07 June 2024

Baby Reindeer

Fiona Harvey is suing Netflix for defamation, and seeking $170 million in damages, after its drama series Baby Reindeer portrayed her as a convicted stalker. Netflix claims that the show, released on 11th April, is a true story, which Harvey’s lawsuit describes as “the biggest lie in television history.”

Baby Reindeer is based on writer Richard Gadd’s experiences of being harassed by Harvey. Her name was changed—to Martha Scott—and her character is eventually convicted of stalking Gadd amongst others, though Harvey insists that, in real life, she has not been found guilty of a criminal offence. In a statement, she said: “I have never been charged with any crime, let alone been convicted, still less pleaded guilty and of course I have never been to prison for anything.”

26 May 2024

Comics and the Origins of Manga:
A Revisionist History

Comics and the Origins of Manga

Many Western readers were first introduced to Japanese manga by Frederik L. Schodt’s seminal book Manga! Manga! in 1983. One of Schodt’s chapters was titled A Thousand Years of Manga, situating manga within the entire tradition of Japanese visual culture. This approach is also adopted by Japanese manga scholars, and by the country’s cultural institutions, as it establishes manga as both artistically significant and inherently Japanese. Similarly, recent books such as Eric P. Nash’s Manga Kamishibai and Adam L. Kern’s Manga from the Floating World link manga to earlier, largely unrelated forms of Japanese art for commercial reasons: putting manga in the title sells more copies.

In his book Comics and the Origins of Manga: A Revisionist History, published in 2022, Eike Exner challenges this concept of an apparently unbroken line from ancient scrolls to modern manga, debunking the “tradition of historiography that for nearly a century has sought to establish a continuity between present-day narrative Japanese comics and centuries of domestic visual art preceding them.” Exner argues that manga represents a break from traditional Japanese art, and that it developed instead as a result of innovations adopted from American comics. He shows how early US comic strips utilised new devices such as speech bubbles, which were later employed by Japanese mangaka: “Japanese and American comics came to rely on transdiegetic content like speech balloons instead of external narration to tell stories. Such audiovisual comics first developed in the United States and from there moved to Japan.”

Specifically, he cites the Bringing Up Father comic strip, which was first serialised in Japan in 1923. This American comic was popular in Japanese translation, and the following year it inspired the Japanese strip フキダシ (‘easygoing father’) by Yutaka Asō, which shared Bringing Up Father’s use of transdiegetic devices. Schodt also identified the link between these two strips, noting that フキダシ was “a direct spin-off of Bringing up Father, but its everyday-life situations and the self-effacing character of its hero had a quality Japanese readers naturally warmed to. Initially, the American influence was obvious”. But Schodt saw this as a fad rather than a paradigm shift: “Japanese newspapers realized the power of comic strips to attract readers and began hiring Japanese artists who used American styles. Foreign comics were exotic but, in the end, alien. Japanese comics were a smash hit.”

Exner is careful to avoid accusations that manga is a mere imitation of American comic style: “It would be simplistic to say that modern comics were “invented” in America and “copied” by the Japanese.” Instead, he argues that the relationship between the two cultures is one of cross-fertilisation, as the creator of Bringing Up Father was himself inspired by Japan’s ‘floating world’ woodblock prints: “The influence of Japanese ukiyo-e prints on George McManus, whose Bringing Up Father in turn became the most influential and longest-running graphic narrative in prewar Japan, exemplifies the complexity of transnational cultural influence.”

Exner’s research represents a ground-breaking approach to manga studies. Rather than “portraying manga as something both older and more specifically Japanese than it really is”, he demonstrates that manga as a Japanese multipanel comic format has its roots in the 1890s, and that manga in the modern sense—with its transdiegetic speech bubbles—is exactly 100 years old. He suggests that the impact of American comics on manga has previously been downplayed as it “complicates the popular account of contemporary manga as the culmination of domestic popular art, which may explain why few have been interested in the recovery of this foreign influence.”

