Tiger Aspect Application – Best and Worst Comedies

Closing on October 13th, Tiger Aspect, one of Britain’s leading production companies and strong-arm of Endomol, has advertised a vacancy for a runner in their comedy department. On top of the usual cover letter and CV, the application requires 500 words on “the best and worst comedy programming, and if appropriate, make suggestions for how the productions could be improved.”

Of course, I’m unwilling to give them all my billion dollar ideas at this point, so they’ll have to make-do with this instead. This is not unusual of companies to ask this kind of task from potential applicants, however it would be nice if this kind of stuff received some sort of feedback. I have received plenty of copy and paste emails saying ‘we are sorry but due to the large volume and high quality of applications for this position, we regret to inform you (that you suck – sic). One might prelude to the idea that they’re probably sitting on a shed load of original material from a single job posting.

In any case, see below my interpretation of this particular task.

The best comedies aren’t necessarily funny all the time. They can even  be morbidly depressing. But they need to make you do more than just exhale slightly harder through your nostrils. From a production perspective, the best TV comedies are those that you can sell on in years to come to repeat channels like Dave, Comedy Central or Gold. Some examples of these could be The Vicar of Dibley, Dad’s Army, Blackadder, or even the most internationally world famous Mr. Bean. These are productions with shelf life that are often miniature reflections upon respective points of history and society. Ideally they carry a well scripted, non-linear narrative leaning more on the dynamics of characters rather than the actual storyline. This means viewers don’t have to catch up countless hours if they miss the start of the season and can be easily viewed multiple times especially after hours of pointless channel flicking and finally picking a safe classic.

Comedic conventions allow a certain licence to pry at gender, racial stereotypes, age, sexuality and even disabilities. Normally this can be achieved tastefully and usually at the expense of the provocateur although in some, mostly retrospective cases this hasn’t always been the case. Love Thy Neighbour is a classic example of a comedy that should never have been so readily embraced yet at the time people found it hilarious. Technically, in the same vein, this convention might include the occasional lurid humour from Family Guy or South Park, although perhaps one should not be too hasty. Even without hindsight, contemporary comedies like Two and a Half Men could be criticised through lack of any substance and through a lack of understanding its audience. Without any real target audience, some companies appear to blindly leap into production for the sake of being funny, only to be vigorously impaled on poor reviews, social media and even meta humour. The worst of these are convoluted productions that try too hard such as Norbit, Big Moma’s House, or American Pie 17. Thankfully truly bad comedies tend to be axed organically with their failure resulting in dismal production returns, disgracing the respective company that produced it.

Rowan Atkinson personified a particular brand of iconic British comedy that he has grown and developed over time yet they still remain relevant. A more conceited effort should be focused on developing programs around the actors who have the potential to embody contemporary social dynamics. Regarding Mr. Bean in even higher regard, the program can be spotted airing in run-down diners en route to Kazakhstan or in hotel foyers in Ulaanbataar. This is because it is entirely universal, playing on physical comedy much more visually than leaning on a dialog-centric script. In this sense, it is perhaps the most successful comedy of all time, bridging all manners of national, economical, linguistic and sociological gaps all over the world.

Journalism of Attachment?

Martin Bell, former BBC war correspondent, has argued for what he refers to as a “Journalism of Attachment” in the reporting of conflict. What do you think he means by this, and does it contradict the traditional calls for objectivity and neutrality in reporting war? With reference to recent or historical examples of war reporting, discuss the ethical implications of a Journalism of Attachment.

The concept behind the term ‘Journalism of Attachment’ refers to a philosophy of journalists being empowered with their own freedom of expression and choice. Martin Bell argues that journalists are not robotic and that, as human beings, they cannot be consistently dispassionate to scenes of anguish and suffering. The philosophy encourages journalists to embrace their emotional attachment to what they witness and that even trying to uphold one of the most fundamental ethical constructs motioned for journalists, the National Union of Journalists (NUJ) second journalist’s fundamental, “A journalist, at all times, strives to ensure that information disseminated is honestly conveyed, accurate and fair,” is irrelevant when it comes to reporting some conflict situations.

