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spiked-bites
Short comments on current events from the spiked team.
Thursday 26 July 2007
Harry Potter and the Christian Church
Emily Hill

After years of being condemned as a scion of the devil, has Harry Potter finally won over his critics in the Christian Church?

Up to this point, the church has been the one sector of the world’s population that hasn’t fallen under the spell of JK Rowling’s boy wizard. Since he first appeared, Harry Potter’s magic has been condemned as a corrupting influence for young, Christian minds, because he glamorises the occult. As the Vatican’s chief exorcist, Father Gabriele Amorth, declared last year: ‘Behind Harry Potter hides the signature of the king of the darkness, the devil.’ One American evangelical publisher even put together a cartoon series that warned, ‘The Potter books open a doorway which will put untold millions of kids into hell.’

But this year, to coincide with the publication of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, the Church of England is publishing a guide advising youth workers on how to use Harry Potter to spread the Christian message. ‘Mixing it up with Harry Potter: 12 sessions on faith’ outlines how to use the books and films as ‘a launch pad’ for exploring Christian themes. The Bishop of Oxford, the Rt Rev John Pritchard, explained that the guide springs from the example of ‘Jesus [who] used storytelling to engage and challenge his listeners’: ‘Although the fictional world of Harry Potter is very different from our own, Harry and his friends face struggles and dilemmas that are familiar to us all.’

Meanwhile a mass mailout from evangelicals in America demanded, ‘Is Harry Potter the Son of God?’ Abigail BeauSeigneur has posted a 16-page article with 249 footnotes online, arguing: ‘The story of Harry Potter is, and always was, a Christian allegory - a fictionalized modern-day adaptation of the life of Christ, intended to introduce his character to a new generation.’ If Harry Potter were to die, she comforts anxious readers; it would only be in preparation for the resurrection.

But Potter isn’t the only popular phenomenon that the church has attempted to harness in order to shepherd its errant flock back into the fold. In recent years, churches have been exhorted to channel the appeal of everything - even the Bluewater shopping centre. According to a 2002 church report, people ‘find fellowship’ in shopping together at Europe’s largest retail centre, and like the ‘homely and hospitable smell’ of shopping mall coffee - recommending that churches ought to offer a ‘bright, attractive welcome.’

One vicar who has successfully responded to his church’s clarion call to internalise the zeitgeist is Philip de Grey Water of St Sampson’s church in Golant, Cornwall. Throughout this holiday period, the Vicar is hauling in tourists and internet browsers alike with his idiosyncratic, downloadable sermons. Alongside Evening Prayer, the Vicar asks Sunday to Sunday, ‘What would Jesus say to…’ Big Brother, Borat and Catherine Tate. It remains to be seen whether the congregation will reply with a resounding ‘Am I bovvered?’

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Monday 23 July 2007
Tintin in trouble
Marcus Mason

The Commission for Racial Equality (CRE) is gunning at a new target: Tintin, the be-quiffed cartoon adventurer, beloved of generations of school children. The CRE has condemned the high street bookstore, Borders, for selling Tintin books in which black people are made to ‘look like monkeys and talk like imbeciles’. ‘How and why do Borders think it’s OK to peddle such racist material?’ the Commission demands.

Flick through Tintin in the Congo and you may be surprised by what you find. Tintin is crowned king of an African village because he is a ‘good white man’, and even Snowy, Tintin’s dog, is revered by the villagers. Crude racial stereotyping abounds, with local black villagers coming across as incoherent and backward savages. In the book’s most shocking scene, Tintin blows up a rhinoceros with a stick of dynamite.

But if the CRE is going to try to ban Tintin, why stop there? What about banning Enid Blyton books, because dark and sinister ‘foreigners’ always seem to spoil the Famous Five’s fun? What about getting rid of great swathes of Shakespeare, Conrad, Dickens, Waugh - hell, why not ban Asterix? The truth is that racial stereotypes are to be found in all areas of some of our most cherished literature, and this should certainly not come as a surprise; it would be proof of a huge lack of competence if our main watchdog on the issue had only just noticed that in the past, when society at large was racist, writers were racist too.