A History of Advertising:
The First 300,000 Years

A History of Advertising

A History of Advertising, the first comprehensive history of advertising, was published in 2022. While the original edition was illustrated in colour throughout, the paperback edition published this year has greyscale illustrations. The book, by Jef I. Richards, is subtitled The First 300,000 Years, but that vast timespan is not meant to be taken literally. As Richards acknowledges, “there are many possible starting points for advertising history,” but they are all less than ten thousand years old. In fact, more than half of the book is devoted to the twentieth and twenty-first centuries.

A History of Advertising is deeply researched and unprecedented in scope, and Richards has written the first complete narrative history of advertising. Previous books on the subject have all been limited in various ways: Mark Tungate’s Adland covers the ad industry rather than the ads themselves, Stephane Pincas and Marc Loiseau’s A History of Advertising has plenty of images but very little text, and Peter Russell and Senta Slingerland’s Game Changers covers only the last sixty years. The nearest equivalent is Simon Veksner’s less comprehensive 100 Ideas That Changed Advertising.

09 May 2024

Super Soft Power

Thai police are investigating a Netflix special hosted by the popular stand-up comedian Udom Taephanich, following complaints about his show Super Soft Power (ซูเปอร์ซอฟต์พาวเวอร์), which was released on 1st May. Udom is accused of mocking King Rama IX’s notion of ‘sufficiency economy’, and charges against him have been filed by Sonthiya Sawasdee and disgraced former MP Parina Kraikupt (both of whom were previously members of the pro-military Palang Pracharath Party).

The ‘sufficiency economy’ concept simply encourages people to live within their means. In his show, Udom doesn’t challenge the notion of ‘sufficiency economy’ itself; instead, he criticises the hypocrisy of influencers who falsely claim to adhere to ‘sufficiency economy’ principles. Sonthiya has accused Udom of spreading misinformation about ‘sufficiency economy’, while Parina has filed lèse-majesté charges against him.

Sonthiya has previously filed charges against four singers for mild political satire, and against a former Miss Thailand Universe for disrespecting the national flag. Two years ago, Udom was investigated after complaints about the political content of his previous Netflix special, Deaw 13 (เดี่ยว 13).

30 April 2024

Cannibal Error:
Anti-Film Propaganda and the ‘Video Nasties’ Panic of the 1980s

Cannibal Error

David Kerekes and David Slater followed Killing for Culture, their definitive history of real death on screen, with See No Evil: Banned Films and Video Controversy, a comprehensive account of the ‘video nasty’ phenomenon, published in 2000. Both books have since been expanded and updated, more than twenty years later: a new edition of Killing for Culture appeared in 2016, and a second edition of See No Evil was released last month, retitled Cannibal Error: Anti-Film Propaganda and the ‘Video Nasties’ Panic of the 1980s.

‘Video nasty’ was a pejorative coined by the UK press in the early 1980s, when violent horror movies like Cannibal Ferox and Cannibal Holocaust were released uncensored due to a lack of regulation over the emerging videocassette industry. After a campaign by the tabloids, police began charging video distributors under the Obscene Publications Act, and a list of thirty-nine actionable films was compiled by the Director of Public Prosecutions. In 1984, legislation was introduced requiring certification of all videos by the British Board of Film Classification.

See No Evil was the only book to cover every aspect of the ‘video nasties’ controversy: the films themselves, the moral panic whipped up by the media, the police prosecutions, the debate surrounding the influence of film violence, and state censorship of films on videotape. There have been other books on the subject—notably the academic study The Video Nasties, edited by Martin Barker; and John Martin’s chronology of press coverage, The Seduction of the Gullible—but See No Evil told the full story for the first time.

The second edition, Cannibal Error, is almost 200 pages longer than See No Evil. The main text has not been updated, but there are some new appendices, including a guide to the current availability of the original ‘video nasty’ films (by David Hinds) and interviews with senior BBFC staff. The new title—which will take some getting used to—is a pun on the film Cannibal Terror (Terreur cannibale), and a reference to the misinformation surrounding the ‘video nasties’.