There are strong arguments for and against Bell’s idea. He is entirely within reason to comment that journalists are ‘only human’ and that as human beings we are naturally aligned to side with those who are oppressed and those who are suffering. We have an instinct that looks for someone to blame whenever anything goes wrong, and so we are genetically predisposed to want to paint conflict in black and white. Bell strives for ‘journalism that cares was well as knows’ , stressing that from his experiences in Bosnia, journalists were ‘no longer spectators, but participants’. As members of society, Bell urges journalists to uphold a sense of responsibility to abhors oppression and defend a ‘just cause.’

“If journalists spread the same antagonistic, reduced and distorted images of a conflict as do political and military elites (see Herman & Chomsky, 1988), this is not a clue to a conspiracy between policymakers and the media but rather results from the mere fact that journalists are society members themselves.”

The problem stands when, in a media savvy society, we understand that conflict situations are complicated, and that we expect a metaphoric grey cloud to mask the truth of events that happen within the situation. We trust that (at least within an ideal public sphere) journalists will work hard to verify their sources and report a balanced and fair representation of any specific event, although, in practice this is not always the case. This would be particularly destructive if all journalists were to embrace the concept of Journalism of Attachment. One of the main issues is that journalists who practice Journalism of Attachment are in danger or presenting a view that people will interpret their work as a version of truth, despite the fact that their story is bias. Chris Stevens adequately summarised;

“If the reader is left confused, so be it – better to be confused about a war that is, after all, deeply confusing, than be fed an opinion.”

This fully denies the construction for Journalism of Attachment. Feeding an audience an opinion plays on the conditions of Nick Davis’s – Flat Earth News . Not only that, it suggests that journalists who follow Bell’s impression may slip into reporting not only bias news, but propaganda.

Mick Hume wrote a direct and aggressive response to the notions of Journalism of Attachment. In his short book called ‘Who’s War is it Anyway?’ Hume argues that Bell’s concept is subject to the biases that journalists strive to be without. Hume even goes as far to describe the Journalism of Attachment theory as a ‘cancer’ in the public sphere;

“…time that taboo was broken and the unspoken issue of fashionable bias in war reporting was openly debated. Then it might be possible to set about cutting the cancer out.”

Hume goes on to argue that this conduct of ‘fashionable’ journalism is where ‘taking sides is taking liberties’. Clearly, Hume’s compendium is in no way an ‘open debate’ when it carries sentiments that describe his opposition as a cancer, however, his book does convey some fundamental flaws in Bell’s construction.

One of the most alarming attributes that Journalism of Attachment insinuates is not perhaps the most obvious. There is a danger that a journalist who interprets a situation and offers a skewed view of events by offering his or her opinion could in fact impose that opinion to the reader. This is in effect, a form of propaganda. Tim Allen states, on the subject,

“It seems likely it has important influence on the fighting itself. This is particularly so where coverage makes no effort to look beyond the public ideologies of combatants or highlights what appear to be exotic aspects of a conflict.”

If events are hidden within the smokescreen of ‘the theatre of war’, then it leaves room for atrocities and politically ‘embarrassing’ incidents to go unreported if reporters are content to write about their feelings and instincts, rather than the actually eventualities. If the reader happens to be a governing body, then a populace may call for action on a subject that has had little research other than a writer’s opinion. When Mick Hume writes about ‘who benefits’ from Journalism of Attachment, he says that,

“It is ultimately a moral crusade for Western governments, through the United Nations and Nato, to take forceful action against those accused of genocide and war crimes around the world.”

