famously dismissed by batty best-selling author and psychologist Jordan Peterson. He echoes fellow bat Ayn Rand (author of Atlas Shrugged) in asserting the primacy of the individual over the group.

Alt-right white supremacists have their very own version of identity politics, ‘identitarianism’, which asserts the right of white people to Western culture and territories claimed to belong exclusively to them. Bless.

The oppression elephant in the identity politics room is racism. Does identity politics address racism? Is there such a thing as black identity politics?

There’s clearly a need for a collective political agenda to challenge the oppression of systemic colour prejudice, but I googled ‘black identity politics’ and got no meaningful results (in the first five pages).

Apparently the hot potato of identity politics doesn’t address racism. Perhaps a cooler and less fragmentary political movement is needed for that.

Edit: Sadly – and surprisingly (to me, anyway) – it seems the Black Lives Matter organisation, rather than being the focussed and well-organised campaign supporters and donors might expect, is actually a perfect example of overheated identity politics, and has consequently disappeared down that rabbit hole.


This post is an excerpt from my longform antiracist post Colour me racist, blame my genes – racism explained as a redundant instinct

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A brief history of the UK’s brutal colonisation of Ireland, and its troubled aftermath

You what? | Visit Quotes

After centuries of previous military incursions, the 17th-century conquest of Ireland by Protestant mass murderer Oliver Cromwell made Ireland a British colony. In 1800 it became part of the newly named United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland.

Several horrific famines and brutally suppressed rebellions later, the colony finally fractured in 1921 when Ireland was partitioned.

The main part of Ireland gained independence and became known as Éire, the Irish name for Ireland. Éire was officially declared a republic in 1949.

Six counties in the northeast of Ireland chose in 1921 to stay in the UK and became known as Northern Ireland. In 1927, the UK was renamed the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland.

In Northern Ireland there’s been constant conflict between the mostly Catholic Republican minority and the mostly Protestant Unionist majority.

The indigenous Republicans want Northern Ireland to join the Republic of Ireland (officially known as Éire or Ireland).

The Unionists claim loyalty to the United Kingdom. They’re mostly descendants of British ‘settlers’ who migrated during the 17th-century colonial ‘Plantation of Ulster’.

The Plantation of Ulster reinforced the colonialisation of Ireland. British landowners were given land in the north of Ireland, mostly stolen from the Irish. The new landowners imported British tenants and workers.

In the 18th and 19th centuries, more British settlers came to the north of Ireland from Scotland, forced out by the theft of land known as the Highland clearances.

(Regarding the theft of land by the aristocracy, see my blogpost, The super-rich – law and order.)

Protestant ascendancy in Ireland was consolidated in 1690 by the crucial Battle of the Boyne – fought for control of a ford on the River Boyne near Drogheda, north of Dublin – when the forces of Protestant king William defeated those of the deposed Catholic king, James.

William III, AKA William of Orange (he formerly ruled the Dutch Republic), had recently become king of England and Scotland, deposing James II in the so-called Glorious Revolution.

James eventually fled to France. His defeated ‘Jacobite’ followers were allowed to practice Catholicism if they swore loyalty to William.

The Boyne victory by William (popularly known by his supporters as King Billy) is commemorated annually by Protestants in Northern Ireland with Orange parades.

The parades face opposition from Catholics and Irish nationalists, who see them as sectarian and triumphalist.

In the 1960s, violent unrest known as the Troubles broke out in Northern Ireland. 30 years of armed conflict between Republican and Protestant groups and the British army ended in 1998 with the Good Friday Agreement, which brought an uneasy but lasting peace.

In 2020, a Northern Ireland opinion poll showed 47% in favour of staying in the UK, and 45% in favour of a united Ireland. (The same poll was run in Ireland: 71% favoured unification.)

On the whole, the rest of the UK couldn’t care less about Northern Ireland – it’s an embarrassing colonial hangover. And NI Protestants, despite their proclaimed ‘loyalism’, couldn’t really care less about the UK – they just want to preserve their postcolonial privileges.

