Save Our Spidey

The Amazing Spider Man films have been dire but Andrew Garfield is a good Spiderman. It would be a mistake for Marvel to ditch him.

The unnecessary reboot of the Spiderman franchise has not been a success either artistically or (at least as far as Sony in concerned) financially.

And it’s not a secret that Sony has toyed with the idea of collaborating with Marvel studios to resuscitate the series. The latest news – as reported by IGN – is that:

“IF the Marvel/Sony deal were to go forward,” says [The Latino Review], “Andrew Garfield would no longer be Peter Parker and any baggage from existing films, [directors Sam] Raimi or [Marc] Webb, would be non-canonical.” Marvel wants a clean slate, apparently, and they are not interested in doing any more so-called “romance” movies but would rather “focus on the difficulties of being a teenager and a superhero with a romance side-story.” Neither is an origin story part of the plan, so a Marvel Spidey movie would reportedly pick up with Peter Parker already living his double life as a hero.

This seems to me to be misguided. The films were bad but not because of Garfield. In fact, he was rather good. As James Whitbrook writes for Io9:

Andrew Garfield just nailed Spider-Man for me, for someone who’s loved that character for years. Sure, he was a little too cool to be the nerdy Peter we’re familiar with – the aspect of the character that Tobey Maguire’s take in the Raimi movies excelled at – but as the slightly cocky, oddly charming and sarkily funny Spider-Man persona he shone. At least for me, it felt like we had a version of the character that echoed back to the quick witted and confident Spider-Man I remembered as a kid on screen at last (although Maguire’s Spider-Man is still great, he was always a better Peter to me than Spidey). He wasn’t perfect, and was hamstrung by some dodgy background stuff that I was decidedly not a fan of – but Garfield’s Spider-Man was what I wanted for the character’s movie-based escapades. That humour, the wittiness, was key, and it’s something Garfield excelled at in the role. To lose out on that, so soon after he started, and just as he’d taken Spider-Man to an interesting place that could’ve been explored in a potential Amazing Spider-Man 3, feels like a waste of a great piece of casting.

The other sad part of this is that what Marvel are purportedly looking for, according to Latino Review, sounds like the kind of situation Garfield’s take on the character is in post TASM 2: An already established Spider-Man without a romantic situation being the biggest focus of his life (thanks to the other best part of the Amazing Reboot, Emma Stone’s Gwen Stacy shuffling off the movie’s mortal coil at the climax of of the film – at the cost of a more interesting film, to boot). Although there is a lot of mess around the character that I can see Marvel hesitant to draw on still, Garfield’s Spidey is in the perfect place for him to be joined up into the ongoing Marvel Universe. Origin out of the way, at the end of a big romantic arc, already accepting of his role as Spider-Man – and even more importantly, in a place that you could ostensibly cut him solely out of Sony’s bizarre plans to ‘MCU-ify’ that universe with their take on the Sinister Six and other spider-man projects and still keep the character largely intact. It seems like such a shame that in spite of the problems surrounding him, Garfield’s Spider-Man is ideal for the MCU. If only he didn’t have all that baggage. But at the same time, do we really need a third Spider-Man, so soon? There’s already been the problem for DC of recreating characters for the big screen at the cost of another established version (looking at you, Flash). Spider-Man is popular enough of a character that I’m sure it would work, but it seems like the sort of thing that is made for confusing mainstream audiences.

I don’t really see Marvel’s reasoning here. It may be that they don’t want audiences to associate their films with Sony’s inferior offerings. But by the same token the Amazing Spiderman films were sufficiently different that integrating their Spiderman into the MCU may draw in a different audience. If nothing else Garfield is a certified A-lister whose star power should add to Marvel’s already impressive box office haul.


Teddy Roosevelt tried to abolish ‘-ed’

English has plenty of perverse and rather unhelpful features. One of them is that British and American English have differing conventions as to proper spelling. It can therefore be rather unclear whether to use colour or color, cheque or check, arse or ass.

Io9 has an interesting article by Lauren Davis on how this divergence came about through the efforts of men like Benjamin Franklin and Noah Webster to create a system for spelling that promoted a single way of speaking across the new United States.

