Fear leads to Anger…

I have written before about my dislike of the intolerant, so this article will not come as much of a shock to those of you familiar with my way of expressing myself. To those of you unfamiliar with me, brace yourselves: this could be a bumpy ride.

I am a huge fan of the Star Wars universe (well, excluding The Phantom Menace, anyway) and I am also a believer in LGBT (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender) rights, so when a bunch of right-wing, religious lunatics like the Florida Family Association attack EA Games for including the option for same-sex relationships in Star Wars: The Old Republic, I find my wrath beginning to surface. The Florida Family Association, a non-profit charity dedicated to “[educating] people on what they can do to defend, protect and promote traditional, biblical values”, wrote an article that accused Bioware, EA Games and Lucas Films of bowing to pressure from “LGBT activists” to include non-heterosexual characters in their games. They claim that “there were no LGBT (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender) characters in any of the Star Wars movies”.

"I beg your pardon?"

Have they seen the films? C3P0 is about as fabulous as you can get! Anyway, they are suggesting that LGBT pressure groups are forcing EA and their subsidiary companies to include same-sex relationship choices in the game. Jeff Brown, EA’s Vice President of Corporate Communications (which, in fairness, sounds like an Imperial job title), denies that any pressure was placed on them and denounces criticism as “political harassment”. Good for him! The American Decency Association joined the fight, claiming that the inclusion of LGBT options was an “attack on the hearts and minds of children” and accused Bioware of “social engineering”. They also state that the films were “family fare”, which they were – especially if you include incest as “family fare”.

Family Fun?

Quite.

The American Decency Association is also accusing EA/Bioware of “censoring” comments by parents who are opposed to the move, by removing them from the website. However, EA’s Jeff Brown simply said “we don’t tolerate hate speech on our forums”, which rather suggests that the complaints were not worded in an acceptable way. A quick glance at the American Decency Association or the Florida Family Association websites would certainly support this. Both websites refer to LGBT characters as “social agenda characters”, rather than focusing on the simple fact that the player can CHOOSE to play a homosexual character. This is not being forced on anyone, although the Florida Family Association does point out that Bioware will not ” create game rules that would allow regular players to prohibit entry into their games by these social agenda characters.  That would be discrimination (sarcasm.) [sic]” Helpful of them to point out the sarcasm there, we might have missed it otherwise. On the plus side, they won’t force you to play “social agenda” characters either. Because that would also be discrimination. They allow you to choose. Which isn’t.

The ESRB (Entertainment Software Ratings Board) has classified SW:TOR as T for Teen, recommending that only players aged 13 or over have access to it. This is because it may contain elements unsuitable for younger children, such as ” violence, suggestive themes, crude humor, minimal blood, simulated gambling, and/or infrequent use of strong language”. Hmm. No mention of steamy, man-on-man action there. Maybe they didn’t notice it. Or maybe they don’t consider homosexual relationships to be something that children need protecting from.

Won't somebody please think of the children?!

Either way, if their children are playing these games, it means that they are bad parents. Simple.

This is, of course, a load of right-wing, extremist nonsense. Children don’t need to be protected from homosexuals, they need to be educated about them. They need to realise that there is nothing wrong with homosexuality so that those who are gay don’t grow up feeling the need to pretend to be someone else, with all the psychological pressure that entails. Groups like the American Decency Association and the Florida Family Association need to have the language that they use exposed for what it is: attempted brainwashing. They knowingly use phrases like “social agenda characters”, or “trying to capture the minds of our children”, or “force this offensive content on a captured audience of hundreds of thousands of children”, or “LGBT…activists”, or “radical homosexual extremists”… I could go on.

In fact, I think I will.

“Electronic Arts would shatter that family quality”, or “harassing the game community”, or “a lot of them expressing anger that their kids will be exposed to this Star Warped way of thinking”, or “propaganda”, or “these LGBT activists are pummeling Florida Family Association” (which does at least conjure up images suggesting the real reason behind their fears!).

"You got a real purdy mouth!"

While these comments are not in themselves openly homophobic, they do use the persuasive techniques and biased language in a blatant attempt to influence their audience. As their audience is largely comprised of (dare I say it) ill- or under-educated, right-wing, knee-jerk fundamentalist Christians, this kind of ‘subtle’ manipulation is often very effective. Political activists of all shades of opinion have been using these techniques for centuries – look at the speeches of Martin Luther King Jr, Malcolm X, John F Kennedy, Margaret Thatcher, George Bush, Mao Zedong, Che Guevara. It is particularly effective among those who traditionally do not ask questions, such as fundamentalist religious groups (and I’m not deliberately having a go at religion again, just those who abuse their power over those less well-educated, such as politically motivated religious leaders and pressure groups). Of course, the pro-gay side has the right to use such tactics as well, but they face an uphill struggle, as they are going against the ingrained teachings of generations of homophobic morons. The fact is that homosexuality hasn’t been seen as a bad thing for as long as most people think. Plato (424-328BC) wrote about the way that same-sex relationships were a healthy part of any young man’s love life, although he changed his views later in life, possibly as a result of changing societal norms. Roman rulers were almost all bisexual and openly took male lovers and it wasn’t until Emperor Theodosius I (a Christian ruler) that homosexuality was banned. East Asian countries have long accepted homosexuality and transgender as equal to heterosexuality, especially in Thailand (the famous ‘ladyboys’) and Japan, where samurai warriors would often engage openly in same-sex relationships.

Samurai: Well gay.

It is almost always religion that suppresses, criminalizes and persecutes those people who do not conform to their expectations or belief systems. This includes followers of other sects, ideologies or lifestyles. Religious institutions see themselves as the moral and spiritual guides to society, even if (especially if) that society does not want them to be. Homosexuality is illegal in most Muslim countries, and frowned upon by extremist Christian groups in the West. It is these extremists that are attempting to force their narrow view of loving, and sexual, relationships on the general populace once again. I am by no means tarring all Christians with the same brush. It is not my intention to attack any religion for its attitude to homosexuality. I know some Christians who support same-sex marriage. I even know at least one openly gay clergyman. It is the fringe groups, like the Florida Family Association, the American Decency Association, the Westboro Baptist Church, that are trying to force their petty, narrow-minded and bigoted ideologies on the rest of us. They accuse EA and Bioware of giving in to pro-gay pressure groups, a minority that was trying to prevent the First Amendment rights of the anti-gay movements, which obviously ignores the First Amendment rights of the pro-gays. It’s all a bit confusing, isn’t it!

Well, no. It shouldn’t be confusing. It’s a fairly simple situation. Let’s go through it step-by-step.

Step 1: If you are offended by homosexual content in a video game, don’t play the video game.

Step 2: There is no Step 2.

Oh, well, I guess it’s not that confusing after all!

So, if you find yourself complaining about something that isn’t being forced on you, there is a simple solution: Shut the fuck up. The LGBT community has had your bigotry and hate forced on them for years – they have a right to complain. You have noticed that you could choose to have a gay relationship in a video game – you have the right to silence, please exercise it.

