The Shock of the New

This week, I have been mostly surrounded by sex.

No, I’m not living in some hedonistic fantasy of nonstop orgies – but my television is. At least that’s what it seems like, as the new TV season gets underway with the return of some old favourites and some distinctly dubious new ones.

To start with, historical rumpy pumpy fest The Tudors is back for its final season. In the mists of time, when this purportedly “85% accurate” portrayal of Henry VIII’s court first started, I theorised that it would have to end when the historical figures in it stopped looking photogenic. Not so – in its increasingly tenuous relationship with actual history, the series has taken the approach of, basically, letting the characters not age at all.

THE TUDORS - Season 4

Henry by now should be grossly overweight and diseased; in the show he still looks like, well, Jonathan Rhys Meyers. Which is pretty good for a bloke in the 16th century who’s over 50 years old. Granted, they’ve let Jonathan grow his hair a bit longer and have a slightly bushier beard, but that’s it as far as aging goes. And as to the gross obesity, this Henry still appears to go to the Tudor equivalent of the gym every day, judging by his still frequent sex scenes.

The aforementioned sex is now with wife number 5, Catherine Howard. As portrayed by Tamzin Merchant, Catherine, it seems, was some kind of a giggling imbecile. All right, I know she really was only 17 years old, but she can’t have been this dense, surely? Meanwhile, she’s been getting flirty looks from pretty young courtier Thomas Culpeper (hobbies: rape and murder). This already doesn’t look like it’s going to end well – and since we’ve got one more wife to cram in by the end of the season, even if you don’t know the real facts you can probably work out that it’s not if Catherine’s going to end up on the block, it’s when.

Meanwhile, the Seymour clan is now entirely represented by ex cast members of Hollyoaks – namely Max Brown and Andy McNair as Edward and Thomas Seymour. Henry Cavill, gamely sporting a bigger beard than Henry’s, is still around as Charles Brandon, Duke of Suffolk. But for my money, the cheesy drama lacks something cast wise compared with previous years when we had the likes of Sam Neill, Jeremy Northam, Peter O’Toole and Max von Sydow hamming it up as caricatures of real historical figures. Still, it remains watchable, and will hopefully remain close enough to real history for Henry to actually die on schedule – rather than, say, living on to steal a Nazi Enigma machine for Winston Churchill.

Fortunately for fans of realism, Skins was back too. Oh, all right, not actual realism – the show’s defenders refer to it being a “hyper-real” portrait of contemporary teenage life. Nonetheless, in the past it’s had endearing characters and veered unstably from genuinely moving drama to ill-considered base comedy. But it’s always been watchable, and the gimmick of changing the entire cast every two years – when the teenagers finish their A Levels and move off into the real world – has kept it pretty fresh.

So, this year, we get to meet teenage gang number 3 – and a pretty likeable bunch they are on first impressions. I’m sure they’ll end up having just as much naughty fun as the previous gangs, but in a week of naughtiness, this was a surprisingly low key season opener. Eschewing the full on shagging, drug use and, er, bottom tattoos of previous cast introductions, this first episode focussed mainly on androgynous misfit Franky Fitzgerald, engagingly incarnated by Dakota Blue Richards out of that dull Philip Pullman film. Franky has just moved to Bristol after a traumatic time in Oxford; unwisely, she makes an enemy of the nastiest girl in school, and soon enough unflattering Facebook pictures are popping up all over the walls. Franky doesn’t like this, so she’s off to have some fun with her gun…


The new guys…

It’s actually nice that it looks like this season’s going to focus a bit more on the misfits rather than the implausibly good-looking, anarchic heroes of previous casts – remember Nicholas Hoult’s Tony, or Jack O’Connell’s Cook? There’s an oddball guy who spouts pretentious nonsense at Franky while she’s trying to concentrate on shooting things, and he’s nice to look at but on limited evidence not the best of actors. But this first episode mostly served to introduce Franky, who eventually ended up doing a bit of moonlit swimming with fellow misfits Rich, Alo and Grace. Rich is an old-fashioned metalhead – I didn’t know there were any of those left – who I look forward to seeing a bit more of, while Alo is an engaging, if distinctly unattractive redhead boy who seems to live in a van with some weed and a stack of porn. Grace was less of a misfit, but is obviously going to be faced with the dilemma of choosing between the cool girls and the oddballs she actually likes.