This could perhaps be applied to a more contemporary situation like the war in Iraq. Media publications, including the BBC, wasted no time in stamping the label of ‘genocide’ when it came to Saddam Hussein’s weapons testing on the Kurdish population in Iran. Even recently, an article from the BBC headlines with the term genocide, as an attempt to grab attention with “UN report says DR Congo killings ‘may be genocide’. Another example could even be in Bosnia. Media reports suggest that as many as 250,000 people were killed in the country. There were plenty of accounts where the term ‘genocide’ cropped up in descriptions of the conflict there, however, the Stockholm International Peace Institute said that the Bosnian death toll was closer to 30,000 or 50,000 on both sides . Mick Hume talks about this in his section called ‘A Twisted Sort of Therapy.’

It might be an exaggeration to denote the concept of Journalism of Attachment as a form of distraction for contemporary writers to offload their dissatisfaction with our own societies but Hume suggests that our own hermeneutic horizons are too convoluted and complex to divide into right and wrong. People choose to label good and evil in foreign cultures so as to escape pointing fingers closer to home. It is perhaps more prudent when Hume criticises journalists for searching for a sense of trend worthy stories, of which their purposes are not to highlight an events but to idolise the reporters. He states that,

“If the journalist is to be taken seriously as a crusader for the cause of Right, she (or he) cannot be seen messing around in dirty little local wars that don’t matter much to the rest of us. Every conflict she is reporting has to be recast as one of world-historic importance…”

There is not so much of an argument to put this down to Bell’s concept of Journalism of Attachment. Many journalists will try to persue stories that will land them in good stead with their editors, as an ambitious drive. This is not something that all journalists are immune to, whether they are for or against Journalism of Attachment. It does cause concern that Journalism of Attachment might encourage ‘bad habits’ in terms of journalistic practice. This goes back to the concept that if journalists are looking for stories solely to grab the attention of viewers, and that the content that they supply is bias, then that surely constitutes to propaganda, and will act to fuel and continue war efforts, rather than to pacify. Even more debate would arise over whether or not it is a journalist’s duty to be a peace maker, however, Journalism of Attachment certainly insinuates a level of warmongering, since conflict can idolise a journalists and their efforts. Good stories from a wartime situation will most certainly launch a journalist’s career to new heights.

Martin Bell promotes the cause of ‘the human element.’ He urges that journalists should in all accounts, strive to find those who suffer and those who are helpless in conflict situations, to report their anguish, so that their suffering might not be in vain as viewers sat comfortably at home might feel compelled to help. This in theory could be highly positive and productive. He suggests that when editorial decisions are being made about what content is to be shown, then that is, even at a basic level, a level of bias. In order to harness the loophole, he adds that the notion that it should be harnessed and so, the since the human element sells well in the first place, it should be prioritised. However, Hume argues that focusing on the human element deletes the complexity of a situation and dramatises war;

“Instant reports from amid the rubble that focus only the blood and tears will always tend to make warfare look like the apparently mindless act of evil men.”

Wars are products and eventualities of political and social unrest that have reached melting point where they are then converted from hostile sentiments to hostile manoeuvres. These would be the only elements that would be reported if Journalism of Attachment were in effect. Not only that, it could be argued that these reports would be damaging in the long term, with regard to Western societies current media consumption. Desensitisation in the media already deems many stories dull and obsolete as we see elements of human suffering every day. This relates to the point of ‘Crusader’ journalists, who are search for stories to make their names, rather than highlight important issues, since the issues are become less and less important to a growingly ‘immune’ public audience. Adam Curtis summarised this with a short film called ‘Oh Dearism’, which compares the notion of a desensitised culture to a ‘depressed hippy.’

Bell seemed to reach a point in his career where his Journalism of Attachment epiphany occurred almost simultaneously to his injury in Bosnia. Robert Fisk is a reporter of a similar accolade to Martin Bell. Fisk also suffered in a conflict situation, perhaps more severely than shrapnel to the stomach, however, Fisk was adamant that his own experiences should not change his opinion on the topic he was reporting;

“Why record my few minutes of terror and self-disgust near the Afghan border, bleeding and crying like an animal, when thousands of innocent civilians were dying under American air strikes in Afghanistan, when the War for Civilisation was burning and maiming the people of Kandahar and other cities because ‘good’ must triumph over ‘evil?”

