Friday, 15 May 2009

Monsters of omission

A film and a play were reviewed on the Newsnight Review (regular arts programme on BBC2 on Fridays at 23:00) this week. The film looked to be a sensitive portrait of child abuse and children's homes, with a good child actor, Molly Windsor. The film director Samantha Morton, herself a victim of abuse and care homes, was interviewed for several minutes. All the names were there.

But when it came to the play Monsters, the Brits turned narcissistic. It was a safely British story, so suitable for viewing by monoglots. The subject was the James Bulger murder. This play has already been tackled on this blog by Harry here but it is tonight's reception I want to focus on.

Presenter Kirsty Wark may have briefly mentioned the name of the playwright Niklas Rådström at the start of the programme, but during the whole item and discussion of the Rådström play, the author was quietly left unmentioned, except by the valiant Kate Mosse, the Orange lady, who mumbled Rådström's surname at one point, saying he was revered or similar in his native Sweden. But no interview with this foreigner or his translator.

The programme went on to mention a book by Anne Michaels, whose name was dropped several times. And once they'd got onto Dan Brown, they were chattering away as if Niklas Rådström had never existed.

I reckon they were scared of having to pronounce a name with an "å" and an "ö". Too much for the average British brain, although most Brits can manage "nickel arse road strum".

And the translator of this play? Not a mention. The Guardian usually links up with the Newsnight Review. So things appearing in the Guardian Review, also appear in the Newsnight Review. I hope the Guardian is feeling European this month and we get the names of more foreigners who can write splashed across the pages of the Guardian Review. Such discoveries will inevitably seep through to the Newsnight Review.

5 comments:

  1. The Friday night Newsnight isn't on Iplayer yet, so I can't watch it, but I see that Kirsty Wark says in her introduction:

    "And there is torment on stage in Monsters, a new Swedish play which has its British premiere in English this week at the Arcola Theatre in London. The play takes us back to the brutal killing of two-year-old James Bulger by the two boys Jon Venables and Robert Thompson, and has been criticised by both the Bulger family and victim support groups.

    "Four adult actors on stage take on a variety of roles based mainly on the transcripts of the interrogation of the two boys, and the actors ask the audience to consider the role of the 38 witnesses who saw the boys leading James Bulger away, but did nothing."

    No mention of the author or the translator, like you say. Perhaps someone should leave a complaint in the comments?

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  2. I'll do the complaining. I shall send more or less what I wrote on the blog (including the subtle wit of "nickel arse road strum") to the Newsnight team. I am, after all, the world-famous "Collected Eric" who briefly had a blog on the Newsnight website itself, where I basically made fun of all and sundry (especially sundry). The person who ennobled me thus (never having met me) was one Peter Barron who went on to become chief propagandist for Google Britain. I caught a glimpse of him on TV recently defending the Google Book Settlement, if I remember rightly...

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  3. I'd forgotten about your former Newsnight slot - that will be most convenient for making a complaint!

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  4. I still send Newsnight presenters things amusing, things silly, things wacky. So they know me by now, at least by reputation. They have occasionally replied encouragingly.

    I often complain that unlike Newsnight itself, which is upmarket in news terms, the Newsnight Review is somewhat shallow and populist, endlessly discussing bestsellers, box-office-hit films and daft art exhibitions in the Tate Modern.

    However, as I've not seen the Bulger-Rådström play, I cannot tell whether it was riveting or derivative. Kermode, Aaronovitch and Mosse had mixed opinions. I think Kermode was the most negative, saying we'd heard it all before from the police reports, and that the play added little. Mosse, I seem to remember, was more positive.

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  5. Have you heard about the British parliamentarians' snouts-in-the-trough expenses scandal from your Dutch fastness? One frequently coupled pair of Scandinavian names that British MPs seem to have no trouble pronouncing, according to the Radio 4 news at 5 o'clock, is Bang & Olufsen. Apparently only the very best sound system will do for the second or third or whatever it is home, and of course Johnny Taxpayer is only too happy to pay for their aural pleasure.

    Harry

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