At the very end of the article she recounts what almost came to pass:

The gaps between American and British English could have yawned much wider if President Theodore Roosevelt’s order to reform American spelling had taken hold. Following the lead of the Simplified Spelling Board, Roosevelt ordered the Public Printer in 1906 to alter the spelling of 300 different words. The words included many words that ended in -ed, which would now end in -t—so that “mixed” became “mixt,” “pressed” became “prest,” “possessed” became “possest” and so on. And the “-ugh” was dropped for words like “although” (“altho”), “though” (“tho”), and “thorough” (“thoro”).

Members of the SSB included folks like Mark Twain, Melvil Dewey (of the Dewey Decimal system), dictionary editors, publishing magnate Henry Holt, and Supreme Court Justice David Josiah Brewer, but that pedigree was not enough to protect the 300-word list from ridicule. Critics had a field day with the list, concocting new and increasingly bizarre spellings in order to mock Roosevelt and the list. (And, naturally, a lot of fun was had with the spelling Roosevelt’s own name.) The president ended up retracting the order, and the printer returned to conventional American spelling. It’s proof that, while it can and does happen, spelling reform can be and extremely difficult thing to achieve.

Farewell Orange Wednesdays

So Orange Wednesdays is coming to an end. The rise of video on demand seems to have convinced EE to end the promotion that made going to the cinema somewhat less obscenely expensive is no longer good value for them.

This is obviously a shame but the best part of Orange Wednesdays finished a while ago. The adverts that initially advertised the promotion – sadly replaced by nonsense with Kevin Bacon when Orange became EE – were that rare kind of commercial that one actually enjoyed rather than endured.

Here are some of the best:

“So it comes round every Wednesday like clockwork…”

Trolling Darth Vader

The chatty hunter (ft. Patrick Swayze)

And the best one in which Steven Seagal blows up a golf course 

Joseph McCarthy never sat on the House Un-American Affairs Committee


Senator Joseph McCarthy

The ‘Red Scare’ of the Nineteen Fifties is one of the most resonant parts of American history. From the Crucible to Good Night and Good Luck it’s something that’s recurs in its culture.

The hunt for largely imagined communists is strongly associated with one institution and one man. The House Un-American Affairs Committee (HUAC) was notorious for dragging Hollywood figures before it and demanding they either implicate others or be blacklisted. The man is Senator Joseph McCarthy, whose claim to have a list of communists working in the State Department kicked the panic into overdrive and who gave the movement its other name “McCarthyism”.

I’d not realised until I heard a podcast on the Red Scare by Stuff You Missed in History Class that HUAC and McCarthy were largely separate. HUAC and McCarthy were both working in Congress but in different parts of it. HUAC was a committee of the House of Representatives while McCarthy was (of course) a Senator. Therefore, he would have been ineligible to sit on it.

He was instead chairman of the Senate’s Committee on Government Operations. This was generally a bland institution for investigating government waste and fraud. However, its mandate was broad enough that McCarthy could bend it to include hunting for communists. This he did. His campaign cost many people their jobs and  reputations, and pushed some to suicide. However, he overreached when he began insinuating that their were traitors in Eisenhower’s White House. He also came up against opposition from two indefatigable campaigners: journalist Edward Murrow and the US Army’s head counsel Joseph N. Welch who famously demanded of McCarthy “Have you no sense of decency, sir?” As a result, public opinion turned on McCarthy and in 1954 he was eventually censured by his Senate colleagues.

This is where the distinction between McCarthy and HUAC becomes important. The House committee did not stop when McCarthy fell. It’s prestige did take a big hit but HUAC carried on to subpoena potential subversives throughout the 1960s.

Update: In a comment on FB, my friend James King pointed out by way of addition that “HUAC’s predecessor, the Dies Committee, was active pre-war. This contradicts the comforting idea that McCarthyism was entirely a moment of madness after the fall of China, rather than reflecting something rather more fundamental.”


Politics will always disappoint you: get used to it!

Political campaigns have learned how to tailor their message to appeal to specific individuals yet once the votes are counted we all get the same government. This is a recipe for disappointment unless we as voters are realistic about this process.

Did this disappoint you?