Kerekes also edited the influential counter-culture journal Headpress, and his other books include Sex, Murder, Art (a monograph on director Jörg Buttgereit). Jake West (Video Nasties) and David Gregory (Ban the Sadist Videos!) have both made ‘video nasty’ documentaries, the Monthly Film Bulletin (vol. 51, no. 610) published an analysis of the DPP’s list by Julian Petley and Kim Newman, and Newman wrote a concise history of the ‘video nasties’ in Sight and Sound (vol. 31, no. 5).

30 March 2024

The Celebration Tour in Rio

The Celebration Tour in Rio

Madonna will end her Celebration Tour, which began last year, with a concert on the beach at Copacabana in Rio on 4th May. The event, which is expected to be attended by more than a million people, will be broadcast live by the Brazilian TV channel Globo. (The Celebration Tour in Rio will be the first live TV transmission of a Madonna concert since HBO broadcast the Drowned World Tour in 2001.)

One of the highlights of the Celebration Tour came when Kylie Minogue joined Madonna on stage earlier this month to sing Can’t Get You Out of My Head. The set list was modified slightly at some venues: Madonna performed an a cappella version of Express Yourself on the American leg of the tour, she sang Sodade in Lisbon, and I Love New York in New York. On selected dates, she sang Frozen, Take a Bow, and a cover version of This Little Light of Mine. In Chicago, she performed This Used to Be My Playground live for the first time in her career.

19 March 2024

“You don’t find it offensive that Donald Trump has been found liable for rape?”

Donald Trump has filed a defamation lawsuit against ABC News and George Stephanopoulos, after Stephanopoulos asked Republican politician Nancy Mace why she had endorsed Trump as a presidential candidate despite Trump having been “found liable for rape.” Stephanopoulos interviewed Mace on The Week, in a segment broadcast on 10th March.

Stephanopoulos began the interview with a reference to a civil prosecution in which Trump was found guilty of sexually abusing E. Jean Carroll: “You’ve endorsed Donald Trump for president. Donald Trump has been found liable for rape by a jury. Donald Trump has been found liable for defaming the victim of that rape. It’s been affirmed by a judge.”

Mace, who is herself a rape victim, stated that she found the premise of the interview “disgusting.” Stephanopoulos again asked her to justify her endorsement of Trump: “I’m asking a question about why you endorsed someone who’s been found liable for rape.” Mace accused Stephanopoulos of victim-shaming her, and Stephanopoulos attempted to clarify: “I’m questioning your political choices, because you’re supporting someone who’s been found liable for rape.”

Stephanopoulos then pressed Mace again to answer his initial question: “why are you supporting someone who’s been found liable for rape?” She replied that the question was offensive, to which Stephanopoulos responded: “You don’t find it offensive that Donald Trump has been found liable for rape?”

Mace’s answers, and Trump’s libel claim, hinge on the fact that Trump was convicted of sexually assaulting Carroll, rather than raping her. Trump’s lawsuit quotes Stephanopoulos on previous broadcasts referring to sexual assault, in an attempt to prove that Stephanopoulos was aware of the distinction and had used the word ‘rape’ in the Mace interview either recklessly or maliciously.

Trump also sued Carroll for the same reason, after she accused him of rape despite the sexual assault conviction. That lawsuit was dismissed, however, as the judge in the sexual assault case issued a written clarification: “that Ms. Carroll failed to prove that she was “raped” within the meaning of the New York Penal Law does not mean that she failed to prove that Mr. Trump “raped” her as many people commonly understand the word “rape.” Indeed... the jury found that Mr. Trump in fact did exactly that.”

Unlike the recent interview with Mace, the previous references by Stephanopoulos to sexual assault were all made prior to 19th July 2023, when the judge’s clarification was published. Stephanopoulos was thus using the term ‘rape’ “as many people commonly understand the word”, meaning that yesterday’s lawsuit against Stephanopoulos and ABC will almost certainly be dismissed.

10 March 2024

Eros Reinterpretation

Eros Reinterpretation

Eros Reinterpretation was the inaugural exhibition at Ming Artspace, a new Bangkok gallery founded by Vichai Imsuksom. The group exhibition featured photography, installations, and video art from thirteen Thai artists, linked by their exploration of erotic imagery.