 

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Bricking it…

Yesterday in the Daily Mail, a woman called Samantha Brick wrote an article bemoaning the cruel hand that fate has dealt her. She suffers from discrimination, the target of an orchestrated and institutionalized hate campaign. That’s right: Samantha Brick is hated by women, “for no other reason than my lovely looks”. That’s right. Samantha Brick has bravely opened the debate on the jealousy that women have for more attractive members of their own gender.

You can read her article here: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/femail/article-2124246/Samantha-Brick-downsides-looking-pretty-Why-women-hate-beautiful.html

This woman deserves your pity.

Twitter almost literally exploded. An outpouring of anger, hate and vitriol was aimed at this poor woman all day yesterday, just for having the courage to raise her beautiful, blonde head above the parapet. Some of the hateful rhetoric hurled at her is unforgivable, fueled entirely by base, petty jealousy. These hideous trolls should crawl back underneath their bridges and comb their matted beards. We don’t want to hear from these deformed gorgons, only pretty people should be allowed to voice their opinions.

The lovely Samantha assures us that “I’m not smug and I’m no flirt”, before going on to list occasions where female bosses have singled her out for her attractiveness or the clothes she wears. With male bosses it’s different, of course: “I have flirted to get ahead at work, something I’m sure many women do.”

So…she’s not a flirt, but has flirted to get ahead? I think we’re beginning to close in on the real reason that she has been treated badly. She appears to be a smug, self-centered hypocrite. She is claiming that anyone who doesn’t automatically like her is jealous of her looks. I’m not sure that is the case. In fact, I suspect that if you were to read the articles without seeing the (many) photographs of the “tall, slim, blonde and, so I’m often told…good-looking woman” you would form a distinct impression of her as being really quite objectionable. I’m sure many of us, as much as we would not like to admit it, do judge people on their appearance in the first instance, but I am also sure than many of us are also aware of this, and do our very best to move beyond this snap judgement and base our impressions of people on what they are like, not what they look like. Most of us understand the phrase “beauty is only skin deep”, even if we still like a pretty woman or attractive man. It’s why Hollywood doesn’t have that many ‘normal’ looking people in its films.

Ok, so there are exceptions to every rule.

Samantha Brick laid out her case in the Daily Mail and immediately found herself in the middle of a row, with celebrities and ‘ordinary folk’ alike throwing their hats into the arena. The MailOnline website received a veritable shitstorm of hits and comments (well over 4500 before they disabled the comments section of the web page), earning a nice pot of advertising revenue in the process. They were obviously so pleased with this result that they got Samantha to write a follow-up article, which, at time of writing, had already racked up over 600 comments before the option was again removed. So congratulations, Samantha. Over the last two days you have probably earned the Daily Mail the equivalent of the salaries of half a dozen NHS nurses. You must be very proud.

Her follow-up article can be found here: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/femail/article-2124782/Samantha-Brick-says-backlash-bile-yesterdays-Daily-Mail-proves-shes-right.html

If one were feeling harsh, one could ask if a woman who was truly secure in her attractiveness would include thirteen photographs of herself in two articles. Seriously. Thirteen photographs spread across two articles totaling only three thousand words. That’s one photograph of herself every 230 words. That’s a level of narcissism that we mere mortals can only dream of. Way to raise the bar, Samantha.

Her follow-up article addresses the feedback she received on her first article, outlining the trending on Twitter, the responses of “women I know well enough to call friends” on Facebook, the “countless so-called comedians [that] have written unprintable things” about her. The comment printed from her ‘friends’ on Facebook is perhaps the most revealing: “What the hell does Sam think she’s on?” Yes, even her friends think she’s lost the plot. Far be it for me to denigrate someone’s looks (I’m no oil painting myself, believe it or not), but she isn’t actually all that stunning. Good looking, yes, in a slightly-above-average way, although that forced grin of hers does rather put me in mind of dour ex-PM Gordon Brown.

The demented smile of a child killer.
Possibly.

The majority of comments about Brick’s article seemed to focus on this point: why does she think she is so beautiful? Let’s be honest, beauty is a relatively subjective thing – what one person finds attractive isn’t necessarily the same as the next person. I, for one, believe that Cate Blanchett is a stunning woman, but Kim Kardashian* leaves me cold (and flaccid). Many would disagree, and that is their right. And confidence is an extremely attractive quality for anyone, male or female, to possess. But what Brick (and I must stop calling her that – it makes me think of the Fantastic Four’s strongman) is displaying isn’t confidence – it’s arrogance. It is the assumption that people dislike her because “women find nothing more annoying than someone else being the most attractive girl in a room”, pasting herself in the role of “the most attractive girl in the room”. Leaving aside the slightly disturbing connotations of a 41-year-old woman referring to herself as a ‘girl’, she is arrogantly assuming that everyone else is as shallow as her, that every problem she has faced in life – be it from co-workers, bosses, people on the street – is the result of the failings of others, the pure jealousy caused by her natural beauty. She suggests that if Brad Pitt referred to himself as good-looking, everyone would agree, but if Angelina Jolie did the same there would be a similar outcry as she has experienced.

No. Not true. I reckon that if Ms Jolie were to suggest that she was good-looking, most people would call her arrogant for saying so, but wouldn’t bother arguing that point with her because it is so self-evidently true. However, the point remains that Ms Jolie hasn’t said that, presumably because she knows it would be a hideously arrogant thing to say. Do you see my point here, Samantha? The same goes for many other women: Anne Hathaway, Aishwarya Rai, Charlize Theron, Monica Bellucci, Zoe Saldana, Sophie Dahl (before she lost the weight). None of these women have stood up and blamed everyone else’s jealousy for holding them back.

Compare Ms Dahl...

Or Ms Rai...

...with Ms Brick.

But she didn’t stop there. Oh no. The comments that she received after her initial article had one result: “my detractors have simply proved my point”. Wow! Chutzpah much? Yes, indeed. All you people who tried to point out that she was arrogant, or crazy, or misguided, no matter how rational and well formulated your response was, regardless of your level of intelligence or position in life, if you disagreed with her, you were jealous of her unmatched beauty. This really takes some balls. Samantha Brick singled out Lauren Laverne, BBC Radio DJ and presenter of Channel 4’s 10 O’Clock Live, for her Twitter comments about the article, including “Why do people WRITE articles like this? And why am I reading it?” The article suggests that Laverne was Tweeting about it all day, but as I follow her on Twitter, I can categorically say that this wasn’t the case at all. She certainly responded to the Tweets of others on the subject, but she seemed far more interested in the sex lives of the pandas at Edinburgh Zoo than Samantha Brick’s self-obsessed rantings (and who wouldn’t be? Pandas really are cute!)

To wrap up this little rant, I would like to say a few things. Firstly, I don’t care if Samantha Brick believes she is the most beautiful woman in the world. Seriously. Good on her for having that level of self-confidence in such an appearance-conscious age. But don’t assume that everybody shares this view. That’s just arrogance.