As a season opener, it’s not going to grab viewers like the previous ones did – the very first episode in particular springs to mind, which had droolworthy shots of Nicholas Hoult in his underpants, copious drug usage, a house trashing party and ultimately a stolen Mercedes sliding into a Bristol lake. But I already like this new gang more than the second cast, who never engaged me as much as the first. With parental/teacher guest appearances already from the likes of Gordon Kennedy and John Sessions, this year looks promising.

But if you’re aching with nostalgia for the original characters and that very first episode, you can have a look at MTV’s virtual shot for shot remake of it, relocated to “somewhere on the North American continent”. Oh all right, it’s Vancouver again, but as usual they’re pretending it’s somewhere in the United States.

Actually, the American Skins is a little hard to fathom – as it seems to have pretty much just recycled the script of the British one, the reasons for remaking it seem sketchy at best.  Still, I remember thinking the same about the American Queer as Folk, until it ran out of British episodes to remake and became an entity of its own – at that point it became a genuinely good drama, and maybe this will too, when it finds its own identity.

Skins1 BritSkins1 US

 Spot the difference – Brits (left), Americans (right).

It hasn’t yet though, and for anyone familiar with the British version, it’s hard to shake your memories of the ‘real’ cast. Tony is now the somewhat less likeable James Newman, Sid (called Stanley in this version) is played by shaggy haired Daniel Flaherty, who lacks Mike Bailey’s gauche charm, and worst of all Maxxie has been replaced by a lesbian cheerleader, Tea, who has implausibly retained most of the same lines.

That last change is symptomatic of the apparently watered down approach of the US version – is it because even progressive American teenagers find a gay woman less threatening than a gay man? And the swearing’s been watered down too – there were two uses of the word ‘fuck’, but each was bleeped (although I gather some networks leave the dialogue uncensored).

Because we’re so used to seeing slews of light drama shows from the US featuring groups of angst-ridden, implausibly good-looking teenagers – the very thing the original Skins was trying to be the antithesis of – what this ends up feeling like is a slightly more risque version of The OC, with worse weather. But it’s still too near the knuckle for US moral guardians the Parents’ Television Council (a group who make Mary Whitehouse look like Linda Lovelace). As soon as the first episode was finished (and quite possibly without actually watching it), they were attacking MTV for the exploitative nature of the drama, and actually tried to file charges of child pornography with the Department of Justice. Which should help the ratings no end, I imagine. Heaven knows what they’d have made of the British version.

And Heaven knows what they’d make of Channel 4’s new advice/documentary show, The Joy of Teen Sex. Shakily walking a tightrope between information and exploitation, this purports to be an investigation into what British teenagers are really doing sexually, interspersed with practical sexual advice from the likes of James Corden’s sister. So, this week, we got an expose of the practice of “vagazzling” (sticking fake jewellery around one’s shaven vagina, for reasons that are hard to fathom), some eye watering close up photos of sexually transmitted diseases (to encourage the use of contraception, naturally), and a queue of sexually dysfunctional kids seeking advice.

A girl and her mother dropped in for an encounter session to try and curb the girl’s promiscuity, which of course ended in much crying and hugging. Meanwhile, a teenage drag queen tried to conquer his fear of being the receiver of anal sex, leading to very anatomically detailed descriptions of how exactly that works – though for some reason, nobody asked if he’d just considered being a top instead. And an inexperienced lesbian had some questions about the best ways to pleasure another girl.