The show’s most daring artwork was produced by Vichai himself, with Kittisak Tongprasert. Their video installation Eros: The Secret Room consists of three videos of themselves (each around five minutes long) that blur the line between art and pornography. The only comparable works in Thai art are perhaps Thunska Pansittivorakul and Harit Srikhao’s documentary Avalon (แดนศักดิ์สิทธิ์), and Ohm Phanphiroj’s short film The Meaning of It All.

Eros Reinterpretation opened on 12th January and closed on 3rd March, though its lavish exhibition catalogue, limited to 1,000 copies, also serves as a survey of Thai contemporary erotic art. Some (explicit) sections of the book are sealed with perforations, which is reminiscent of Uthis Haemamool’s novel Silhouette of Desire (ร่างของปรารถนา) and the sealed sections in magazines such as Bizarre.

Shotbyly Vintage Magazine

The catalogue is beautifully printed, with a debossed (and somewhat suggestive) cover design, foldouts, selected translucent pages, two notebooks, and several items of ephemera (postcards, stamps, and a flyer) laid in. Alongside other recently published works, such as Ark Saroj’s Lust and Love and Shotbyly’s Vintage Magazine series, Eros Reinterpretation signals a new frankness in Thai art publishing.

In fact, the new issue of Shotbyly’s Vintage Magazine (vol. 2) was printed by the same company as the Eros Reinterpretation catalogue, after the printer of the first issue refused to handle the more explicit imagery in the second one. The second issue of Vintage Magazine, limited to fifty copies, is a portfolio of photographs of model Theeraphat Khajornsuwan.

10 February 2024

100 Greatest Films Ever

Weekend The Godfather

Daily Mail film critic Brian Viner has compiled a list of the 100 greatest films ever made, in a cover story for today’s issue of the newspaper’s Weekend magazine supplement. The list skews towards mainstream titles, as Viner readily acknowledges: “I’ve deliberately left out some of the mighty early silents, and there aren’t too many foreign-language films because this has to be an accessible collection.” Another stipulation is that all titles are available on streaming platforms, thus disqualifying some esoteric arthouse films. (The Mail published a previous list of Viner’s 100 favourite films in 2020.)

The 100 Greatest Films Ever are as follows:

100. Oliver!
99. Thelma and Louise
98. Raiders of the Lost Ark
97. Goldfinger
96. In the Heat of the Night
95. This Is Spinal Tap
94. To Kill a Mockingbird
93. The Sting
92. The Vanishing
91. When We Were Kings
90. Twelve Angry Men
89. It Happened One Night
88. Chariots of Fire
87. Shane
86. Kes
85. The Exorcist
84. High Noon
83. All the President’s Men
82. Parasite
81. Star Wars IV: A New Hope
80. Rear Window
79. The Night of the Hunter
78. Get Out
77. Ben-Hur: A Tale of the Christ
76. The Best Years of Our Lives
75. Gone with the Wind
74. City Lights
73. Sunset Boulevard
72. Zulu
71. Chinatown
70. The Shining
69. Henry V
68. His Girl Friday
67. Shakespeare in Love
66. The Third Man
65. West Side Story
64. The Good, the Bad and the Ugly
63. The Lives of Others
62. Toy Story
61. Spartacus
60. Whatever Happened to Baby Jane?
59. Apollo 11
58. Deliverance
57. The Elephant Man
56. Tokyo Story
55. Monty Python’s Life of Brian
54. No Country for Old Men
53. The Producers
52. Schindler’s List
51. Boyhood
50. Dr Strangelove
49. The Conversation
48. The Searchers
47. Duck Soup
46. Rome, Open City
45. Nashville
44. On the Waterfront
43. Bicycle Thieves
42. Top Hat
41. All About Eve
40. Vertigo
39. Seven Samurai
38. 2001: A Space Odyssey
37. The Deer Hunter
36. Taxi Driver
35. There Will Be Blood
34. The Bridge on the River Kwai
33. The General
32. The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp
31. It’s a Wonderful Life
30. Pulp Fiction
29. Raging Bull
28. Annie Hall
27. Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid
26. Alien
25. The French Connection
24. The Maltese Falcon
23. The Silence of the Lambs
22. Kind Hearts and Coronets
21. The Sound of Music
20. Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs
19. The Banshees of Inisherin
18. Double Indemnity
17. Brief Encounter
16. Modern Times
15. Shoah
14. The Apartment
13. Singin’ in the Rain
12. Apocalypse Now
11. Bonnie and Clyde
10. Citizen Kane
9. The Graduate
8. Lawrence of Arabia
7. One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest
6. Casablanca
5. Some Like It Hot
4. Jaws
3. Psycho
2. The Wizard of Oz
1. The Godfather