Considering this horrible history, it’d be better and fairer all round if Ireland was unified. Sure, the Protestants would protest, but they’d be fine. They’d be a protected minority – in an EU country, lucky sods.

    Note to Taoiseach: take Northern Ireland – I mean, actually take it, please!

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This post is a footnote from my longform post Brexit and free movement – the east European elephant. The footnote was written in the context of the problematic impact of Brexit on the Irish border. (The solution: unification!)

Gingerism – the acceptable face of racism?

Princess Merida, Brave, 2012 | Image: Disney

Recently in my workplace I overheard some jokey chat about ‘gingers’. It wasn’t directed at a particular person but I felt uneasy, as I always do when this casual prejudice happens. It felt like a form of racism.

Prejudice against red-haired people, known as gingerism, apparently exists only in England. It’s always framed as jokey banter and is often heard in the workplace or the pub.

If anyone objects, they’re likely to be chided: ‘It’s just a bit of fun. Can’t you take a joke?’ But is it a harmless joke? Or is it actually racism seeking an ‘acceptable’ form?

In the 1950s and 60s, racist comments were commonplace in the workplace and the pub, but now they’re unacceptable in public. Perhaps ‘harmless’ jokes about red-haired people or about the Welsh, (another similarly mocked group) constitute a new outlet for the redundant but dangerous and destructive anti-stranger instinct upon which racism is apparently built.

A UK Guardian article on the subject downplayed the idea of gingerism as racism, pointing out that people with red hair clearly don’t suffer the same devastating personal and institutional discrimination as people with black or brown skin.

However, the Guardian article suggested an interesting explanation for gingerism: English anti-Celtism, and – more specifically – anti-Irish feeling.

Many Irish people have red hair. Since Cromwell’s brutal colonisation of ireland, there’s been a tendency for the English to disdain the Irish. (Hence Irish ‘jokes’.)

In the 1950s, London boarding-house signs supposedly said, ‘No blacks, no dogs, no Irish‘. This seems to be apocryphal, but it illustrates a real prejudice.

English red-haired people bravely (Brave!) try to reappropriate the word ‘ginger’ – as African Americans have reappropriated the N-word. But the bullying ‘jokes’ continue regardless.


Red-haired Neanderthals

Neanderthal humans had red hair. Having lived in Europe for over 100,000 years, they were apparently wiped out 35,000 years ago by immigrating early modern humans. (Early modern humans emigrated everywhere – they’re the ancestors of all humans.)

Perhaps ‘jokey’ bullying of red-haired people and colonialist anti-Irish sentiments are echoes of that ancient hostility.

(As well as killing Neanderthals, early humans interbred with them. Most Europeans and Asians have 1-4% Neanderthal DNA. However, red hair in modern humans isn’t inherited from Neanderthals – apparently it’s a different gene.)


This post is an excerpt from my longform post Colour me racist, blame my genes – racism explained as a redundant instinct

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Decolonise this – the dark side of the Enlightenment

German philosopher and racist twat Immanuel Kant

I’ve always greatly respected the Enlightenment, the European intellectual movement of the 17th and 18th centuries led by philosophers such as Descartes, Locke, Newton, Kant, Goethe, Voltaire, Rousseau, and Adam Smith.

The Enlightenment emphasised reason. I’d looked up to it as a way out of superstition, ignorance and oppression, and as the foundation of modern liberal democracy.

However, the Black Lives Matter movement has exposed the part played by Enlightenment philosophers in justifying the slave trade and slavery by coming up with the idea of white supremacy.

I didn’t know, for instance, that Immanuel Kant said, ‘humanity is at its greatest perfection in the race of the whites’. To be fair, he later recanted (re-Kanted?) but the damage was done.

Before changing his mind, Kant expounded at length about the failings of the various ‘races’ as compared with the perfect whites. He said black people were stupid. He babbled authoritatively about the qualities of different African ‘races’ in terms of their suitability as slaves.

Such ‘philosophy’ was extremely useful to slave traders and ‘owners’ – not in practical terms, but in terms of moral support for their inhuman enterprise.