As sage advice was given out, and the teenagers looked suitably appreciative, said advice was shown in reconstruction by various (far better looking) actors. Anyone getting their jollies from this, however, would soon be put off when the next close up of a disease popped up – this week, a very close look at a visibly uncomfortable young man with a bump in his scrotum.

It’s hard to know what to make of The Joy of Teen Sex. Is it information, or titillation? It seems to have the best intentions, but this kind of show always attracts viewers for quite the wrong reasons. And it’s made with the kind of earnest, patronising tone that TV producers always seem to come up with when trying to get “down with the kids”. With only four episodes, it’s unlikely to be around long enough for anyone to take too much offence. I expect somebody will, though.

Still, one show that wasn’t reeking with hormones this week was the return of BBC3’s sublime Being Human. Well, unless said hormones were the result of masses of violence being perpetrated by vampires or werewolves.


Being Human has, like Misfits, now been saddled with the burden of being a cult hit, with all the expectations that that comes with. So the third season has a lot of work to do, particularly to try and recapture the nice balance of humour and horror that the first season had and the second season rather lost.

It’s hard to say, from the first episode, whether it has. A move from Bristol to Barry Island has certainly changed the feel of the show’s locations, and the gang’s new digs – an old B & B – seem like a down at heel version of Angel’s Hyperion Hotel. And there was plenty of darkness in the subplot of a group of insalubrious vampires (led by a bleach haired and rather terrifying Paul Kaye) kidnapping werewolves for gladiatorial fights with humans. Oddly, they were defeated by stern werewolf patriarch Robson Green and his son – played by This Is England’s Michael Socha, who looks disconcertingly like a male version of his sister Lauren, who plays Kelly in Misfits.


Spot the difference 2 – Michael (left), Lauren (right)

But there was fun to be had, as George, looking for an unobtrusive forest glade in which to transform into a wolf, inadvertently got himself arrested for dogging (oddly appropriate, that). The presence of Torchwood’s Kai Owen as the genial swinger in charge of the whole thing led to a certain amount of confusion as to which cult show I was actually watching, but the subplot led to a funny resolution as Nina turned up to extricate George from the cells before he transformed and ripped Kai to shreds. “He’s got a medical condition”, she stammered, trying to resist her own transformation and generally looking as mental as she claimed George to be. Apparently somewhat unperceptive, the cops took her at her word.

But the heart of this season opener was Mitchell’s quest into the afterlife to retrieve Annie, condemned to limbo at the end of the last season. This ended up as a sort of quest for redemption, as mysterious spirit Lia (a sublime Lacey Turner) took Mitchell on an extended tour of some of his greatest hits of wrongdoing since he became a vampire.

I’m not sure that continually exploring the mythos of the show does it any favours – the tantalising hints as to the nature of the afterlife in previous episodes are better left for the viewer to imagine, rather than being actually shown to us. And Mitchell’s homicidal past might also be best left to the imagination – nothing visual is likely to live up to what we’ve imagined.

Be that as it may, though, Annie’s back and the gang is back together. And Mitchell’s trip left us with some intriguing hints as to where the show’s going this year – it looks like he’s going to end up romantically linked with Annie ( I’m finding it hard to keep track of whether she’s corporeal enough to touch things, but she can still make tea). And there’s obviously some vampire/werewolf hostilities on the horizon. Could be good, and hopefully better than the similarly themed Underworld.

With all that sex and violence filling the small screen, the return of Top Gear actually seemed to inject some sanity into the week.  Sanity in the sense of dropping a VW Beetle out of a plane from a mile up, to see if a Porsche 911 GT can beat it to the impact point from a mile away on the ground. It was business as usual for Jeremy, Richard and James, although James had the unusual duty of test driving a very fast car – in this case the new V8 Ariel Atom. Top Gear has become as comfortably familiar as a pair of old slippers, though that’s not necessarily a bad thing.