(Note that Some Like It Hot is the 1959 comic masterpiece, not the unrelated 1939 comedy. The Maltese Falcon is the John Huston remake, rather than the 1931 original version.)

06 February 2024

Office of the Attorney General:
“The police notified Thaksin about the allegation...”

Chosun Media

Former prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra is expected to be paroled later this month, though in another twist to his legal drama, he also faces lèse-majesté charges that could extend his custodial sentence. Thaksin returned from self-imposed exile in August last year, and the Supreme Court sentenced him to an eight-year prison term for corruption and abuse of power.

However, on his first day in jail, Thaksin was transferred to a police hospital for unspecified medical reasons, and has remained there ever since. After he applied for a royal pardon, his eight-year sentence was reduced to one year, and the Department of Corrections confirmed last month that, given his age (seventy-four), he was eligible for parole. (These events were presumably not unrelated to Pheu Thai’s cooperation with the military’s political wing.)

This apparent leniency may have reached its limit, as the Office of the Attorney General announced today that an investigation will be opened into lèse-majesté charges first filed against Thaksin in 2016. An OAG spokesman said that “senior officials from the Office of the Attorney General and the police notified Thaksin about the allegation” on 17th January, and the charges relate to an interview he gave to South Korean media in 2015, when he implied that members of the Privy Council had orchestrated the 2014 coup.

27 January 2024

E. Jean Carroll:
“Donald Trump assaulted me, and... he said it never happened.”

Donald Trump has been ordered to pay E. Jean Carroll $83.3 million in damages, after Carroll sued the former US president for libel. Carroll had accused Trump of sexually assaulting her, and that claim was vindicated last year when Trump was found guilty in a civil trial. Despite the guilty verdict, Trump continued to deny ever having met Carroll, compounding his defamation of her.

The damages awarded yesterday, determined by a jury in New York, include $65 million in punitive retribution, as a punishment for Trump’s repeated denials that the assault took place. Giving evidence in court, Carroll said: “I’m here because Donald Trump assaulted me, and when I wrote about it, he said it never happened.” (Trump is also counter-suing Carroll, over an interview she gave to CNN last year.)

02 December 2023

James Dyson v. Daily Mirror:
“The scope for honest comment... was very considerable indeed.”

Daily Mirror

James Dyson has lost his libel case against the Daily Mirror. Dyson had sued the newspaper over a column by Brian Reade published last year describing his business strategy as “screw your country, and if anyone complains, tell them to suck it up.”

The article was published on the Mirror’s website on 28th January last year, and appeared in the following day’s print edition (p. 19). Judge Robert Jay ruled that the column was an expression of personal opinion, and therefore not defamatory: “The scope for honest comment, however wounding and unbalanced, was very considerable indeed.”

Jay became famous as counsel to the 2011–2012 Leveson Inquiry into media ethics and practices, when his questioning of witnesses was televised. A year ago, Dyson lost another libel case, against Channel 4 and ITN.

22 November 2023

James Dyson v. Daily Mirror:
“These allegations represent a personal attack...”

Daily Mirror

James Dyson is suing the Daily Mirror newspaper over an article published last year describing his business strategy as “screw your country, and if anyone complains, tell them to suck it up.” The column, by Brian Reade, criticised poor public role models, and mentioned Dyson only briefly.

The article was published on the Mirror’s website on 28th January last year, and appeared in the print edition on the following day (p. 19). It has now been removed from the website, and deleted from online newspaper archives.

