TV and the movies

Life’s been busy, for various reasons. So I haven’t had the chance jot down quite as much as I’d like. But, here are a few things I’ve been watching on different screens.

Anonymous – We are legion

This was an intriguing look at a very controversial group that I don’t know much about. Barely any technical details at all, and not a huge amount of sociological insight. But interesting in how it wove together several individuals narratives. Worth a watch to understand a different piece of history that was being made recently.

My afternoons with Margueritte

I enjoyed this one. It had a very authentic feel to it. The story tells of a middle aged man who’s struggled for most of his life, and is illiterate, as he develops a friendship with retiree who walks in the same park. Together they read, become friends, and help each other.

The story feels bumpy at points – it doesn’t quite follow a neat arc. But that feels part of its charm. In telling something that feels like a real story, it also doesn’t shy away from quite authentic moments. Domestic violence is horrible, and impacts everyone. Parents can be complex mixtures of good and bad. There is no simple solution for an older person who is going blind.

This one’s worth watching.

Kubo and the two strings

This is the story of a young boy, growing up a storyteller with an ill mother. It’s visually stunning, and very promising at the outset. From there, it feels as though the story becomes slightly more chaotic, until it stumbles towards an ending that doesn’t feel at all satisfying. I think partially this is because throughout, Kubo doesn’t really have to make any choices – he is a visitor, rather than a decision maker, in this world. Yes, there is a final choice – but it’s not really one that leaves us in any doubt about the outcome. Worth it if you love good visuals; not for the story.


I spoke with friends recently who didn’t enjoy Allied. I certainly did. Allied tells the story of two undercover operatives – one French, one Canadian – who, after an operation together in French North Africa, are married in London. It’s only later that the possibility that she’s a German double agent is revealed.


Gone Girl, which I read a few years ago (and watched the movie more recently) is very much inspired by the dark places, the blind spots in a marriage or a relationship. What is the other person really thinking? Allied takes a different angle, but is also a delightful, gripping, thrilling exploration of that question. As it explores those questions, Allied is a film, paradoxically, about trust – about spies trusting each other.

Well worth it.


Every time I see another unit from the inexorable Marvel armada, sailing forward, crushing everything in its path with its complex, intertwined plots and implausibly shiny and / or gritty view of the world, I’m reminded of an amazing spiel from Community, on the relative merit of the Marvel movies.

The original Avengers is still the best one, and the most fun. It was made when the idea of a multi-decade series of films from the franchise seemed novel and interesting, and didn’t induce  a sickening feeling in your stomach. It’s all down hill after here.

It’s not a bad one, and if you’re going to watch a Marvel movie, this is the one to pick.


Shifting Allegiences

I should start by saying that although I tremendously enjoyed reading Shifting Allegiances: Networks of Kinships and of Faith, I have no expertise in anthropology, just some very strong personal connections to the book.
So I won’t say much here. Just that this is an in-depth look at a unique setting – a women’s program in a mosque, prior to the onset of the conflict in Syria. From 2005 to 2007 Dr Dale attended lectures and religious celebrations, visited some of the women in their homes, and became, at least to some extent, part of that community.
The rich depth of this research gives a fascinating insight into another world, that is relayed in a way that reflects an attention to detail, and a care for the people and the relationships that are part of the research. That there is a personal connection here is evident; but Dale also thinks carefully, and reflexively, about the relationship between people in a community, a visitor, and the visitor’s roles as an individual and as an ethnographer.
There’s a lot in the book, but I’ll just quote one footnote that stuck out to me:

A frequent, almost unconscious gesture from Anisah Huda and the women, was to check the perimeter of the scarf round the face for any strands of hair that might need tucking back. I found myself doing the same. 

The book is packed with the in-depth research that underpins the central thesis. This is well set out in the final conclusion to the book. I won’t try to paraphrase or recapture it, but just quote one of the passages that highlight the complex interrelationships that make up identity, and why that matters:

The women’s mosque movement can be understood in terms of shifting allegiance from kinship community to the wider Muslim ummah, as it finds local realization within the mosque sorority. This change of allegiance is strong enough to challenge certain traditional norms of kinship loyalty, cultural compliance, and obedience to government authorities. 


Life’s been busy, so I haven’t had a chance to do much blogging. These are just a few articles I found interesting recently.

Masha Gessen in the New York Review of Books writes ‘Autocracy: Rules for Survival‘, which I think is an interesting read.

Guy Rundle reflects on an interesting scenario, in which a real or imagined national security threat leads to an erosion of privacy norms [may be a paywall].

And given what I’ve read about how conspiracy theories can give a sense of order to the world, it was interesting to read a similar conclusion in an article on a de-radicalisation program:

Koeh­ler’s key finding has been that all extremists, regardless of ideology, develop a sort of tunnel vision as they go through the indoctrination process. An ordinary high school or college student, Koeh­ler argues, has a lot of problems (tricky classes, meddling parents, romantic woes) as well as many potential solutions (study harder, find a job, date someone new). A person who’s journeying down the path toward radicalization, by contrast, sees their problems and solutions each get winnowed down to one—a process that Koeh­ler terms “depluralization.” The solitary problem for these individuals is always that there’s a global conspiracy against their race or religion; the solitary solution to such persecution is violence, with the goal of placing themselves and their group in control of a revamped society.

UPDATE: And this piece, is very good, from David Frum in The Atlantic – ‘How to build an autocracy‘:

Those citizens who fantasize about defying tyranny from within fortified compounds have never understood how liberty is actually threatened in a modern bureaucratic state: not by diktat and violence, but by the slow, demoralizing process of corruption and deceit. And the way that liberty must be defended is not with amateur firearms, but with an unwearying insistence upon the honesty, integrity, and professionalism of American institutions and those who lead them. We are living through the most dangerous challenge to the free government of the United States that anyone alive has encountered. What happens next is up to you and me. Don’t be afraid. This moment of danger can also be your finest hour as a citizen and an American.
UPDATE II: And this piece, by Guy Rundle in Meanjin – 
The 2016 election and the rise of the Trump ‘movement’ is set within an America that is the world’s most extreme example of allowing the broader culture to be transformed and encircled by the market and commodity relations, rather than vice-versa.

The principal effect of that is a comprehensive ‘ungrounding’, with all that is familiar and ‘given’ in life subject to continuous dissolution and transformation. Hundred-year-old cities die without a word, trades and ways of life vanish without comment, the embedded networks of social life are emptied out. Human atomisation and alienation becomes dominant and are interpreted as autonomy and freedom.

… The investment in education, cities and jobs that would have allowed their children to make a transition to the new world has not been made. They know, even if they do not know the specifics, that mass automation is coming and that even such easy entry jobs as exist—such as fast food service—are about to be decimated