With such a glut of new shows, it looks like I’m going to be spending more time in watching the telly for the next couple of months – hopefully I’ll get to write on this blog a bit more frequently! In the mean time, if you’re after yet more sex, apparently Channel 5 have adopted the not at all gimmicky approach of asking former Home Secretary Jacqui Smith to investigate the world of pornography (presumably not on expenses). The mind boggles…

Politics and murder: is this the way it’s going to be?

I don’t usually comment on American politics in this blog, but in the wake of the terrible events in Tucson last Saturday, it seems that everyone else online already is. Finding myself leaving ever longer comments on American friends’ Facebook pages, and trawling through the mounting hysteria on online forums, I thought I might as well add my two pennies worth. In a plea to restore sanity, if you will.

On Saturday, a gunman shot Arizona Democratic Representative Gabrielle Giffords in the head at point blank range, before turning the gun on the crowd and killing six others. The obvious assumption to make was that this act was politically motivated; the obvious suspects, as the target was a Democrat, were the Republicans – specifically, the extreme right wingers calling themselves the Tea Party. Liberals across America within hours were reposting Sarah Palin’s notorious ‘gunsight’ map of Democrat targets (which pinpointed Giffords specifically), while Republicans, with perhaps some justification, pointed out that it might be a smidgen tasteless to ascribe this tragedy to politics before anyone knew anything like the full story. Of course, the more extreme Republicans expressed this sentiment in terms unlikely to gain them any sympathy, with their usual cries that the Democrats were “like the Nazis”, and other less salubrious comparisons.


Just in case you’re one of the three people on the planet who haven’t seen this.

From the information still emerging about the gunman, 22-year-old Jared Lee Loughner, it seems that he was almost certainly mentally ill – his incoherent Youtube rants paint him as most likely a paranoid schizophrenic. Despite vociferous cries from many of my Democrat friends and hardcore Republicans taking the opposite stance, he doesn’t seem to have had a coherent political ideology. The much vaunted list of his favourite reading material includes The Communist Party Manifesto (left) Mein Kampf (right in some ways, left in others) and Ayn Rand (emphatically right). He is remembered by classmates as a bit left wing, but obsessed about big government conspiracy theories with the fervour of a Fox News commentator, and his fascination with the gold standard for currency was (probably coincidentally) echoed by Sarah Palin herself on Twitter not long after the incident.

Finger-pointing, then, at either party as his prime motivator seems pointless. But, tasteless though the debate may seem to some, politics itself clearly was a motivating factor – and perhaps it’s the hysterical, shrieking incoherence that has become de rigeur in American politics that fostered a similarly incoherent hysteric in his ambition to get a gun and take matters into his own hands. Like it or not, this event has thrown a spotlight on the state of American politics, and the face it’s revealed isn’t pretty.

It’s often been said that the British possess a desire to reform America that it finds baffling, primarily because the British don’t really understand that American culture is far more different to them than it seems. But equally, a bit of distance and an outsider’s perspective can perhaps be revealing. It’s difficult for us, in a country with three major political parties (well, until the next election, anyway), to comprehend quite how viciously partisan an entrenched two party system can be. And our own political parties inform our views of the Americans’ – it seems laughable to us that the Republicans cower in terror (with a suitably big gun) of the Democrats’ ‘socialist’ policies when the Democrats are actually slightly to the right of our own ‘beloved’ Conservative party.

American culture is different, and from this Brit’s perspective, seems hugely informed by three things – an ill-informed nostalgia about the War of Independence, Hollywood’s mythologising of the pioneers who conquered the West, and the 1950s Cold War hysteria over Communism. Reducing the problem to just that is over simplifying of course, but that’s exactly what the Tea Party is doing – it’s exemplified in the movement’s very name.

I’ve been reading a lot on this topic over the last few days, much of it in left-leaning UK newspaper The Guardian. The Grauniad, as it’s known after its proud tradition of typing errors, is most revealing when one reads the Comment section, particularly the user comments after each piece. Reading these threads, neither Republicans nor Democrats, Brits nor Americans, come off very well.