Secondly, don’t personally attack her looks if you are going to disagree. She isn’t ugly, let’s be fair. She may not be ‘your type’, but objectively speaking she’s closer to Angelina Jolie than Joseph Merrick. Call her arrogant, call her narcissistic, call her deluded, but don’t bother calling her ugly: you’re damaging your own argument.

Thirdly, I have included the links to the two MailOnline articles out of obligation, but I urge you not to visit them! Don’t give that fascist rag the satisfaction or the money. If you wish to check the quotations I have used, then on your own head be it!

That’s it. I’ll climb down from my soapbox now.

Have a nice day!

*I don’t even know who this person is!

Psycho Killer, Qu’est Que C’est

SPOILER ALERT – I CAN TELL YOU WHAT HAPPENS IN THESE FILMS, BUT THEN I’LL HAVE TO KILL YOU!

Serial killers and psycho killers are a commonplace threat in horror movies. We like the idea of a human being with inhuman desires or tastes and no mercy. Someone human on the outside, but alien within. Historical figures that fit the bill fascinate us, from Vlad ‘The Impaler’ Tepes to Jack the Ripper to Ted Bundy, and we are just as interested in their celluloid representations. Some people suggest that the first true serial killer in movies appeared in Fritz Lang’s M’ in 1931. ‘M’ starred Peter Lorre as Hans Beckert, murderer of nine young girls in Berlin. The police are getting desperate to catch the murderer and the criminal underworld have decided to catch him themselves to stop the constant hassling from the police. Beckert is unambiguously presented as suffering from a mental illness, claiming that he hears voices that force him to kill.

Alfred Hitchcock’s 1943 thriller Shadow of a Doubt, played by Joseph Cotten (who had previously been seen in the Orson Welles classic Citizen Kane, playing the titular character’s best friend Jedediah Leland). Hitchcock had been directing films for two decades by this time, but Shadow of a Doubt was only his sixth Hollywood movie. His previous films had mainly been whodunnits, spy thrillers and heist movies, so this was a departure, not just for him, but for the movie industry, and Hitchcock is often quoted as saying that Shadow of a Doubt was the favourite of all his films.

Shadow of a Doubt is not, strictly speaking, a serial killer movie, as it focuses on the niece of the killer finding out Uncle Charlie’s secret, rather than the killings themselves, but it was the first depiction of what came to be known as a serial killer. Serial killers had probably been active for centuries, but records seem to start recording them from the late 1800s (and the name ‘serial killer’ wasn’t even recorded until the 1970s).

So, how do we define a serial killer? What makes a serial killer different from a mass murderer? Well, a serial killer needs to kill at least three people, in separate incidents, with some time in between. The victims are often (but not necessarily) connected by age, gender, race or some other attribute. There are almost as many motives suggested as there are serial killers, but most authorities agree that there will usually be a psychological trigger involved.

A year later, Franz Kapra released the comedy Arsenic and Old Lace, in which lovebirds Mortimer Brewster (Cary Grant) and Elaine Harper (Priscilla Lane) return to Mortimer’s family home to discover that his sweet old aunts are happily murdering lonely old men (as an act of charity). In addition, Mortimer’s brother Teddy believes he is Teddy Roosevelt and has been helping the aunts by burying the bodies in the cellar. Things are further confused by the return of the third brother, Jonathan, who looks like Boris Karloff due to his use of plastic surgery to escape his crimes. If you haven’t seen it, do so. It’s good fun.

Even Charlie Chaplin got in on the act, with the 1947 release Monsieur Verdoux. Chaplin plays Henri Verdoux, a Bluebeard inspired character that marries and murders wealthy widows, in order to provide for his real family after he unfairly loses his job. He sees no problem with the murders he carries out, judging them to be of far less importance than the large number of killings that occurred during the war.

The film was not well received on its release, especially in America, because of the relatively dark subject matter. This was an almost total reversal of his previous films, mostly featuring his trademark ‘Little Tramp’ character. Despite the poor reception, the film was nominated for an Academy Award and has become a classic example of Chaplin’s talents, eventually becoming a cult classic.

1955 brought the powerful and iconic Robert Mitchum film Night of the Hunter, in which Mitchum’s deranged and tattooed preacher, Harry Powell, tells the Lord all about his holy mission: to cleanse the world of the vain women who use sex as a weapon to ensnare men. After getting arrested for car theft, Powell is locked up with Ben Harper (Peter Graves) who has been sentenced to hang for murder. Harper confesses to Powell that he stole $10,000 and hid it with his wife and children. Powell decides to use this money to fund his mission. The rest of the film revolves around Powell’s attempt to persuade, trick, coerce and threaten Harper’s children. This does not work, so he marries their mother Willa (Shelley Winters), eventually murdering her because she wanted to sleep with him on their honeymoon. Powell’s eventual arrest frees the children from his evil influence and, although the money is lost, they find a new and loving home.

Night of the Hunter was director Charles Laughton’s final film and was not succesful, but, since its release, has been rightly raised to classic status. Mitchum’s diabolical preacher, with ‘LOVE’ and ‘HATE’ tattooed across his knuckles, has become a truly iconic villain of cinema, and the expressionist-inspired camerawork lends a disturbing and bizarre atmosphere. It invariably ranks in any classic film list worth its salt!

Jumping ahead to 1960, we find another Alfred Hitchcock classic: Psycho. This film has become the ultimate Hitchcock movie, throwing the audience a curveball by setting up Janet Leigh’s character, Marion Crane, as the lead before killing her off in the now famous ‘shower scene’. Anthony Perkins, playing Norman Bates with a disarming shyness that contains just enough menace to seriously disturb, is the ‘psycho’ of the title, suffering from a split personality since murdering his overbearing mother and her lover. The film was loosely based on the Robert Bloch novel, which was itself based on the real-life murderer Ed Gein. Gein’s two victims meant that he was not classed as a serial killer, but his body-snatching ways affected movie villains for decades. His father died when Ed was in his early thirties, followed over the next five years by the deaths of his brother and mother. There were suggestions that he had killed his brother, but the authorities ruled out any foul play. There were also suggestions that Gein’s mother was “his only friend and one true love” (according to his biographer, Harold Schechter). This clearly inspired the Norman Bates character, dominated by his mother’s personality even long after her death.

The shower scene, in which Janet Leigh is stabbed to death, has become possibly the most famous scene in Hollywood. The scene is only around three minutes long but contains nearly eighty separate camera angles, over fifty cuts and took a full week to shoot. The strange effect of this visually intense scene is what people see in it. Many people have claimed to see Janet Leigh’s breast in one frame, others claim that they see the knife pierce her skin. Neither of these is true. Everything, including the violence and nudity, is entirely in the mind of the observer. This was Hitchcock’s great skill. He famously said that “there is no terror in the bang, only in the anticipation of it”. He was a genius at making the audience fill in the gaps, simply through the power of suggestion. The combination of the rapidly changing visuals, Janet Leigh’s helpless screaming and the Bernard Hermann string instrument soundtrack (which has become one of cinema’s most famous audioscapes) create a brutally effective murder scene. The faceless killer, identifiable by the long dress and hair in a bun, is silent, mercilessly slashing and stabbing at Leigh’s naked frame. As she sinks into the tub, chocolate sauce blood swirling down the plug, the camera slowly tracks back from her dead, staring eye and pans across the room to the window, focusing on the Bates house as Norman’s voice rings out with “Mother! Oh God, mother! Blood!”. The murder itself only takes up around twenty seconds of this scene, reinforcing Hitchcock’s assertion that there is no tension in the violent act. The rest of the three minutes is pure, Hitchcockian atmosphere.