Fisk has inadvertently touched upon perhaps the most important issue. A war will still continue, despite people’s opinion of it. Whether or not someone is pro Journalism of Attachment is irrelevant. Philip Knightly states that it does not matter if you are for or against Bell’s concept, he dismally depicts that there is no use trying to report as an independent journalist in an increasingly dangerous theatre of war and that Western military powers are currently too clever and manipulative to undermine and report;

“Fear for the lives of correspondents who want to be independent will deter their organisations from allowing them to be so. As well, insurers will either refuse to underwrite the risk to correspondents’ lives or demand prohibitively high premiums.”

He continues to criticise The Pentagon since he feels that it does not ‘care’ about public concern. Knightly paints a dark picture that the only way for future journalists to be able to report safely from a conflict situation is by being embedded, and that way, having to see a conflict from one side. In this effect, Martin Bell’s theory seems to already have been accepted as a norm and according to Knightly, it may have to be embraced. He concludes;

“Whether war correspondents would wish to continue as propagandists and myth-makers, plying their craft subservient to those who wage wars, is a decision they will need to make for themselves.”

Knightly is denying Herman and Chomsky’s theory that journalists will infringe their opinion because they want to. Knightly stresses that journalists report one-sided accounts because they have to.

If the future for war reporting is only to become an embedded journalist with the an army, then that would spell defeat for the freedom of information and even freedom of expression. It would mean than countless people would have their stories and lives lost in an opaque ‘grey area’, otherwise known as the theatre of war. It has perhaps already happened. War reports have become entirely sanitised as we see images of high tech weaponry like missiles being fired from a battleship in a market in Iraq. Viewers are never shown the images of the missiles in the market, but we can only speculate. The problem arrises when, if we relate back to the idea of bias reporting acting as propaganda, and propaganda fuelling conflicts, then are we to expect an era of conflicts that never end? Perhaps the reverse will happen and the conflicts will be reported as military powers want us to see them, as short, lossless, and glorious pursuits.

Websites;

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-africa-11450093

http://www.nytimes.com/2005/11/19/books/review/19bron.html?_r=1&ei=5070&en=55044ab9f817eb99&ex=1153454400&pagewanted=print

http://www.nuj.org.uk/

References:

Herman & Chomsky, 1988

Ethan Bronner, A. Forign Correspondent Who Does More Than Report. New York Times, Nov 19th 2005.

Chris Steven, covering the Macedonia conflict. The Scotsman, 2001

Nick Davis, Flat Earth News, Chatto and Windus, 2008.

Bibliography:

Jake Lynch, Reporting The World. Conflict and Peace Forums, 2002.

Martin Bell, In Harm’s Way; Reflections of a War-Zone Thug, 1996.

Wilhelm Kempf, Conflict Coverage and Conflict Escalation. Goteborg Nordicom, 2002

Mick Hume, Whose War is it Anyway? Informinc, 1997

Philip Knightly, The First Casualty. The John Hopkins University Press, 2002.

Results day Review

“It could have been worse.” Disappointment was the favourite flavour apparently. The bitter taste was swallowed by everyone as they got their essays back. Everyone, except ‘that guy’ at the back of the room who always works so hard. He has no life. We don’t envy him anyway. – Sam Blithy

The seminar group got the results of their essays that were supposed to have been the product of their university education so far. When it’s put like that, frankly the results were hard to swallow. No-one choked on them, but there was an agreed murmur or silence that reflected a similar thought. Everyone could have done better. Disappointment tastes like that lump in your throat. It tastes like that waste of time and it compliments that other flavour of ‘could have done better.’

It can only be savoured to inspire harder work next time. The problem is that the taste is just so easily forgotten.

Essays are the bane of everyone’s life, surely? Although I have heard Anne say the words ‘pleasure’ and ‘essay’ in the same sentence before. In fact she actually said, “that’s the pleasure of essay writing,” when trying to explain the structure and process of essay writing. It didn’t work. Clearly, neither has an average of 16 years of education.