It is interesting that so many fairly extreme Republicans post so vociferously on the website of a UK newspaper known to have a left wing bias, but some of the comments are revealing. This Michael Tomasky article has had all of them removed (a communist-style purge, I hear some cry) for inflammatory language about the mentally ill. So, sadly, I can’t share with you the poster who took pride in his mis-spelled insults to the liberal left because he didn’t want to be “a smart asshole” like them. So to the hard right, intelligence is a bad thing? Nor, sadly, can you see the chap who told the British emphatically that if we didn’t have gun control, we might still have our Empire. Leaving aside the fact that having an Empire is not necessarily a good thing, I feel patriotic enough to point out to this idiot that we don’t have an Empire any more because we went bankrupt standing alone against the Third Reich while the United States, with all its guns, remained isolationist.

And talking of the Third Reich brings me to one of the most common themes ‘explored’ by the real right wingers on such threads – liberals, are, unfathomably, supposed to be like the Nazis. Glenn Beck, with his Godwin’s Law Tourette’s, may bear some of the blame here, but the argument makes an insidious kind of sense. After all, the Nazi Party’s full name was the National Socialist Workers’ Party of Germany. Socialist – do you see? And a totalitarian state certainly fulfils the definition of big government, the concept to which Republicans are so implacably opposed.

Unfortunately for them, that’s where the similarity ends. The ‘Socialist’ part of the name predates Hitler’s involvement with the Party; as they rose to power and once they’d gained it, they courted and got funds primarily from the middle class and businesses. Hitler banned trade unions shortly after getting into power, and targetted communists, socialists and journalists at the same time as the Jews. At the same time, he exalted the virtues of the traditional family unit, urged women to stay at home and breed, and encouraged a fanatical patriotism to the Fatherland. All that sounds socialist in the same way that the Democratic Republic of Congo actually is a democratic republic. What it does sound suspiciously like, though, is the mantra of the Tea Party. Or am I stooping to their level in making the comparison?

I should, at this point, mention that it’s a fallacy to stereotype all Republicans as Tea Partiers, in just the same way that it’s a fallacy to assume every Democrat is a pro-choice, socially inclusive gun control supporter – Rep. Giffords herself is apparently a staunch opponent of gun control. Most Republicans are, by the standards of their party, fairly moderate, as are most Democrats. But what this incident has thrown into sharp relief is that they’re not the ones who get noticed.

The viciously partisan nature of the struggle was started, let’s be honest, by the Tea Party. And it’s important to remember also that not all Tea Partiers are Republicans. But most are, and the movement does share a similarity to the Nazis in at least one way – its founding was at least in part due to a period of economic hardship. It’s been said that the Republicans tend to fare badly in power because any party who so strongly opposes big government is unlikely to be any good at being big government. The Tea Party seem to want to go further – they want to dismantle government altogether, and fall back on those good old pioneering virtues of self reliance and individual freedom.

Nothing altogether wrong with that – I have Republican friends, and while I disagree with their politics, I understand their motivations. American culture is all about aspiration to material success, and it’s understandable that those who achieve it don’t want to share any of the loot. They also don’t want the government to run every aspect of their lives – something I can sympathise with, after the last Labour government in the UK making this the most surveilled country in the world and attempting to introduce compulsory identity cards.

But the Tea Party movement have taken this mantra and under a guise of ‘patriotism’ reduced it to a level of fervent hysteria where Michele Bachmann calls for “second amendment remedies” to legislation she disagrees with, and Sarah Palin exhorts her supporters, “Don’t retreat, reload”, capitalising on the frontiersman myth of the noble gunslinger and hunter as the role model to aspire to.