Tintin in the Congo was produced by its author, Hergé, in the early 1930s, at a time when colonial and racist attitudes were still rife within society. Hergé later changed his approach after facing a barrage of complaints and himself admits, ‘Concerning Tintin in the Congo as well as Tintin in the Land of the Soviets, the fact is that while I was growing up, I was being fed the prejudices of the bourgeois society that surrounded me’. He also reflects ‘it’s true that Soviets and Congo were youthful sins. I’m not rejecting them. However, if I were to do it again, they would be different’.

To censor this kind of literature would be to deny our cultural past. Tintin in the Congo is a product of its time and should be read as such. The CRE should trust readers today to identify and judge such crude racial stereotypes independently, without resorting to a ban.

 

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Tuesday 10 July 2007
Jade Goody in ‘punished by God’ shock!
Emily Hill

You may not read Closer magazine (‘THE UK’s No1 CELEB MAG! which offers fluorescent orange ‘Celebs + Real Life’ for £1.10) - yet in our celebrity-drenched times, Closer seems to be enjoying the sort of heyday Private Eye experienced during the satire boom.

This week there is not one but two exclusives in Closer. Jade Goody, the Celebrity Big Brother ‘racist’ who called Bollywood actress Shilpa Shetty a ‘poppadom’ in an argument over stock cubes, stares out from this week’s front cover, declaring ‘My miscarriage is God’s punishment’. This is the sort of thing we in Britain have all been waiting for. Ofcom rapping Channel 4 over the knuckles for this year’s Celebrity Big Brother was not enough. Channel 4 broadcasting grovelling apologies was not enough. Jade Goody becoming the object of a national three-minute hate was not enough. What Jade really needed was to be punished by God.

‘Jade Goody is curled up on a sofa, her face still swollen from crying, the harsh south London drawl replaced by a whisper. The deflated figure is a shadow of the gobby girl who made millions from reality TV and whose perfume once outsold the Beckhams’.’ Jade’s ‘exclusive’ interview with Closer begins. ‘Last week a woman hugged me in the street to say how sorry she was [about my miscarriage]’, says Jade. ‘I just broke down. But then I get worried people will think I’m crying for sympathy.’

Meanwhile, another Closer exclusive reveals that current Big Brother contestant Charley, the newly crowned heir to Jade’s title of ‘Britain’s Most Hated’ because of her argumentative, ‘chavvy’ behaviour in the house, has also used racist language on the show - but Channel 4 has not broadcast it. When, earlier in the series, Charley’s fellow contestant Emily Parr said ‘You pushing it out, you nigger!’, in the sort of faux-gangsta speak used by certain posh, thick twentysomethings, she was removed from the house (see Get this filth off our screens, by Brendan O’Neill). Closer explains: ‘Channel 4, which airs the reality TV show, has admitted that [Charley] did call someone a nigger, but they didn’t evict her because she’s black.’

So there we are then: Jade gets her comeuppance and racism is a matter of context. Once you’ve flicked through the celeb diet pages and read the horror story about the ‘vodka binge’ which put ‘my 13-year-old son in a coma’ you should be way ahead of where G2‘s at this week - saving yourself time, and at £1.10, lots of pennies, too. Although in Closer, of course, you can only read a report on the break-up of Kate Moss and Pete Doherty; if you want AN Wilson’s commentary on what ‘KP Nuts’ meant to society at large, you’ll have to read the Daily Mail.

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Friday 29 June 2007
Friends of Avian Flu?
Rob Lyons

A year or so ago, you couldn’t move for endless stories about how an epidemic of bird flu was coming. It would only be a matter of time before the virus mutated from one that could only be contracted by very close contact with animals to a rapidly spreading infection. The only thing left to do would be to count the bodies.

The pandemic never happened. While such an event is still a possibility, it doesn’t look nearly as imminent as many were predicting. But there still seems to be a mini-industry trying to promote the idea that a pandemic is just around the corner, according to Tony Delamothe, deputy editor of the British Medical Journal.