For extra helpings though, the class received their shorthand results. That tasted better, like cheap ice cream after eating something that had been really burnt. It took a while for the class to get itself organised as no-one really wanted their just desserts. What no-one wanted to admit was they all knew their results were horrible and so wanted to keep it to themselves, to stave that unsavoury pallet of scorns or ‘constructive critique.’ Eventually, like school kids queuing for a school dinner, pre-Jamie Oliver, the walked up to collect their pitiful marks one by one.

Something must be done. Things have to change. Lifestyle must be sacrificed because that bitter taste burnt some taste buds. Holding ones tongue in future seems like a good idea, less of the quirky anecdotes and more ‘getting one’s head down.’

Victims of Circumstance

  I had a huge (and heated) debate with my girlfriend last night. I could not for the life of me remember how we got onto such a topic, but we were discussing what you would do if something horrendous happened to one of your family members or someone you love, if they were murdered etc. I said that I would try to be as removed and judge the situation as dispassionately as possible, tracking the chain of events that led up to whatever incident, for example, if someone was murdered, I would try and empathise with what led that person to murder. What drives someone to that level?

I remember writing an essay back in A2 for English Literature. Crackin’ subject. It was a piece of coursework over Captain Corelli’s Mandolin, which just so happened to have scored 49/50 (that’s 98% to you maths wizzos). I thought it prudent to publish this essay as I have often a tendency to play the devil’s advocate. The example being in this essay, I sympathise with Nazi’s……

Dear God, I DO NOT SIMPATHISE WITH NAZISM! What I mean to say is that I empathise with people in strained circumstances. People are usually not just generically evil; there are usually strange influences, pressures, and social circumstances that drive people to commit atrocities. Before culprits are judged, perhaps we should investigate all the routes that led to trigger such a psychological disposition; Murder etc…I dare you to remain rational though. The problem with human rational is that we are driven to look for someone or something to blame directly. Rationality is the first casualty when someone dies. Wow – a bold statement, a definite hypothesis.

Anyway, check out this essay, I’m pretty proud of it;

“Postmodernist writing is built on ambivalence and is fundamentally paradoxical; it asserts and then subversively undermines such abstract principles such as value, order, meaning, control, certainty, morality, in the process undermining itself and any tendency to consistency or a single interpretation.” Examine de Bernieres’ novel ‘Captain Corelli’s Mandolin’ as a postmodernist text in the light of this view point.

            Captain Corelli’s Mandolin, published in 1994, but set around the Second World War, exemplifies a philosophy of broad thinking and open mindedness, showing the characters for their traits and their circumstances rather than passing judgements in black and white because of their station or by their initial actions. It portrays empathy for all sides of a coin, the two faces, and even the edges. A strongly acclaimed critic, Marion Cox said that;

“Postmodernism shares the preoccupation of modernism but goes further in that it mocks and rejects traditional linear narrative, and refuses to give the reader the comfort of closure. Central to postmodernist writing is the author’s aim of unsettling and deconstructing accepted notions about language, about identity, about writing itself.”

As the novel is composed as an epistolary of multi layered narrative, it seems to agree with this statement. It includes formats of diary entries, news articles, and historical accounts where examples can be as varied as those written by Carlo ‘L’omosessuale’, or the chapter ‘A Pamphlet distributed on the Island, Entitled with the Fascist Slogan ‘Believe, Fight, and Obey’, to Dr. Iannis’s medical notes in the chapter ‘Extreme Remedies’. This invites the readers intellectually to challenge the stereotypical styles of a written novel and convert them to a first person perspective. It creates a situation where the reader has to piece together the events and viewpoints from the thoughts and feelings of the individual characters, building empathy and sympathy on an individual level. It gifts the readers with a first person perspective; personal accounts allow readers to see the series of circumstances dispassionately yet through the thoughts of the characters. The chapters revolving around the subject of the German officer ‘Gunter Weber’ for example, demonstrates the bizarre mix of circumstances that force people to commit atrocities ignoring their morals. A quotation from the character, Dr Iannis states this exactly;

“There would be no tyranny, Captain, and no wars, if minions did not ignore their conscience.”