Now we know about the Enlightenment’s dark side, and in the woke wake of that awareness students have – understandably – called for decolonisation of the university syllabus. (The Daily Mail‘s response: ‘They Kant be serious!’)

In defence of the Enlightenment, it’s said that Kant & co. were conservative, and we should look to lesser-known radical philosophers of the Enlightenment – Baruch Spinoza, for instance – for its heart and soul.

Maybe so, but those mainstream conservative Enlightenment philosophers built our foundations – which now feel shaky.

Luckily – switch of metaphor! – the fruit of the Enlightenment, liberal democracy (currently the worst form of government apart from all the others) seems not to be poisoned by its toxic past. So I’ll still praise the Enlightenment – but less wholeheartedly.

The poison wasn’t Enlightenment philosophy – it was colonialism. It’d be nice to think those two heavyweight phenomena – Enlightenment and colonialism – were fundamentally separate and coincidental, rather than horribly symbiotic.

We need to decolonise our democracy but it’s easier said than done. Having ripped off and destroyed colonial countries, the UK blithely invited large numbers of residents of those countries to move and live here to help rebuild postwar Britain – then blighted their lives with postcolonial racism.

As I argue elsewhere, colonial racism is apparently a twisted version of a redundant anti-stranger instinct (evolved to protect against communicable disease).

If we acknowledge that, we can choose to live above it (as with other ‘monsters from the id‘), so enabling us to oppose and end racism – and to decolonise our minds and institutions.


This post is an edited excerpt from my longform post Colour me racist, blame my genes – racism explained as a redundant instinct

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Is it OK to say ‘mixed-race’? No. But…

July 2021 | 2,200 words | Contents

Digest: …it’s in common usage. But ‘race’ is a toxic word – ‘mixed ethnicity’ is better

Meghan Markle, AKA Duchess of Sussex | Photo: Shutterstock


Is it OK to say ‘mixed-race’? No. But…

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Contents

Introduction

The terms used

How the terms are used

There are no human races

The melting pot

‘Race’ as a social construct

If you’re not white, you’re black

‘That’s what I call myself’

Conclusion

Afterthoughts

Comments


Is it OK to say ‘mixed-race’? No. But…

Contents 🔼

Introduction

Loaded phrase

Is it OK to say ‘mixed-race’? No – because there are no human ‘races’. But… the phrase is in widespread use.

Even the Guardian (centre-left, the UK’s only national daily newspaper not owned by billionaire twats) uses ‘mixed race’ to describe, for instance, Meghan Markle. (The usually brilliant Guardian style guide is silent on the subject.)

As a zealous and pedantic antiracist, I objected to the use of the phrase on a local Facebook page and got a hostile response. People said, ‘I’m mixed-race – that’s what I call myself’.

But why would anyone accept that phrase as a description of themselves, loaded as it is with outmoded prejudice?


Is it OK to say ‘mixed-race’? No. But…

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The terms used

‘Ethnicity’ is best

The UK government’s thoughtful and helpful style guide Writing about ethnicity says:

    We refer to ethnicity and not race…We don’t say ‘mixed people’ or ‘mixed race people’. We usually say ‘people with a mixed ethnic background’ or ‘people from the mixed ethnic group’.

‘Mixed ethnic background’ is bit of a mouthful and ‘mixed ethnicity’ is a syllable longer that ‘mixed heritage’. Also, ‘heritage’ is easier to say, lacking the awkward ‘th’ – but ‘ethnicity’ is arguably more meaningful than ‘heritage’.

The guide doesn’t use the word ‘heritage’. It doesn’t say why, but ‘heritage’ could sound like something to do with the National Trust collection of stately homes – many of which, according to a 2020 NT report have links to the slave trade and colonialism.

I’ll use ‘ethnicity’ in this post.


Is it OK to say ‘mixed-race’? No. But…

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How the terms are used

A need to describe

Some people say they have dual ethnicity. That’s understandable – they want people to know they have two ethnicities, two cultures, and to be aware of the challenges that brings.

However, ‘dual ethnicity’ can be seen as pointlessly limiting – like the horrible ‘half-caste’ – which leads to a hell-hole of racist numerical classifications such as ‘quadroon’.