Some people would say that this film has no place in a discussion of serial killers, as Norman Bates does not fit into that category, but I would point out that at the end of the film, the psychiatrists explain that Janet Leigh’s character was Norman’s third victim: ‘Mother’ had killed two young women before her, both of whom Norman had been attracted to. Norman himself suffers from a psychological syndrome that affects his reasoning abilities, allowing him to ‘forget’ the murders committed by ‘Mother’ and disassociating himself from them by hiding behind the ‘Mother’ persona.

In 1963, French director Claude Chabrol released a film called Landru (released as Bluebeard in the US). This, like Chaplin’s Monsieur Verdoux, was based on the real-life serial killer Henri Désiré Landru, and featured an educated and respectable man conning and murdering a string of women in order to steal their money. However, in Chabrol’s version, the main character is getting money for his wife (as with Chaplin’s film) but also his four children and his mistress, making him a far less sympathetic character. Landru (portrayed by Charles Denner) is cold and calculating, believing that he is far too intelligent to be caught or convicted, and as such is a far more effective cinematic serial killer than Chaplin’s Verdoux. We like our serial killers to be evil, rather than have a genuine reason for their crimes. We need them to be unrepentant, gloating, either through being two-dimensionally evil or some mental defect that renders them unable to show pity or remorse. They are monsters, not truly people, and we don’t want that layer of complication. After all, we can class mass murderers like James Bond or Jason Bourne as heroes because they only kill ‘baddies’, a simple and clear distinction. A more ambiguous character, like Clint Eastwood’s William Munny, forces us to think about the on-screen violence and its effects. We don’t want that in a serial killer movie.

Usually.

Eastwood crops up in our next major serial killer movie, about a right-wing, loose-cannon cop chasing down the Scorpio killer in San Francisco in 1971. Don Siegel’s Dirty Harry is more famous for its title character and his “do I feel lucky?” catchphrase, but it is at heart a true serial killer movie. Scorpio plays the now traditional game of cat and mouse with the police, taunting them with demands for ransom, revealing himself before escaping again, building up to a large-scale operation. In Scorpio’s case, he also uses Harry Callahan’s loose-cannon status as something to hide behind, being released on technicalities (Harry searches his home without a warrant, so the evidence is inadmissible), paying someone to beat him up and blaming Harry. Harry eventually goes rogue and hunts down Scorpio against orders, killing him. This is an example of the cop being as cold and murderous as the serial killer, which is kind of the point of the film. Harry is a brutal cop, unafraid of breaking the law in order to protect it. His disgust with the system that protects killers like Scorpio, and cares more about the rights of the criminal than the rights of the victim, is evident when he throws away his badge. Dirty Harry spawned four sequels and a whole bunch  of cop movie stereotypes that are still relied on today.

Hitchcock returned to the serial killer genre in 1972, with his second to last feature film Frenzy. This British thriller focuses on killer Bob Rusk (played by Barry Foster), who rapes several young women before strangling them with his tie. Hitchcock cleverly builds tension by showing how evidence is piled up onto an innocent man, Richard Blaney (played by Jon Finch), the boyfriend of one of the murdered girls and ex-husband of a second. The murder scene (only one is shown in the film, the others are all implied) is brutal, utilising similar quick editing as the Psycho shower scene over a decade earlier. It is often classified as one of the most disturbing murder scenes in cinema history, and is undoubtedly far more effective than the gory slash-fests of more modern fare. Barry Foster’s Bob is chillingly friendly, especially as the audience is aware that he is the killer from the start. His cheery flirting with his victims makes one’s skin crawl, as he manages to make innocuous comments seem darkly threatening. His repeated catchphrase, “You’re my kind of woman”, is enough to seal the fate of his victims in the minds of the audience. Frenzy is a masterclass in the representation of the charismatic killer.

The 1970s weren’t a great time for the serial killer movie. There were a few attempts, such as the Dirty Harry sequel Magnum Force (not really a serial killer movie, instead focusing on a group of cops operating as a ‘death squad’ to take out criminals), and the first real ‘slasher’ movie, Halloween, which tells the story of teen-murdering lunatic Michael Myers. John Carpenter’s film established many of the conventions of the slasher flick that continued through the 1980s, 90s and 2000s, almost entirely replacing the true serial killer movie genre. Myers is dehumanized by the white mask he wears, turning him into a monster, rather than a man. This allows the audience to distance themselves, undoubtedly reducing the emotional intensity in favour of shock tactics.

However, in 1986 a director called Michael Mann released a film based on the Thomas Harris novel Red Dragon. The film was called Manhunter and the plot centred around a semi-retired FBI agent, Will Graham (played by William Petersen), called in to consult on the Tooth-Fairy killing, so called because of the bite marks left on the victims bodies. The film introduce the world to a character, here played by Brian Cox, who would enter the public consciousness as the embodiment of evil: Dr Hannibal Lecter (or Lecktor). Lecter is a brilliant psychiatrist who also happens to have a penchant for murder and cannibalism. He appears in the later films, Silence of the Lambs, Hannibal and the remake of Red Dragon, played by Sir Anthony Hopkins with malicious glee. Manhunter was a flop on its release, but has since been rightly re-evaluated and its true value as a film recognised. It is seen now as a film released before its time, with a reliance on heavily stylised colour and sound design that borders on the expressionist in places. The later films in the series were directed in a far more straightforward manner, which has aged them, especially Silence of the Lambs from 1991. It is still an excellent serial killer movie, with a fabulous performance from Anthony Hopkins as the creepy doctor, but it has become a victim of its own success, almost a parody of itself. This is even more true of its sequels and the prequel, Hannibal Rising, which was pretty comprehensively panned by critics on its 2007 release.

Silence of the Lambs was the second novel by Thomas Harris that featured Hannibal Lecter. The film was directed by Jonathan Demme with only a slightly healthier budget than Manhunter‘s $15 million: Demme had just $19 million to play with. The film revolves around trainee FBI Agent Clarice Starling (Jodie Foster) tasked with convincing Lecter to assist in the ‘Buffalo Bill’ serial killer case. Lecter uses the opportunity to enter into a game of wits with his captors, eventually escaping and disappearing. Starling’s conversations with Lecter reveal her traumatic childhood and the identity of the ‘Buffalo Bill’ killer, but really the point of the film is the interaction with Lecter. Bill’s presence is essentially a MacGuffin, a plot device to bring Lecter and Starling together. Lecter is the true menace in the film, even when safely ensconced within his plexiglass cage, and ‘Buffalo Bill’ is reduced merely a temporary physical threat at the end. Foster plays Starling with a naive nervousness that is entirely fitting, and compliments Hopkins masterful portrayal of Lecter. The psychotic doctor is erudite, charming and devastatingly intelligent, he just so happens to also be a cannibalistic murderer without mercy or empathy. this portrayal again uses the ‘intelligent killer’ archetype, just like Chaplin and Chabrol’s interpretations of Henri Désiré Landru.