That might have had some validity a couple of centuries ago, but makes little sense now. But harking back to a nostalgic, non existent golden age is what the Tea Party is all about. They want to return America to “what the Founding Fathers intended”. The trouble with that being that the Founding Fathers were from the 18th century, and some of their ideas look a bit outmoded now. For instance, the Founding Fathers wouldn’t have let Sarah Palin, Michele Bachmann or Christine O’Donnell have the vote – come to think of it, they might actually have tried O’Donnell as a witch. That I can sympathise with, but it seems rather harsh on the sane women of America. The Founding Fathers also didn’t have much of a problem with slavery; though the Tea Party conveniently ignore this and if pressed point out that Abraham Lincoln was a Republican too.

They also point to George Washington’s declaration that a state must have God at its foundation – despite that bit in their beloved Constitution that says “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion…” This is where the ideal falls apart somewhat; Glenn Beck, while liked by right wing churches, is also viewed with suspicion as a Mormon.

The Tea Party, like the Republicans in general, share a hatred of “big government”. This, again, is not the clear cut issue they would like to make it. The hatred and furore surrounding Barack Obama’s fairly pitiful healthcare legislation seems mystifying to those of us in the UK, where even the Conservative party would balk at dismantling the long established National Health Service. Yet even that’s not clear cut; it’s true to say that as an overstretched public service, the National Health Service can never offer care to the same standard as private companies. But the choice still exists here, and for those who can’t afford private healthcare, they won’t face the choice of dying or going bankrupt avoiding death. Tea Partiers don’t see why it’s any of their problem to help those who can’t help themselves; if I can take a leaf out of their book and harken to the past, I might refer them to the words of John Donne:

No man is an island,
Entire of itself.
Each is a piece of the continent,
A part of the main.
If a clod be washed away by the sea,
Europe is the less.
As well as if a promontory were.
As well as if a manor of thine own
Or of thine friend’s were.
Each man’s death diminishes me,
For I am involved in mankind.
Therefore, send not to know
For whom the bell tolls,
It tolls for thee.

In other words, don’t ignore those who need help – you might need help yourself some day, and by your standards, nobody would give it. Still, we’d hate to undermine your vaunted self reliance. I’m sure you can amputate your own foot to get it out of that animal trap you set.

Similarly unequivocal is their attitude to gun control, or rather, the lack of it. The second amendment to the Constitution made perfect sense when it was drafted – in 1791. There should not, in a supposedly civilised society, be any need for every citizen to go about armed these days. But the precedent is set, and however irrelevant it may seem, the continued ownership of guns becomes a justification for the ownership of guns to protect oneself from those who own guns, in a dazzlingly circular argument. Republicans have already seized on this argument to state that if more people had been carrying guns at the Giffords event, they could have “taken Loughner down”. In practice, I seriously doubt a firefight in a crowded area would have produced particularly preferable results – we might well have been looking at twenty dead instead of six.

Still, gun control would represent having the government interfere in the liberty of individuals, and we can’t have that, can we? Oh, except where we can. The right’s determination to constitutionally ban gay marriage is surely exactly that – government legislation mandating what individuals may do with their private lives. And while  they stick vociferously to their opposition to gun control, they somehow ignore that the exact same arguments support the legalisation of recreational drugs. Big government, it seems, is fine, as long as it’s banning what you personally don’t like. But if it’s not, there’s always those “second amendment remedies”.

For a picture of what the country run by Tea Partiers might look like, here’s a good article about the state of Arizona in Harper’s. The Republican administration of Arizona, where this tragedy occurred, represent a virtual Tea Party state. Their opposition to government taxation over the years has been so vociferous that public buildings never even finished are crumbling from lack of funds to repair them, while the state as a whole has a massive budget deficit despite a healthy tourist industry. They want to cut still further, believing that only those who can afford to send their children to school should benefit from education.