With this in mind, to an extent the atrocities of war can be more easily put down to ignorance, rather than malice. This concurs with Marion Cox’s comment of rejecting familiar concepts, such as the Nazi’s being generically evil. De Bernieres presents Gunter Weber as full of innocence and as someone who swallows the slogans of the Nazi’s. His innocence is portrayed in chapter “The Good Nazi,” were we learn the extent of Weber’s innocence;

“Weber was a twenty-two year old and had never seen a woman naked before… Weber was still a virgin, his father was a Lutheran pastor…”

We are invited to inspect Weber’s background, to construct a bond between the character and audience. The audience is allowed to form their own opinion based upon Weber’s background and upbringing, rather than his actions and his national allegiance to the Germans.

            Pelagia remains integral to the course of the novel, from the start to the end, different governing regimes come and go, and history repeats itself just as Dr. Iannis had recorded it over his lifetime reflecting upon centuries of cyclical conflict. Pelagia acts as rigid viewpoint where we the audience can associate themselves to her actions and responses. She is the human connection to the madness that revolves around her as reality. This humanist connection is not necessarily postmodernist; in fact, the direct depiction of Pelagia presents her classically as a comparison to the Virgin Mary in the sense she remains virginal and she is worshiped and idolised by characters like Mandras;

“I saw Pelagia walk ahead seemingly across the water like Our Lord,”

This type of classical reference, or even Biblical reference, is a trait most common in a modernist text, however, the circumstances at the end of novel imply that the course of Pelagia’s plot did not comply with the conventions of a typical modernist novel. Many critics like have argued that the ending was too depressing. Pelagia is subject to numerous disasters from the parting of Corelli onwards; the earthquake, the loss of her father, segregation from society, and general aging. De Bernieres writes the thoughts and feelings of Pelagia in first person towards the end of the novel, specifically in the chapter ‘Pelagia’s Lament’ appropriately named after musical terminology. Pelagia categorically states;

“I have been reduced, I am my own ghost, all my beauty and youth have shrivelled away, there are no illusions of happiness to impel me.”

It complies more with conventions of a thespian tragedy than the originally harmonious imagery at the start of the novel, encompassing Pelagia’s youth and virility.

            As a postmodernist text, the irony of conflict is in effect what defines the book as postmodernist in the first place. Historically, during the Second World War, the literature was heavily influenced by wartime propaganda, so patriotic and anti-patriotic views profoundly influenced the context. In comparison, De Bernieres wrote the novel in 1993, decades after the major conflict and political tensions of 1943, when the novel has most of its timeline, so his are likely to be obviously fictional, but in context to 1993, they are also less likely to be biased. It cannot be co-incidence that De Bernieres must have been influenced by the massively changing political climates. The Berlin Wall was torn down in 1989, just five years before he published his book. This re-enforces the point that the novel exemplifies on a smaller scale what happens to the individuals when megalomaniacs act out their part in their despotic cycles. De Bernieres has provided the medium of a small island far from the major conflicts of the Second World War to show how the ‘little people’ are affected by extravagant conflict. He writes over the canvas of a Second World War story seen as the traditional concepts of good and evil are predominant and it is easy to distinguish who the heroes and villains should be, and to this degree, De Bernieres has broken the trend of black and white and merged them into shades of brighter grey. The chapter ‘The Duce’ depicts bluntly a main theme of madness personified in Mussolini. The chapter is designed to portray at an early stage the dismal state of affairs that force the live loving Italians to conflict and invasion, off the whim of an insane fascist who throws the lives of people around on the same level, with the same consideration as his own petty domestic affairs;

“…Greece is a totalitarian state that should naturally be on our side… I CAN’T STAND CATS. WHAT DO YOU MEAN, IT SAVES ON MOUSE TRAPS? DON’T TELL ME WHEN I CAN OR CANNOT USE MY REVOLVER INDOORS.”