A year before Silence of the Lambs was released, a small budget movie starring then-unknown actor Micheal Rooker (of TVs The Walking Dead) was unleashed on an unsuspecting public. The film had been shot in just 28 days, four years previously, but had sat unreleased because of problems with gaining a rating from the MPAA. It was an unusual serial killer movie, in that it was told from the killer’s perspective and followed his life over a few weeks, explaining how he operated, how he thought, how he evaded capture. The budget was just $110,000 and it made around six times that on its original theatrical release. The film was called Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer and is regarded as a true classic of the genre. It is loosely based on the claims of a man called Henry Lee Lucas, who confessed to over six hundred murders committed over an eight year period. However, it has been proved that Lucas was a fantasist, unable to have performed the murders than he claimed, although he was found guilty of a handful. He died in prison in 2001 after having a death sentence converted into a life sentence. The film shows Henry as a man who is totally comfortable with killing. He alters his methods with each kill, so as not to tip the police off that they have a serial killer on their hands. He moves from city to city, so he doesn’t draw attention to himself by racking up too high a body count in any one place. His housemate, Otis (played by Tom Towles), joins him on some of his kills (the two met in prison) and Henry tries to teach him how to avoid capture. Otis’ younger sister, Becky (Tracy Arnold), falls in love with Henry, although he has no idea how to deal with this, but earns the displeasure of her brother who rapes her and tries to murder her. Henry stops him and kills him, later escaping the city with Becky before (probably) killing her too and disappearing.

In 1992, a dark Belgian comedy made waves when it portrayed a group of documentary film-makers following a serial killer around and recording his crimes for use in their film. Man Bites Dog was directed by and starred Benoît Poelvoorde, Rémy Belvaux and André Bonzel, and follows ‘Ben’ on his campaign of violence and sadism. Ben is not, strictly speaking, a serial killer – he is more of a mass murderer – but I include it here because the portrayal of this killer is also charismatic and intelligent. He has a series of guidelines that he uses, but as the film progresses, these fall by the wayside and it becomes a stark (if still tongue-in-cheek) vision of a psychopath mentally disintegrating. The film-makers (in the film) get drawn into the savagery and violence, and they all end up paying the price at the end.

Basic Instinct, starring Michael Douglas and Sharon Stone, was released in the same year, and is at the other end of the serial killer spectrum. For a start, our killer is a sexy and self-assured woman, rather than a man suffering complete mental collapse, and she does not face the consequences of her actions – rather she arranges that other people do that for her. This film is also a slick and expensive Hollywood creation, with a budget of around $50 million, compared to the tiny college budget of the black-and-white Man Bites Dog.Basic Instinct became one of the highest earning movies of the closing decade of the 20th century, and featured an excellently confident performance from Sharon Stone, although many people were drawn to the film purely on the promise of sexual imagery. To be fair, Ms Stone did not disappoint, flashing her…um…you-know-what at a room full of cops during her interrogation. Critics were divided on the film, with some praising the director, Paul Verhoeven, and even calling the film ‘Hitchcock-esque’, while others criticising the portrayal of homosexuals as evil and twisted in the film. Personally, I would say the film falls far below Hitchcock’s oeuvre, being too typically Hollywood (except maybe for the ending), but is still well worth watching for the well-developed acting and direction involved.

You know what's coming next...

1993 gave us Brad Pitt and Juliette Lewis in Kalifornia, Mike Myers in So I Married an Axe Murderer (notable mainly for the police chief trying desperately to act as though he is a tough, stereotyped, movie-style police chief), and Jeff Bridges and Kiefer Sutherland in The Vanishing (a poorly received remake of the far superior 1988 French/Dutch movie Spoorloos). These were just build-up to the main event – in 1994, Oliver Stone, famous for films like Platoon, Born on the Fourth of July and JFK, released a movie satire on the way that the media glamorized violence (this may be the dictionary definition of irony): The film was called Natural Born Killers. It starred Woody Harrelson and Juliette Lewis as Mickey and Mallory Knox, the psychotically romantic killer couple, with Tom Sizemore as Detective Jack Scagnetti, the violent and vengeful cop on their trail, Robert Downey Jr as Wayne Gale, journalist and presenter of the ‘American Maniacs’ TV show, and Tommy Lee Jones as Warden McClusky, the violent and corrupt prison warden. Virtually every character in this film is unpleasant, from the killers to strangers in diners, from cops to reporters. There is effectively no difference between the violence exhibited by Mickey and Mallory, and that shown by Scagnetti and McClusky, except that Mickey and Mallory don’t have a badge to hide behind and they do not excuse their behaviour as ‘keeping the peace’ or ‘upholding the law’. The pair are incarcerated and manage to start a riot before escaping, a riot in which McClusky is brutally murdered by rioting inmates and Scagnetti is killed by Mallory after he tries to rape her. Part of the modus operandi of the couple is that they always leave someone alive to tell the tale, to spread the legend. At the end of the film, this technique is extended. The reporter, Wayne Gale, uses this MO to try to convince Mickey and Mallory not to kill him. Their response? They don’t need him alive because they have his camera, neatly encapsulating the message that it is the media who encourage violent behaviour.

The film was always going to be problematic for censors and critics alike. By condemning the glorification of violence in the film, they would be proving Stone’s point. By not doing so, they would be tacitly glorifying it themselves, thus proving Stone’s point. In the end, they went for suggesting that the film was too focused on glorifying violence and not enough on the satire. It became just another violent movie in many people’s eyes, which really is missing the point.

A year later, a very different serial killer movie, and arguably one of the finest of modern times, was released. David Fincher – who would go on to direct Fight Club, The Social Network and The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo – gave us a very dark and cerebral serial killer movie in Seven (or Se7en). With the double act of Morgan Freeman as mature, sensible and experienced cop William Somerset, and Brad Pitt as young, headstrong and impulsive cop David Mills, Seven follows the trail of a serial killer themed around the seven deadly sins – envy, gluttony, greed, lust, pride, sloth and wrath – while, in the background, Mills’ wife Tracy (Gwyneth Paltrow) tries to adjust to her lonely new life in the big city. The murderer (Kevin Spacey in an originally uncredited role) targets people that he sees as exhibiting the sins – for example, a grossly overweight man (who is forced at gunpoint to eat himself to death) for the gluttony killing, a vain young model (who has her face mutilated and has the choice to commit suicide or call 911) for the pride killing – before apparently turning himself in before the cycle is complete. The closing scenes are cleverly written and expertly handled by the actors.