Meanwhile, they pass insidious laws playing on irrational fears about Mexican immigrants, by which anyone who looks ‘a bit foreign’ can be stopped by the police and forced to present identification. Fortunately, they’ve banned any study of Hispanic literature in the state’s schools, along with many ethnic studies programmes, so none of the upcoming generation will know what a foreigner is. These measures are in the sensible hands of such as state senator Sylvia Allen, who famously stated that the Earth is only 6000 years old (because it says so in the Bible, obviously), and that trees are “stealing Arizona’s water supply”. One begins to see the rationale of the internet poster who venerated stupidity as a plank of the right wing.

They also have some of the laxest gun regulations in the Union, but these are still too intrusive for the Arizona legislature, who are taking the sensible step of allowing faculty members to carry guns on university campuses – one of the few places in the state where, until recently, one couldn’t carry a gun.

When the level of political rhetoric is raised to, essentially, “shoot whoever you disagree with”, and people with mental health problems take an interest in politics in a state where guns are virtually handed out like candy, an event like Saturday’s seems almost inevitable. Unfortunately, it was in the aftermath that the left didn’t do themselves any favours either. They jumped to the obvious conclusion – mad Tea Partier, all Glenn Beck’s fault, look at Sarah Palin’s map – before bothering to get any of the facts. Understandable, sure, but it brings liberals down to the same level as the right to exercise that kind of knee jerk reaction. And it’s come as something of a surprise to me to find so many of my liberal American friends virtually baying for Loughner’s blood like an online lynch mob – surely that’s more the province of the right, too?

And the trouble is, that kind of reaction plays perfectly into the right’s hands. The left shouldn’t try to take them on at their own game – aside form losing the moral high ground, they’re just not as good at it. Obama’s much quoted remarks about “they bring a knife, we bring a gun” (yes, I’ve seen The Untouchables too) and finding out who was responsible for the Gulf of Mexico disaster so he’d know “whose ass to kick” sound like feeble imitations of the right’s fevered exhortations. Meanwhile, online blogs’ demand grew for the shutting down of Fox News. Remember the other bit of the First Amendment, where it says “Congress shall make no law … abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press”?  You’re better than this, Democrats.

Of course, this gave the real right wingers the excuse to play the victim. "How distasteful”, they tut, “politicising such a tragedy for which we are not at all responsible”. All while, behind the scenes, inflammatory material like Palin’s map was quietly removed from the web without comment. Guilty consciences? Surely not. Meanwhile, Glenn Beck was able to offer a heartfelt plea for peace alongside an unfortunate randomly generated image of himself impersonating Jack Bauer:

Beck gun

Still, surely this should at least give us a temporary lull in the shrieking, rabid vitriol, right? Well, we got a day or two, with Obama’s minute’s silence and John Boehner’s reasonably dignified, bipartisan condemnation. But even then, both sides just couldn’t let it go. Democrats continued to stubbornly insist that Loughner was a calculating, evil right winger, while right wing radio pundit Rush Limbaugh’s view almost beggared belief – apparently Loughner’s mad grin in the now infamous mugshot is because he knows he has “the full support of the Democratic Party”.

Nobody questioned the lack of support for those known to be mentally ill, least of all Arizona governor Jan Brewer, whose own son has been institutionalised for 20 years in a comfy private facility after copping an insanity plea for a charge of rape. Meanwhile, apparently sales of Glock handguns have soared in Arizona among those who consider the whole event some sort of consumer promotion. Never mind, the Republicans can look almost cuddly if they compare themselves to old favourites the Westboro Baptist Church, who are heading to Arizona to picket the funerals of the dead because Rep. Giffords was a “fag-promoting, baby-killing, proud-sinner”.

In the midst of all this, Gabrielle Giffords, once considered a bright hope for the first female President, fights for life in an Intensive Care Unit. Six people are dead, including a bright nine year old girl who had the misfortune to be interested in the democratic process. And the hysteria rages on, barely checked. Something is definitely wrong here. I don’t have a magic solution to it. Neither do the Democrats. Neither do the Republicans. But calming down and talking like civilised human beings would probably make a good start.