The American political consultant Rick Riddler has an interesting article for Real Clear Politics. Essentially, he is worried about the ability of political campaigns to ‘micro-target’. This is essentially the  application of techniques from the world of commercial marketing to politics such that:

by matching a voter’s Internet cookies to an enriched voter file, a campaign professional can easily direct a specific online message about GMOs in baby food to a female who is 45 and sometimes—but not always—buys organic foods, has a household income over $70,000 a year, recently bought baby clothes, and lives in a specific area. This message is delivered as a pop-up or banner advertisement on only her computer, tablet, or smartphone.

Riddler worries that this may be fueling disenchantment with politics. He suggests campaigns may have moved from offering “a chicken in every pot” to “a chicken in your pot” to “a chicken in your pot – seasoned just the way you like.” Riddler suggests this creates a dangerous rift between campaigning and governing:

As campaigns now appeal to each voter’s specific issues, fears, wants, and desires through highly targeted messaging, they perpetuate the myth that, once in office, the candidate will do exactly what the individual voter wants. Yet there is no way that any candidate or party can deliver on such precise expectations once the election is over.

Unlike the commercial world, big data allows customized communication for the voter but not by the voter. It is precisely this distinction that causes a dissonance in voter expectations. On the one hand, they are able to customize their phone, their car, and their wardrobe, and—they are led to believe—their political candidates. But this last impression is a myth. Although they courted voters during election season on this basis, once in office elected officials in our binary political system have a far less expansive menu of options.

Do I follow the party leadership on this bill or not? Is this legislation good for my district or not? Should I vote yea on the president’s budget (and nominees) or nay?

These have always been the choices faced by politicians. The difference today is that elected officials have conditioned their constituents to expect differently. It is no surprise, then, that Americans are increasingly distrustful and disdainful of political candidates and parties—even the ones they voted for. Once the election is over, they no longer have the illusion that politics caters to their individual needs. Lacking control, many grow disenchanted and disengaged, sometimes asserting their individualism by voting for unlikely-to-win third party candidates. More often, they stay home, which was one unsung part of the 2014 midterm narrative.

Amplifying this disenchantment and creating a trap for voter expectations is the recent hyping of the political communications business itself. In tactics that have made a prophet of Marshall McLuhan, the tools of political communication have determined the message voters receive. Since 2008, campaign operatives have subordinated the substance of their candidates’ messaging to their means of communication—to the micro-targeting, Twitter feeds, Internet advertising buys, the size and the enhancements of campaign databases, and even the number of volunteer “boots on the ground” they put in the field. These practices leave voters confused: Are they voting for a slick campaign operation or a candidate with policy goals and values?

In other nations, where multiple political parties thrive under parliamentary systems (and strict laws prohibit personal data collection), there has been a rise of new political parties that may come closer to exactly reflecting an individual’s policy and ideological preferences. Given the limited ability for third parties to thrive in the American political system, such a development is unlikely to occur in the United States. Even if it did, we’d need as many political parties as there are smartphone apps to mollify the voters whom the Republicans and Democrats have so assiduously spoiled.

Europeans and others who live in countries with multi-party systems might think these points apply less to them. And indeed, having more parties will potentially give voters a party that is closer in views to their own. But there are limits to this process. As Riddler highlighted in his final paragraph an almost infinite number of parties would be necessary before we could all have a party which perfectly aligned with our views. And more importantly the fundamental point about government remains unchanged: you can have more parties but there will still only be one government. And in a multi-party system forming and running that single government is almost certainly going to demand agreement between parties. Creating more parties does not eliminate the need for compromise: it just means that those compromises are made between rather than within parties.

And if that sounds to you a lot like a defence of Nick Clegg, the Liberal Democrats and the principle of going into coalition then that’s as it should be:




John Hurt’s characters die more regularly than Sean Bean’s

If you are fainthearted you might want to give this post a miss

So we all know Sean Bean is the guy who dies in every movie. There are even (NSFW) videos to prove it:

But Kyle Hill of Nerdist – in a post which rather dubiously is published in their science section – has done the maths and discovered their are actors who die on screen rather more often.


I’d never have guessed that John Hurt would be the actor to die the most reguarly but then again he did feature in perhaps cinema’s most iconic death (NSFW):