The film is wonderfully shot, with moody shadows and almost omnipresent rain giving the city a dirty, oppressive feel. It is only in the final scenes that the rain eases off and the sun comes out, an ironic piece of pathetic fallacy. Freeman uses his elder-statesman-like charm as an effective counterpoint to Pitt’s frustrated and angry young man, while Paltrow portrays the nervous and lonely new wife excellently (unusually for her), but the film is stolen by Spacey’s wonderful serial killer. He is only in the film near the end, but he steals every scene with his creepy calm and total control of the situation he has put himself in. You know he is much, much smarter than the two policemen and whatever happens will be entirely according to his plan.

We need to jump forward to 1999 to find Spike Lee’s interpretation of the Son of Sam killings in New York in 1977. Summer of Sam focuses on the reactions of people living in the Bronx at the time of the killings, rather than on the killings themselves. It is therefore barely relevant to this article, despite being an interesting take on the serial killer movie. The following year, however, Mary Harron directed a film based on the Brett Easton Ellis novel American Psycho. This starred Christian Bale as Patrick Bateman, a yuppie in 1980s New York, who is so obsessed with the materialistic lifestyle that he and his associates aspire to, it drives him insane, and he embarks on a series of ever more violent murders of prostitutes and colleagues. Or does he? The film offers the possibility that the entire thing takes place inside Bateman’s head, going so far as to suggest that even the persona of Bateman is fake. The constant shallowness of Bateman’s respectable life holds some moments of humour, and the murders are suitably gruesome – and executed (no pun intended) with gloriously macabre joy and abandon by Bale – but the film itself is somehow unsatisfying. It does not deliver anything except more questions, which is not necessarily a bad thing, but the questions aren’t interesting enough to make one want to find the answers. It is as if the shallowness portrayed on screen has permeated even the meaning of the film, leaving it devoid of any point beyond visceral entertainment.

In 2003 came the last of the true serial killer movies that I will include here, and it is a fictionalised biopic of real-life serial killer Aileen Wuornos, played by an unrecognisable Charlize Theron. Monster was directed by Patty Jenkins and also starred Christina Ricci as Selby Wall (a character based on Aileen’s real lover, Tyria Moore). Wuornos was a prostitute who killed and robbed several of her clients after being raped by one of them, and there is some suggestion that she suffered from a serious mental illness, although she was judged mentally fit to be executed by the state of Florida. The real Wuornos spent her life in and out of correctional facilities after accusing her grandfather and one of his friends of raping her. She also had sex with her own brother. She became a prostitute at age 15. The film deals with some of these issues and shows Wuornos in a generally sympathetic light. It is a challenging film, mainly because the real-life killer’s personality shadows everything on screen. It is certainly worth watching, but it is a harrowing film.

Charlize Theron as Aileen Wuornos

Since the early years of the 21st century, serial killer movies have once again devolved into simple slasher flicks, gory depictions of torture with little or no depth to them. The obvious examples are the Saw films, of which there are seven, all based on a ten minute short film, about a killer known as ‘Jigsaw’ who contrives elaborate traps to torture his victims. There are also the Scream films, which are satires of slasher flicks, combining horror with comedy (very successfully in the case of the first film).

So the serial killer seems to be in hiding again, sneaking through the back rooms, waiting his chance to step back onto the big screen. I don’t think he’ll be gone very long. We need him too much. We like having him around – his inhumanity reaffirms our own while simultaneously providing us with blood-soaked entertainment. His ability to inspire fear comes from the very simple face that he could be anybody, anywhere. If he wears a mask, he just takes it off and he disappears. If he doesn’t wear a mask, it’s because he looks so…normal.

The danger of the serial killer is that the evil isn’t written on his face: it lies hidden behind the eyes.

Blood-sucking Parasites!

[WARNING – CONTAINS SOME SPOILERS – And a mention or two of Twilight. Sorry.]

For the second in my series on monsters, I’ve decided to look at what is arguably the most popular of all of them: Vampires. Unlike zombies, who are still basically the same as they have always been (aside from speeding up a bit, and different ways of creating them), vampires have undergone a succession of major transformations over the centuries. Legends of blood-sucking demons have existed in almost every country and culture, from ancient Assyria, through India, Africa, the Americas, Greece, Rome, and all the way to the Eastern European legends that most of us associate with ‘modern’ vampires.

Vampires get people in a flap

Modern vampires really get their wings in the late 18th and early 19th centuries. This followed a couple of centuries of increased belief in vampires, occasionally flaring up into bouts of mass hysteria, with corpses being dug up and staked or beheaded, police and government officials filling in reports specifically naming vampires as the cause of deaths, and entire villages swearing that a dead neighbour has returned from the grave to drink the blood of the living. With the creatures of the night so firmly in the public consciousness, vampires began to infiltrate literature in the form of the writings of Stagg, Shelley and, of course, John Polidori. Polidori was an associate of the “mad, bad and dangerous to know” poet, novelist and all-round degenerate Lord Byron, and it is assumed that he based the main character of his novel The Vampyre (1819), Lord Ruthven, on Byron himself.

The Vampyre is the first appearance of the suave and charismatic vampire in literature, so is arguably the birthplace of the modern vampire myth. This fusing of the romantic and the macabre became known as Gothic literature, famous for such classics as Frankenstein (1818) – written as part of the contest between Mary Shelley, Lord Byron, John Polidori and Mary’s husband, the poet Percy Bysshe Shelley, that also produced Polidori’s The VampyreThe Fall of the House of Usher (1839), by Edgar Allen Poe, and, obviously, Dracula (1897) by Bram Stoker, probably the most famous of all vampire novels.

Gary Oldman pimpin' it as Dracula

Soon after the release of Dracula, vampires began crawling onto the silver screen. The most notable of these early vampire films (if not the first) was Nosferatu (1922), FW Murnau’s rip-off of the Bram Stoker classic that somehow became a completely different take on vampirism. Max Schreck’s portrayal of Count Orlok is monstrous, a twisted, inhuman predator (the film is often accused of anti-Semitism due to Orlok’s appearance being so similar to the stereotyped look of the Jew), although the character clearly has strong sexual overtones, being destroyed by feasting sensuously on the virginal Ellen Hutter until the sun rises.

The 1930s gave us the Universal Studios version of Dracula (1931) with the iconic performance of Bela Lugosi as the opera-cloak wearing vampire gentleman. His ‘Transylvanian’ accent would slip into the collective unconscious as shorthand for ‘vampire’ for decades to come. Again, Dracula is portrayed as a sexual predator, suave and handsome, albeit with some monstrous features and habits!

Later still, Britain’s Hammer House of Horrors version of Dracula (1958) introduced the world to another iconic performance, that of the great Christopher Lee. His imposing six foot five frame created a physically powerful vampire, as well as sexy, despite his supernatural powers being reduced to immortality: he could effectively resurrect himself endlessly – handy for a run of sequels. Again, this vampire was a strong sexual predator, feasting on a succession of scantily clad and buxom wenches.

