The aliens we deserve: Under The Skin and misanthropology

What would you look like to an alien? Probably an irrational sack of meat. (Certainly you would look that way to Scarlett Johannson.) It’s an often asked question, and that answer is strangely comforting. In part because it’s clearly untrue: we have thoughts, we are people, the obsession with thinking about ourselves as bags of brawn helps us realise that we’re not. But Under The Skin isn’t interested in the vague humanism that characterises so many of our aliens: for once, the extraterrestrials have arrived to show the worst of humanity, and there’s no consolation to be found.


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Dmitry Firtash, Cambridge University and the price of ethics

Dmitry Firtash is a prominent Ukrainian businessman who has made generous donations to the University of Cambridge,” says a page created especially for him on the website of the Cambridge Trust, a charity that supports students studying at the university. Dmitry Firtash is “in ‘extradition custody’ after being held on suspicion of breaching bribery laws and forming a criminal organisation,” the Telegraph reported yesterday. As the traditional routes of university funding start to drop away, we’re going to have to get a lot more comfortable with sentences like those two sitting next to each other.

Firtash Philip

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Review: Her

Her is a film about a man falling in love with an operating system; it looks from outside like a technophobe’s ideal parable.* I began quite worried that Her would be overly preachy: Aren’t we all too obsessed with our phones, real communication is amazing, and that sort of thing.

It puts paid to that pretty quickly: the opening scene shows Theodore at his job, writing apparently heartfelt letters on demand for his customers’ celebrations. One of his customers supposedly misses his girlfriend’s little crooked tooth, another [something]; the results are printed out in artificial handwriting and sent away. (The company is called Her might look like the kind of film that would encourage us to write handwritten letters to one another, as a corrective to the wealth of humanity-less digital communication that we are continually exposed to; but Her shows that letters can’t be honest anymore.

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Steve McQueen’s Bodies: 12 Years A Slave, Shame, Hunger

Having a body in the films of Steve McQueen inevitably leads to misfortune, and little else. In Hunger, Shame, and now 12 Years a Slave, the body is a site of suffering, lingered over usually far too long to be comfortable. But the most successful of McQueen’s characters and films manage to make that body and its pain into an instrument, coming to own their unfortunate flesh.


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True Detective and false genius

Film can’t cope with deduction, but it is in love with deductive geniuses. Increasingly, over the last few years, it has found new ways of isolating those geniuses – developmental or mental health difficulties, implicit or explicit, usually – so that their deductions can be isolated, too. Sherlock in both recent adaptations, Hannibal‘s Will Graham, Homeland‘s Carrie Matheson: their genius is their madness, and vice versa.


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Black Sabbath: Symptom of the Universe – Mick Wall – Orion – 2013

Unlike most bands, the story of Black Sabbath is one that has been told too many times, by too many people – and each new attempt to do so usually complicates rather than elucidates the legend. Mick Wall (who has written a number of books on the band’s constituent parts) has written a new book that claims to be “The final word on the only name synonymous with heavy metal,” according to its publishers. A big challenge for what might be the bitchiest band in British music history.

Black Sabbath: Symptom of the Universe

Wall does a brave job in corralling those various stories and personalities into something approaching cohesion. When there are falling outs – and there are lots – he opts to keep both stories and remain on the fence about which is true. But that doesn’t always work – when, exactly, did Ozzy Osbourne leave Black Sabbath for the first time? There’s little agreement, so there’s little discussion. In a story where there are so many interested parties trying to bend the story for their own interests – Sharon Osbourne, Tony Iommi and Bill Ward all being busy PR operators – readers need someone to help guide them through the charming but fragmented stories.

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Penguin Classics doesn’t need anyone’s sanctimony about the Morrissey book

It is a joke. And a good one. Probably Penguin are laughing too. Certainly everyone else should. It’s so odd to see supposedly well-meaning people get hot and bothered on behalf of a publishing imprint. It’s not even a record label. (That would be weird enough.)

Penguin Classics has, by definition, never done anything to support its authors. (At least not until now.) Its value is pure inheritance. Sure it has chosen its mad old aunts well. But they are only aunts. And they are only old.

I’m sure the glitzy shareholders of Penguin Random House are glad of everyone’s vocal support. But it’s an oddly self-important person that thinks that they need it, and a weird line of reasoning that makes that person think that Penguin deserve it.

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Jimmy Kimmel’s Kanye sketches are really about how scared he is

There are more than enough reasons to make fun of Kanye West. But the two main ways that Jimmy Kimmel has so far chosen to mock Kanye West were telling. First, in a sketch replayed in yesterday’s interview but recorded years ago, he had Josh Groban sing Kanye’s tweets. Second, in the sketch that got Kanye on the show in the first place, Kimmel had children recite West’s Zane Lowe interview.

In both cases, it’s a simple joke: it’s funny to hear Kanye’s words come from someone who wouldn’t be expected to see them. But they’re stupid jokes too. In the Groban sketch we’re supposed to be on Groban’s (and Kimmel’s) side – what kind of person would say those things? – but that’s asking us to be on the side of the old: Groban sings stupid opera-lite, for a living and in this video, and the tweets don’t fit because it’s an old form. It’s the same kind of superiority masking as faux-humility when people claim not to have heard of One Direction, or ask whether the X Factor is still airing.

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