What if one of your parents had African ethnicity and the other parent had dual Indian and white ethnicity? Would you say you have triple ethnicity?

‘Mixed-ethnicity’ as a label gives enough information – without a number. It says, in effect, ‘Yes, as you may infer from my facial appearance, I have more than one ethnic identity. I’ll give more information if and when it’s appropriate’.

Why do skin colour and ethnic origin need describing? Mostly they don’t, but the concept of ethnicity allows people to identify themselves as, for instance, black British, Asian British, or mixed ethnicity, thereby voicing their own feelings about who they are in positive terms which include family origins, the colour of their skin, and their cultural allegiances.

Skin colour can also be useful to describe an unknown person. In the Facebook incident that prompted this post, a man harassing women in a park was described as ‘mixed-race’.

Similarly, the UK police use identification codes to describe suspects to colleagues, eg IC3 (black) and IC4 (Asian).

IC4’s ‘Asian’ is short for ‘South Asian’ which in this context means someone apparently of Pakistani, Bangladeshi or Indian ethnic origin. (IC5 is ‘Chinese, Japanese or Southeast Asian’.)

There’s no police code for people whose skin colour indicates mixed ethnicity. However, IC7 is ‘Unknown’.

(Such ‘racial profiling’ is abused by the police in the controversial practice of ‘stop and search’, overused against young black men.)

It’s a complex issue, but when there’s a perceived need to describe skin colour and ethnic origin, the words used matter.


Is it OK to say ‘mixed-race’? No. But…

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There are no human races

Just different populations

‘Mixed race’ implies there are human races – but only science-denying racists believe that. They say there are different races, some of which are intrinsically superior to others. They’re wrong.

Pseudo-scientific racists, from ‘Enlightenment’ philosophers (eg Kant and Locke) onwards, tried to justify colonialism and racism by claiming Europeans are inherently more intelligent than other ‘races’. They aren’t.

German philosopher and racist twunt Immanuel Kant | Image: Hulton Archive / Getty Images

Taxonomically, it’s generally agreed that all modern humans are Homo sapiens sapiens, the only surviving subspecies of the species Homo sapiens (the only surviving species of the genus Homo).

Race is a slippery word, but in biology it’s an informal rank below the level of subspecies, the members of which are significantly distinct from other members of the subspecies.

Genetic research has confirmed the obvious: the differences that evolved between different human populations are not significantly genetically distinct. The different populations are not races in any scientifically meaningful sense.

Single-gene disorders are the only significant genetic difference between the different populations. For instance, cystic fibrosis is most common among people of north European ethnicity. Otherwise the differences, albeit visually and culturally obvious, are superficial.

There are no different human races, just human populations with differences which, apart from single-gene disorders, are superficial – and which are becoming increasingly mixed!


Is it OK to say ‘mixed-race’? No. But…

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The melting pot

What we need

Before pseudo-scientific racism was rumbled, racists sneered about ‘miscegenation‘; and amongst ethnic minorities there’s pressure to resist assimilation and preserve cultural heritage by not ‘marrying out’.

But – some dodgy lyrics aside – Blue Mink were right: what we need is a great big melting pot. Marrying out doesn’t have to mean loss of cultural heritage – it can be seen as marrying in.

Ethnicity is often related to religion, and there may be concern that marrying out will dilute religion and therefore morality. But here in the western melting pot, we live in a post-religious age. God – as the source of morality – is dead.

Fortunately, as social animals we have innate goodness – and any innate badness can be constrained by the rule of law, preferably under liberal democracy (the worst form of government apart from all the others).

(Non-religious spirituality, on the other hand, is alive and well – and isn’t affected by inter-ethnic mingling.)


Is it OK to say ‘mixed-race’? No. But…

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‘Race’ as a social construct

Linguistic dilemma

Some say ‘race’ is a social construct that doesn’t have to be scientifically meaningful – it’s just a way of describing the different human populations.

This is where it gets tricky. On the one hand, clever racists use the social construct idea to blur the issue and keep talking about ‘race’ despite the scientific evidence that there are no races.