This subtext of sex has run through the vampire legend since those early Romantic versions, surfacing again and again. The original vampires were monsters, attacking and killing, feasting on the blood of the living to sustain their damned half-life. When Polidori used Byron as a model, sex couldn’t have been far behind. After all, Byron famously had affairs with Lady Caroline Lamb (wife of the 2nd Viscount Melbourne), Jane Harley (wife of the Earl of Oxford), and Augusta Leigh (his own half-sister, although this affair was only a rumour, possibly spread by the obsessed Caroline Lamb). Vampires feed by biting their victims, the most vicious and primitive sort of attack, but the mouth is also sensuous. Love bites and kisses, especially on the neck, are hugely intimate and sexy. In addition to this, we have the penetrative aspect of those fangs, and the passion (not to mention the menstrual connection) of blood.

Vampires are creatures that we love. But why? What is it about them that we find fascinating? Dr Belisa Vranich, clinical psychologist, suggests a number of reasons, including the simple fact that vampires are loners. According to modern sources, vampires either live alone or in hierarchical packs, led by a single, powerful vampire. Dracula had his vampettes, Max had his punk son and his friends, Jesse had his crew. They are outsiders, unaffected by human values, morals or laws. Often, things fall apart for them when they accept a new human into their ranks – Dracula fell for Mina and was killed as a result, Max told David to ‘turn’ Michael so he could get his fangs into Lucy and was killed as a result, Mae ‘turned’ Caleb and the whole crew died as a result. The outsider archetype is a strong one, especially in American literature and film. The outsider is strong, self-reliant, driven by their own code. They typify the ideal of the American West, of the outlaw. Near Dark (1987) was pretty explicit in this regard, having Jesse (Lance Henrikson) played as a veteran of the American War of Independence, in which he “fought for the South…We lost”.

Near Dark: Rebels without a pulse

Near Dark also used sex as a weapon of the vampires. Vulnerable and elfin vamp Mae seduces and ‘turns’ farm boy Caleb, inducting him into their psychotic road crew of killer vamps, including the aforementioned Jesse, his squeeze Diamondback, leather-jacketed, fun-loving crazy Severen and old-man-in-young-boy’s-body Homer. They are played as anarchic serial killers, driving the endless highways in a series of stolen vehicles and feasting from losers in roadside bars. Love ultimately wins out over sex, and the vampires go out in a blaze of glory (literally).

The Lost Boys (1987) also presented the vampires as rebels, this time apparently led by the superb blond mullet of a young Keifer Sutherland. It echoes the ideas of half-vampires suggested in Near Dark, and runs with the ideas of juvenile delinquency. Michael (Jason Patric) and Sam (Corey Haim) move to Santa Carla, the ‘Murder Capital of the World’ and soon find it under the sway of David’s (Keifer Sutherland) gang of teenage vampires. Less sex, although Michael is attracted to the gang by Star (Jami Gertz), and more drugs and rock-and-roll, The Lost Boys is a cult classic for good reason. It isn’t hugely innovative in terms of the vampire mythos, but it does add a heavy dose of cool, which, like Near Dark, made the vampire something that a certain breed of movie-goer would relate to.

A film that took the myth in a different direction was Tony ‘brother of Ridley’ Scott’s The Hunger (1983). Although it features a sex scene between the vampire Miriam (Catherine Deneuve) and Sarah (Susan Sarandon), the film approaches vampirism as an addiction. Miriam feeds on clubbers, extending their life span as a result, only to leave them to rapidly age and die when she moves on. David Bowie gives a surprisingly strong performance as John, Miriam’s dying ex-lover, suffering the painful symptoms of withdrawal. The sensuousness of the film is almost an expression of a drug-induced ecstasy, rather than the fulfilment of sexual contact.

In 1976, Anne Rice published the first in a series of vampire novels, in which she explored the curse of longevity. Neil Jordan’s adaptation of Interview With The Vampire (1994) introduced the world to Tom Cruise’s Lestat and Brad Pitt’s Louis, as Louis wandered around New Orleans bemoaning his fate, while Lestat (for some bizarre reason) refused to let him leave. It ignored many of the traditional vampiric weaknesses (garlic and religious symbols) although sunlight could kill them. The ‘Vampire Chronicles’, as the books became known, sold very well and influenced a large section of the Goth community. They also had an influence on the role-playing scene as well; White Wolf’s Vampire: The Masquerade owes a great deal to Rice’s portrayal of vampiric society.

"Look me in the eye, Tom, and tell me you aren't standing on a box."

There is no way I can talk about vampires in pop culture without at least a passing reference to the long-running (six years) television series Buffy The Vampire Slayer. What began as a tongue-in-cheek tale of an air-headed valley girl being chosen to fight the forces of evil developed into a surprisingly detailed world of monsters (both human and otherwise), love, sex, drugs, rock-n-roll, death, rebirth, family, friendship, school, life and on and on and on! Originally created by Joss Whedon, it was written with wit and a deep understanding of the trauma of high school. The characters were engaging and the storylines solid. It gave us the evil vamp forced to turn good (Spike), the evil vamp turned good by love (Angel), and every type of truly evil vamp you can think of, from the one shot monsters to the sneaky evil geniuses. It was a cool update to the mythos, and introduced a whole new generation to vampires and the supernatural.

Vampires became rich and powerful in the last years of the 20th century, but were hunted down by the brutal martial-arts stylings of the Daywalker. Blade (1999) featured Wesley Snipes as the titular half-vampire, high-kicking his way through the ranks of Stephen Dorff’s minions. The film takes a pseudo-scientific approach to vampirism, seeing it as a disease, although the pounding soundtrack, sick moves and black leather detract from that somewhat. It’s an action movie that spawned a handful of less successful sequels, but the original is worth a watch. The vamps here represent a kind of neo-Roman decadence that the uptight Blade fights against as he struggles to rebel – but this time the rebellion is against his own vampiric nature.

"I really hate that Stephen Dorff. Oh crap. He's right behind me, isn't he?"

In recent years, we have seen a slight return to the animalistic predator form of vampire in movies like 30 Days of Night and I Am Legend (although the source novel presents them in a very different light), but we have also seen the sexual type flourish. I am loathe to mention the Twilight series, but feel my hand is somewhat forced. The popularity of this teeny-goth best-seller is all about the sex. It’s the longing for the sensitive and moody emo type, represented here by concave-faced Robert Pattinson. However, it’s about NOT having sex. Oh yes, Stephanie Meyer’s first book showed a clear Christian message, with family values and their strength coming from what they believe in (some sources suggest a veiled metaphor for Mormonism – not having read them or seen the films I’m not sure how accurate these accusations are. Please tell us in the comments if you know!). This is a direct contrast to the savagery of the 30 Days of Night/I Am Legend style vamp. These are inhuman looking, with super quick reflexes and little in the way of social skills. These are the monsters under the bed; no sexual subtext here, just the innate fear of being eaten alive. Television shows like Ultraviolet (sadly short-lived) presented vampires as secretive, trying to live within human society and manipulate us, controlling the way we think in subtle ways. If nobody believes in vampires, surely that just makes it easier for them to move among us, undetected.