Writing in today’s edition, Delamothe says: ‘Somewhere, I imagine, there’s a small group of people proud to be counted among the Friends of Avian Flu, or FAF for short. I suspect they have a catchy mission statement, such as “Keeping the nightmare alive”, and lapel badges of vaguely bird-like shape. Their challenge is to keep bird flu forever in the public eye. This should be getting harder, as influenza H5N1 is proving particularly resistant to undergoing the killer mutation that would allow efficient human to human transmission of the virus. Ten years after the strain first appeared in humans, it has killed just 191 people. This is despite the most propitious of circumstances: millions of people and poultry living in very close proximity in South East Asia. Although these deaths are a tragedy for the victims and their families, it’s as well to remember that a similar number of people die on the roads world wide every 84 minutes.’

All of which is a reminder of the many scare stories that have been and gone in recent decades, from the heterosexual AIDS epidemic that would supposedly hit the UK in the 1980s (promoted as vigorously by gay rights campaigners as the moralistic Conservative government), through the threat of variant-Creutzfeldt Jakob Disease (vCJD) in the 1990s (which killed fewer people than the vanishingly rare older form of CJD), to bird flu today. That is not to trivialise the many deaths from AIDS. Some 60million people are now infected with HIV according to Delamothe and a vaccine is still a long way off. Yet, remarkably, it is far less of a story today than a disease - pandemic flu - which doesn’t even exist yet.

Two lessons can be learned from all of this. Firstly, that there is a widespread, free-floating inclination to fear in modern Western society. The less concrete the fear and the more we can speculate about it in a way disconnected from reality, the more we seem obsessed by it. Secondly, we should be wary of any idea that plays upon this fear and which develops a network of professionals around it whose future material interests depend on maintaining public alarm about that idea. As Tony Gilland notes this week on spiked, just such a network has been created and accepted in relation to global warming, embodied in the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). We should maintain a critical and sceptical attitude to the pronouncements of any such network.

FAFing about, BMJ, 29 June 2007

spiked-issue: Bird flu

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Wednesday 20 June 2007
Eggs-essive ban on advert
Rob Lyons

Plans to re-run some of Britain’s most famous television adverts have been scrapped because of the intervention of the broadcasting regulator. But all the ban has done is expose the idiocy of banning so-called ‘junk food’ commercials.

The adverts are 50 years old and the Egg Information Service wanted to celebrate the fact by airing them again. They feature legendary comedian Tony Hancock and an iconic slogan - ‘Go to work on an egg’ - devised by a team led by Fay Weldon, who went on to be one of Britain’s top novelists. But merely introducing a new generation to the adverts - and Hancock, too - was not enough to stop them being banned. The Broadcast Advertising Clearance Centre (BACC) insisted that the adverts did not suggest a varied diet. A BACC spokesman said: ‘Dietary considerations have been at the centre of the new rules for advertising and in consideration of this we felt that these adverts did not suggest a varied diet. The concept of eating eggs every day for breakfast goes against what is now the generally accepted advice of a varied diet and we therefore could not approve the ads for broadcast.’ Weldon has, quite rightly, described the decision as absurd.

Once the government decided that ‘junk food’ had to be banned - with the aim of stopping children from eating crisps, chocolates, burgers etc - all sorts of weird and irrational consequences were bound to follow. As Emily Hill showed previously on spiked, this has led to restrictions on advertising cheese, and even breast milk might fall foul of the rules were it a commercial product (see Is breast milk a ‘junk food’?). Not only are we then denied the opportunity to find out about nutritious foods, but we’re treated like such complete morons that we can’t decide for ourselves whether an egg is a little package of ‘vitality’, as the banned adverts suggest, or a hen-laid coronary hand grenade.

There’s absolutely nothing wrong with eating eggs every day. They’re packed with protein and vitamins and surprisingly few calories. But they also contain fat, and fat - as we are all expected to know by now - is a Bad Thing. Of course, the BACC won’t be cracking down on adverts for muesli, yogurt or fruit juice, despite the implication in adverts for those products that they are so good for us that people should eat them every day. Where’s the balance in that?

I’m still hoping that someone will declare this is all a spoof. In the mean time, those nice egg people have created a website, www.gotoworkonanegg.co.uk for us to watch those adverts again. Eggs-actly the right thing to do.

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Next Page >>

 

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21 November 2014
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21 June 2013:
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28 June 2013:
Dispatches’ dirty little secret