On the other hand, ‘race’ as a social construct is also used by non-racists as shorthand for the different populations. It’s used in that way in speech by people of colour; and by both black and white writers and speakers in non-racist media.

‘Race’ is also implied in the use of the word ‘racism’. Antiracists speaking or writing about racism implicitly accept the notion of ‘race’ – presumably, the social construct version.

For those wanting to identify and eventually eliminate ‘racism’, the solution to this linguistic dilemma is to nevertheless avoid using the word ‘race’.

Despite being an arguably useful social construct and the root of the useful word ‘racism’, the word ‘race’ is fundamentally toxic and redundant.

As for the word ‘racism’, until racism – or the thing arguably misnamed as racism – ends, the word will probably continue to be used, trailing its toxic root. Perhaps a better word or phrase could be used.

(Strictly speaking, there’s also no such thing as ‘the human race’. It’s an inclusive and relatively harmless phrase – and ‘the human subspecies’ isn’t catchy – but ‘humanity’ is better.)


Is it OK to say ‘mixed-race’? No. But…

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If you’re not white, you’re black

Self-denial

Some antiracists say people of mixed-heritage should identify solely as black – meaning ‘black’ in the generic sense of non-white: ie black or brown.

One such proponent was the late Darcus Howe, prominent black broadcaster and antiracist campaigner.

Howe’s fellow activist Sunder Katwala, the mixed-ethnicity director of immigration think-tank British Future, in the conclusion to his 2012 report The melting pot generation, recalled an encounter with Howe.

They were talking after a TV discussion (about a controversial remark made by a black politician). Karwala apparently referred to himself as mixed-race, and Howe responded vigorously.

    “Mixed race? What’s all this mixed race nonsense? If you’re not white, you’re black.
    That old point was jovially roared at me with some emphasis by one of this country’s leading public raconteurs on race and racism.
    “But I’ve never thought I was black. Shouldn’t it be up to me to decide?”
    “What are you then?”
    “British. And English. My parents are from India and Ireland, so I’m half-Asian and mixed race as well.”
    “British? Why don’t you call yourself Indian? Are you ashamed of your father, boy?”

    (My bolding)

Howe was forcefully expressing the well-known position of radical antiracism. It’s an understandably angry political response to people being described as mixed-race, but then experiencing prejudice because they’re non-white.

It’s a proud and noble gesture – but it’s a shame to deny half your identity. With due respect to the late, great Darcus Howe, he was wrong.

People of colour have no need to deny a significant part of their ancestry. The antiracist cause is best served by people of mixed herititage feeling free to express their full identity.

(But beware of identity politics. See my post, Whatever happened to Black Lives Matter?)

For more on this, see an article by mixed-herititage writer, author and academic Remi AdekoyaBiracial Britain: why mixed-race people must be able to decide their own identity (in The Conversation, 2021).

See also Adekoya’s book, Biracial Britain: What It Means To Be Mixed Race (2021).


Is it OK to say ‘mixed-race’? No. But…

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‘That’s what I call myself’

Whitesplaining word-nerd

Is it OK to say ‘mixed-race’? No. But… some people of mixed ethnicity say:

    ‘I’m mixed-race – that’s what I call myself. Don’t tell me what to say!’

It must be difficult enough being brown-skinned in a white world – facing microracism (‘Where are you from?’) and conscious and unconscious personal and institutional bias – without having a would-be white saviour (I’m white, by the way – Hi!) tell you how you should or shouldn’t describe yourself.

Whitesplaining word-nerd, antiracist virtue signaller – who do I think I am? It’s like a white person telling black Americans not to use the N-word: ‘I say, you rapper chappies – you really shouldn’t use that bad word.’

Except it’s not like that. When a mixed-ethnicity person uses the phrase ‘mixed-race’ to describe themselves, they’re not re-appropriating the word ‘race’ in a playfully political way.

They’re giving white people permission to use that phrase – and they’re inadvertently agreeing with zealous racists, the only people who think there actually are different races.