So the vampire presents us with a dichotomy. On the one hand, they are virtually unkillable predators, repelled only by the glory of God (holy water, consecrated earth, sunlight), out to drain our life’s blood to sustain their night-time half-lives. On the other, they are sexy, strong, charismatic and eternal. They ooze sensuality, leave you begging for more, turn you into a desperate addict. They are cool, turning their backs on a repressive human society and living by their own rules, taking no shit off anybody and killing anyone who pisses them off. Or they are the elite, sitting at the top of human society, breeding us to be ignorant of their existence, like cattle, ripe for the taking.

Which is it? Well, maybe it doesn’t matter. Maybe it’s all a matter of perspective. We like them for all the same reasons we fear them. We created them millennia ago as blood-drinking demons that came in the night. We have turned them into the beautiful, sensitive loner, powerful and magical.

But they still don’t bloody sparkle.

The Tyranny of Tolerance

Cardinal Keith O’Brien, the highest ranking Roman Catholic in the UK and the leader of the Catholic Church in Scotland, has unfortunately decided that he has the right to preach morality to the country and in doing so has exposed his unacceptable levels of bigotry and intolerance. How has he done this? He has criticised the government’s plans to legalize same-sex marriage (as opposed to the civil partnerships that are currently allowed in law). These plans WILL NOT force churches to allow same-sex religious ceremonies. They DO NOT have any effect on the religious institutions in the UK. Surely, I hear the logical among you cry, that means it’s got nothing to do with the church then!

Apparently, he disagrees.

Cardinal Keith O'Brien: Really doesn't approve of the cock.

Writing in the Sunday Telegraph, O’Brien calls the proposition “a grotesque subversion of a universally accepted human right”. Let me highlight what I see as an important part of that sentence: “a universally accepted human right”. Unless you’re gay, in which case the implication is that you don’t have the same human rights as the rest of us. You are somehow less than human. He asks “what will happen to the teacher who wants to tell pupils that marriage can only mean – and has only ever meant – the union of a man and a woman?” The answer, of course, is that nothing will happen, because teachers are currently not allowed to tell pupils that. Teachers have to teach the curriculum, not their own personal opinions. Teachers aren’t even supposed to talk about their own personal political views, in case they unfairly influence the children in their care. He suggests that teachers and pupils will be “the next victims of the tyranny of tolerance, heretics, whose dissent from state-imposed orthodoxy must be crushed at all costs”. Well, as a Catholic cardinal, he’d know all about crushing dissent from orthodoxy.

O'Brien would really hate this.

The cardinal continues by considering “the point of view of the child”. He suggests that same-sex marriage would rob the child of the right to start life with a mother and a father. Much like prison. Or death. Or divorce. I don’t want to get onto the whole “when Catholic priests stop raping kids I might listen to their views on morality” trip (there’s already plenty of that on the internet already), but there is an element of logic to it. Until the Catholic church has its own house in order, they have no place interfering in the running of the country. The Catholic church has a long and despicable record of child abuse within its ranks, so it is repugnant that they would dare to consider “the point of view of the child” or dare to take the moral high ground on issues of childcare. I know that not every Catholic priest is a child molester, but the record of cover-ups is as long and despicable as the record of abuse, and it is unlikely that a high-ranking official (such as cardinal O’Brien) was not aware of such behaviour. I am not for a moment suggesting that O’Brien was involved in either abuse or cover-ups, simply that they existed, as O’Brien’s apologies to the victims over the last decade have proved. In fact, one of His Eminence’s Irish colleagues, Cardinal Seán Brady, was revealed to have been involved in an official church cover up of Father Brendan Smyth’s sexual abuse of dozens of children in the 1970s.

At this point in his article, O’Brien’s prose blossoms into full fantasy as he asks if marriage can be redefined from a man and a woman to a man and a man, or a woman and a woman, what is to stop three men all getting married to each other, or two men and a woman?

“Sex between a man and a woman can be wonderful, provided you can get between the right man and the right woman.” - Woody Allen

Well, so what? If three people decide that they love each other and wish to live like that, who’s to say they shouldn’t be allowed to get married? It may not be your cup of tea, but it would be a bloody boring world if we were all alike, wouldn’t it? Some people find that swinging keeps their marriage fresh and exciting, some people have their marriage ruined by swinging. It’s swings and roundabouts (sorry – couldn’t resist). As long as it is done with the informed consent of all parties, whatever people choose to do to/with/for each other is entirely their business, and if they want to show their commitment to several people at once, why should anyone want to stop them? It isn’t morally degenerate to admit that you are able to love more than one person, so why should it be frowned on? Bigamy is illegal, but why? There is no reason that it should be as long as all parties are aware of, and agree to, the situation! It’s certainly less morally objectionable than rape, or abuse, or using your position as a leading member of a prominent religious group to preach hate and intolerance in an attempt to dictate government policy. There is, or should be, a separation of church and state (especially between the Catholic Church and the state – Just ask Henry VIII). Religious groups can certainly comment and offer their opinion on government decisions, but O’Brien is as guilty of preaching intolerance as Abu Hamza, after all, both used religion as a basis for their messages of hate. Ok, this may be a slight exaggeration. O’Brien has not, at time of writing, shown support for a medieval theocracy determined to subjugate women, homosexuals, other religions… Oh, hang on…

O’Brien claims that the fact that churches would not be required to perform same-sex marriages if they did not wish to is “staggeringly arrogant”, and states that “no Government has the moral authority to dismantle the universally understood   meaning of marriage”, presumably because the “moral authority” belongs to him. As I understand it, as far more than the “small minority of activists” that he alludes to understand it, marriage is the union in law of two people who are willing to publicly declare their love for, and ongoing commitment to, each other. I’m sure that you have noticed the lack of gender-specific terms in my definition. Cardinal O’Brien, on the other hand, is adamant that marriage has “only ever meant the legal union of a man and a woman”. Tradition is obviously important, especially to such a venerable institution as the Catholic Church. After all, they have not changed anything for many centuries. Except their attitude to slavery. And the age of the earth. And that atheists and heretics should be executed, as should anyone who translates the bible into English. And a few more things, now that I think about it.

This man is entitled to his opinion, of course, but he should be very careful about the message he is conveying. It is very easy to read his article (available at http://www.telegraph.co.uk/comment/9121424/We-cannot-afford-to-indulge-this-madness.html) as a direct attack on homosexuality, rather than an attack on same-sex marriages (although this is a largely semantic distinction). He describes marriage as a universal human right, before going on to explain why he thinks homosexuals shouldn’t be allowed to have that right. O’Brien has never been afraid to court controversy, and this may simply be a way to convince his followers that he and his institution are still relevant in today’s society. And so they may be, to their followers, but they are not to me. They have no right to preach morality to me: I do not live in a Catholic state. I do not subscribe to their dogma. I do not believe their stories. I do not want them to try to tell me what i can or cannot do, who I can or cannot marry.

And neither should you.

UPDATE: The Coalition For Equal Marriage (C4em) has a petition to sign if you are in favour of same-sex marriages. Please take a few minutes to sign up at http://www.c4em.org.uk/. Thank you.