Mussolini’s insanity is emphasises in the tone and the rhythm of his speech. He speaks in short uncalculated outbursts, and it is important to note that we never see an exchange of discourse, as if Mussolini is as much speaking to himself as barking contradictory remarks and demands to those around him. The juxtaposition in intonation and tone here is classic to his attention span, fluttering from one topic to another with little regard to consequence or prioritisation. The concept here is that the glory seeking, empire builder is not someone who is here to unite people under one banner and seek to mould a better world, he is an egotistical sadist in a precarious position of too much power. Classic literature often presents those of high status and power as noble and courageous, whereas here, De Bernieres has shown a tyrant to be childlike and almost generates sympathy for him.

            De Bernieres presents the Italians as individuals, rather than as the archetypal invader. There is a significant build up to the invasion of the island of Cephalonia where all the islanders prepare for an expected violent attack on their homeland, prying at themes of barbarism and history repeating itself on a cyclic level. The readership is therefore perhaps shocked at the bathos when De Bernieres portrays the Italians in a whimsical and harmless light. From one extreme to the other;

“Fathers who expected to be beaten to death stroked the hair of daughters who expected to be raped…”

In comparison with;

Bella bambina at nine o’clock,” he shouted, “E-y-e-s left.

            The shift in tone, exemplified here, demonstrates an iconic feature of postmodernist text.  The tone shifts from a cold, dark and sincere mode to a comical and whimsical style over the grave seriousness of militaristic matter. Postmodernism is not about making light of the military, it allows the readership to see the humanity behind the stone, martial, establishment.

            The novel is far from a capricious reflection on military life. It shows how real warfare really is. The reality it reflects upon is that soldiers are all human, and ‘only’ human, they are organic instruments that can be reduced to biological systems and functions. De Bernier presents soldiers in war suffering atrocious and graphic scenes of mutilation and despair. The chapter ‘L’omosessuale (6)’ plays with parenthesises and empty narrative, as Carlo explains to Francesco’s mother with hollow, cliché imagery, and in parenthesises the audience is subject to the exact and graphic realities of Francesco’s death;

“…the side of his head had been blown away. The pieces of skull looked grey and were coated in membrane and thick blood. Some of the fluid was bright red, and some of it was crimson. He was still alive.”

Here the reader is subject to a horrific and mortifying portrayal of the end of a human life. It conveys a very sobering aspect that simplifies characters down to their chemical construction, despite the readership having followed the stories and built a history with, in this example, Francesco. We have seen Francesco’s personality, as someone with humour and courage, and we have grown to like him, so to see him here in pieces with ‘pieces of skull’ and ‘still alive’ is a shock factor for the audience. What adds to the surrealism is a massive juxtaposition in tone, where Carlo attempts to explain to Francesco’s mother what happened, the tone is strongly simplified and the language made much more simple;

He died very quickly of a bullet through the heart. He can have felt nothing.

The use of cliché terms like ‘a bullet through the heart’ is used to apparently spare the mother of the distress and to try and make her son’s death less horrific yet the readers know the full extent of Francesco’s gruesome demise. Here the realities of war are shown in their true colours, blighting the cliché propaganda that was so expected and readily accepted, and providing a rich and disturbingly colourful viewpoint on what really happened.