The question remains: why would anyone choose ‘mixed-race’ as a description of themselves, knowing it to be loaded with outmoded prejudice?

Maybe mixed-ethnicity people call themselves ‘mixed-race’, thinking, ‘So what? Who cares? It’s a social construct. It’s just what people say. And it’s only two syllables.’

Maybe they’re just winding up mitherers like me. If so, damn – you got me!

I just hope it’s not an example of that depressing phenomenon, internalised racism.


Is it OK to say ‘mixed-race’? No. But…

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Conclusion

‘Mixed ethnicity’ is better

The slippery idea of ‘race’ as a social construct doesn’t justify saying ‘mixed-race’. Neither does its use by mixed-ethnicity people.

The phrase ‘mixed-race’ is loaded with colonial notions of white superiority – it should be left in the shameful past where it belongs.

‘Mixed-ethnicity’ is better. It’s three extra syllables, true – but it celebrates our differences and embraces their mixing.

So… is it OK to say ‘mixed-race’? No.


Is it OK to say ‘mixed-race’? No. But…

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Afterthoughts

Afterthought 1

Although I’m English, a DNA test showed I have 36% Scottish ancestry. Och aye, th’ noo! (Sorry, couldn’t help it.) But I wouldn’t refer to myself as having mixed ethnicity – probably because it doesn’t involve my skin colour, and it’s still North European culture. So my mixed ancestry doesn’t need explaining.

Racism is prejudice plus (institutional) power. The white majority’s irrational colour prejudice means only people of colour with mixed ethnicity have to explain their ethnicity.

Afterthought 2

A commenter on this post has pointed out that young people of mixed ethnicity – the facially obvious kind, presumably – tend to refer to themselves simply as ‘mixed’. That’s a good solution.

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Dear reader/scanner, feel free to Comment

(All comments will be answered.)

Forward to the Past – hunting and gathering as a leisure activity

There’s a large park near us with deer in it. I’m an anti-hunting vegetarian, but whilst walking there recently, I felt an atavistic urge to hunt the deer!

Kill Bambi! | Photo: Christopher Day

Here in the UK, we churlish peasants hate the landed aristocracy (and the nouveaux super-rich), not least for their hobbies of huntin’, shootin’ an’ fishin’. (The dropped end-consonant is an aristo affectation.)

However, putting aside class hatred, maybe that’s what we’d all do if we had their time and money (although perhaps not in pursuit of the inedible fox, UK aristos’ favourite quarry). Maybe it’s intrinsically enjoyable. Maybe it goes back to hunting and gathering.

Putting aside – also – our modern vegetarian sensibilities, maybe hunting and gathering was sociable and enjoyable. Then we invented farming, which was antisocial and boring. (Perhaps nomadic herding is an acceptable intermediate lifestyle.)

After the Norman invasion of England in 1066, the victors stole all the land. They hunted in their forests. No one else could. (Perhaps poaching was semi-tolerated as a safety valve. Huntin’ an’ poachin’!)

So in the future (having somehow survived the climate crisis), with aristos and the super-rich all exiled to the moon (for receiving stolen land and criminal damage to the environment), and with reformed money, a state income, most work automated, food produced hydroponically and the land commonised and rewilded, we can all enjoy some occasional recreational huntin’ an’ gatherin’.

Then, at the end of the day, it’s back to the tribal eco-cave for an evening of eating, drinking, story-telling and singing around the fire. (Finally, drunk as skunks, it’s back by autodrone to our ecopods.)

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We’re all normal and we want our freedom

‘Shocking’ – film still from Marat/Sade, 1967 | United Artists

Contents

Introduction

1. The Red Telephone by Love, 1967

2. We Are Normal by The Bonzo Dog Doo-Dah Band, 1968

Funny bit at the end


We’re all normal and we want our freedom
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Introduction

Stoned haze de-stoned

Back in the album-listening 60s and 70s I vaguely wondered through the stoned haze how come I was hearing that unusual line, ‘We’re all (or We are) normal and we want our freedom‘, in two different songs on albums by two very different artists.

The songs were:

Decades later, I finally looked it up. The line’s from Marat/Sade, the famous 1963 play by Peter Weiss. The play’s full title is:

    The Persecution and Assassination of Jean-Paul Marat as Performed by the Inmates of the Asylum of Charenton Under the Direction of the Marquis de Sade

Set in 1808 in the Paris asylum in which the Marquis de Sade was incarcerated in real life, the play features de Sade staging a (fictional) play-within-a-play about the (real-life) murder of Jean-Paul Marat, using his fellow inmates as actors. In Act 1, Scene 6, the inmates chant:

    We’re all normal and we want our freedom

The play, said to draw on the ideas of Bertold Brecht and Antonin Artaud, was directed for theatre and film by theatre god Peter Brook. His award-winning production reportedly shocked audiences.

In 1967 Love’s Arthur Lee must have seen Marat/Sade and borrowed that line for The Red Telephone.

Then in 1968 The Bonzo Dog Doo-Dah Band’s Viv Stanshall must – coincidentally – have done the same thing for We Are Normal. Or perhaps he borrowed the line from Lee’s song.


We’re all normal and we want our freedom
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1. The Red Telephone by Love, 1967

(A relatively meaningless working title, apparently)

The wistful and melancholic song The Red Telephone on Love’s brilliant and timeless 1967 album Forever Changes was written by Arthur Lee.

According to Love forum contributor and music writer Mike Shaw, Lee moved in 1966 to a house in Laurel Canyon (the Los Angeles area renown in the 60s and 70s for its community of folk-rock musicians).

The house – which featured in Roger Corman’s film The Trip, starring Peter Fonda and Dennis Hopper – has a panoramic view over LA.

Lee wrote The Red Telephone there. Regarding the gloomy line, ‘Sitting on a hillside, watching all the people die’, Shaw imagines Lee hearing ambulance and police sirens in the distance as he gazed down at the city.

In 1967, the Marat/Sade film was showing in the US (and there was a much-praised Broadway theatre production in New York). In LA, Lee must have seen the film and borrowed the Marat/Sade line for The Red Telephone.

I think Lee also borrowed the style and rhythm of the 1966 novelty hit, They’re Coming to Take Me Away, Ha-Haaa! by Jerry Samuels, aka Napolean XIV. (Coincidentally, Napolean was in power in 1808.)

Near the end of The Red Telephone, it segues into an ominous Napolean XIV-style marching chant, repeated several times:

  • They’re locking them up today
  • They’re throwing away the key
  • I wonder who it’ll be tomorrow, you or me?

Lee then gives a plaintive spoken rendition of the Marat/Sade line:

    We’re all normal and we want our freedom

We’re all normal and we want our freedom
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2. We Are Normal by The Bonzo Dog Doo-Dah Band, 1968

My pink half

The wierd and wonderful song We Are Normal on the Bonzo’s brilliant and bonkers 1968 album The Doughnut in Granny’s Greenhouse was written by Viv Stanshall and fellow Bonzo Neil Innes.

During the recording of Doughnut, Dadaist Stanshall, wearing a rabbit’s head and underpants, recorded interviews with passers-by in a nearby London street. On We Are Normal, an interviewee is heard saying, ‘He’s got a head on him like a rabbit.’

Stanshall apparently said they got the ‘normal’ line from Love’s song. Innes said they got it from Marat/Sade. The theatre and film versions were on in London in 1968. Perhaps they got it from both sources.

The Bonzo’s We Are Normal is part sound experiment with cut-up vox pop and Miles-like trumpet, and part cod heavy rock. The only lyric is a close paraphrase of the Marat/Sade line, sung repeatedly and assertively in the rock section:

    We are normal and we want our freedom!

Stanshall slips in a cracking rhyme: ‘We are normal and we dig Bert Weedon‘ – but he adds a sarcastic laugh, as if to say although he couldn’t resist the joke, such humour was out of place in a serious experimental artwork.

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Lee blows the imagined re-enactment of Stanshall’s gag:

    A punk stopped me on the street. He said, ‘You got a light, Mac?’ I said, ‘No – but I’ve got a dark brown overcoat.’

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