            Broad mainstream philosophies are often presented in different lights. Characters like Corelli maintain an eclectic mix of conceptual beliefs that are never addressed or labelled to specific religions or political ideologies. This generates the sense that Corelli is unique and original in his being and carries a wholesome humanist sentiment. The political icons of the 19th and 20th century like Marx or Nietzsche are directly attached to the more easily marred characters like Weber and Mandras. A modernist text often makes classical references to previous literature or political texts, which are used to add weight to the driving forces and sentiments of individual characters. Here, Corelli is depicted as more of a hero because he has attained his mental wellbeing through his own devices and experiences, rather than swallowing the slogans like Mandras being indoctrinated by Hector’s jargon filled, overly complicated speeches, or Weber subjected to the destructive propaganda of the German High Command. Here is a postmodernist depiction as the hero is not the archetypal nobleman, comparable to ancient Greek heroes with noble routes, following aspirations set on age old causes. Captain Corelli is a hero by mistake, a soldier by accident as he wanted to become a musician;

“It was a plan that went wrong; the Duce got some big ideas.”

This idea of accidental heroism allows the hero to retain humility, without arrogance or military ambition, just the will to live and let live. It allows the readers to follow the insane juxtaposition of events that allow someone as docile and humanitarian as the Captain, to be sucked into a world dominated by megalomaniac political leaders, reflecting again on how the little people are affected and how their dreams are shattered or distorted by the onset of war. The novel Catch 22 by Joseph Heller, widely regarded as a postmodernist text by critics, portrays a similar aspect to anti-patriotism. To an extent, the character Yossarian wants desperately to survive the war and states;

“It doesn’t make a damned bit of difference who wins the war to someone who’s dead… the enemy is anybody who’s going to get you killed, no matter which side he’s on,”

This relates closely to Corelli’s dismay over the war where he confesses to Pelagia that cares little for the outcome of the conflict

and declares that ‘it’s shit, it’s all shit’. Both main characters display a sense of helplessness and resentment for being in the positions they are in. They have to be there, as Yossarian adequately put it, as a matter of survival, they would be shot if they did not fight, and they are likely to be killed if they do. It is interesting to note that in both these scenes, both the main characters are drunk, and they are in a state of mind where grim realities are unlocked from taboo and they speak their minds freely without guilt or hesitation. They demonstrate the anger and frustration as they see themselves as victims of their own circumstances including dramatic tones evoking ultimatums and exaggerated doom. The idea of higher powers morbidly stamping their fateful control over people as they are pointlessly sent to war to suffer from their own people and the opposing forces generates a sense of communal, international bravado where men must accept their fates and even face their deaths. David Horspool from the ‘Times Literary Supplement’ wrote;

“ De Bernieres sees that war can either degrade or elevate human beings, but it is humanity itself rather than war’s effects which interests him.”

To this extent, all the tragedies that beheld Carlo and Francesco, and all the circumstances that envelope Corelli or Weber, show how grim and gruesome conflict afflicts itself onto people, but the ways in which people conduct themselves with integrity and humanity are emphasised in war, and the real heroism is not in valiant acts of military bravery, but how people relate to each other and how relationships are built in the face of dutiful boundaries.

            In conclusion, the novel is composed of parodies expressed through a fantastic range of rich multi-layered narrative that creates a colourful depiction of humanity. With the fantastic diversity of people presented within the novel, it touches upon contemporary topics of racism and patriotism following an almost psycho-analytical study of individual characters that allow us to generate our own opinions based on their traits and their histories rather than their stereotypes. This eradication of typecasts is both refreshing and necessary in today’s society, even though the novel was set during the Second World War, the perceptions of people can be transferred onto our present society.

Bibliography

Louis de Bernieres, The Essential Guide – Margaret Reynolds and Jonathan Noaks

Roz Kaveney, 22nd April 1994 ‘The New Statesman and Society’ – Article on the mix of styles in the Latin American trilogy and in Captain Corelli’s Mandolin.

`A. S. Byatt, 25th April 1994 ‘The Evening Standard’ – Article on form, tone and style.

David Horspool, 8th April 1994 ‘Times Literary Supplement’ – Article on style and tone.

The Modern British Novel 1878-2001 – Malcolm Bradbury

Catch 22 – Joseph Heller

Websites;

http://www.louisdebernieres.co.uk

http://www.contemporarywriters.com

http://www.guardian.co.uk/books/2004/jun/20/fiction.louisdebernieres