Dyson appeared at the Royal Courts of Justice in London yesterday, and issued a written statement about the article: “These allegations represent a personal attack on all that I have done and achieved in my lifetime and are highly distressing and hurtful.” He has accused the Mirror of defamation.

Dyson had previously filed a libel suit against Channel 4 and ITN, though that case was dismissed on 31st October last year. Judge Matthew Nicklin ruled that Dyson had not been personally implicated: “The broadcast is simply not about him, and no ordinary reasonable viewer could conclude that he was being in any way criticised.”

21 November 2023

“This image may be worth a million words...”

The New York Times

Israel and Hamas have been at war since 7th October and, as in previous conflicts, news organisations are making editorial judgements about publishing images of casualties. On 12th October, the Israeli government’s X account posted three photographs of children killed by Hamas; The Daily Telegraph newspaper printed one of those images the following day (p. 3), with the child’s face blurred. The newspaper’s headline paraphrased US Secretary of State Antony Blinken: “This image may be worth a million words”.

On its website on 13th November, The New York Times published an op-ed by Lydia Polgreen describing a photo taken by Mahmud Hams showing six dead children at a Gaza morgue, though her editor decided against reproducing the image in full. Instead, a cropped version was used, showing only the lower halves of the children’s faces.

The NYT’s front page on 20th November featured a photograph showing the shrouded body of eight-month-old Misk Joudeh, her face and arm visible as her remaining family members gathered around in mourning. She had been killed, alongside her parents, by an Israeli airstrike last month. (The image, taken by Samar Abu Elouf, was reprinted on the front page of the paper’s international edition yesterday.)

As Polgreen wrote in her online op-ed: “It is a rare thing for mainstream news organizations to publish graphic images of dead or wounded children. Rightly so. There is nothing quite so devastating as the image of a child whose life has been snuffed out by senseless violence.” This was also true in 2015, when The Independent newspaper published a photograph of three-year-old Alan Kurdi, washed up on a Turkish beach, on its front page.

16 November 2023

Asian Political Cartoons

Asian Political Cartoons

John A. Lent’s Asian Political Cartoons is a remarkable and comprehensive book, covering the history of political cartoons in no fewer than twenty countries. As the publisher claims, with justification, it is “not only the first such survey in English, but the most complete and detailed in any language.” Lent has interviewed more than 200 cartoonists—most notably, Zunar in Malaysia—and made multiple research trips to each of the countries he documents.

Histories of political cartoons traditionally focus on revolutionary France, Georgian Britain, and the Reconstruction era in the United States. Lent’s book, on the other hand, is a window into a previously inaccessible world of satirical art. He shows how cartoonists have challenged authoritarian regimes throughout Asia, and assesses the varying degrees of “freedom to cartoon” in the region (such as the repressive treatment of Mana Neyestani in Iran and Arifur Rahman in Bangladesh).

For his chapter on Thailand, Lent interviewed Chai Rachawat and Arun Watcharasawad, veteran cartoonists who have covered Thai politics since the 1970s for Thai Rath (ไทยรัฐ) and Matichon (มติชน), respectively. He discussed the Thaksin Shinawatra era with Buncha and Kamin from Manager (ผู้จัดการรายวัน), and he describes the enforced ‘attitude adjustment’ of another Thai Rath cartoonist, Sia, under Prayut Chan-o-cha’s military rule. He also covers the rise of anonymous online satirists such as Khai Maew. (Sia wasn’t interviewed for the book, though he spoke to Dateline Bangkok last year.)

The scope of Asian Political Cartoons is unprecedented, though Cherian George’s Red Lines also examines political cartooning from an international perspective. Victor S. Navasky’s The Art of Controversy covers European and American political cartoons, and Alexander Roob reproduces early newspaper cartoons in The History of Press Graphics 1819–1921.

09 November 2023

Sondhi v. Prachatai


Thailand’s Criminal Court yesterday dismissed a defamation lawsuit filed by media mogul Sondhi Limthongkul against the online news organisation Prachatai. Sondhi had filed the case in August, claiming that Prachatai misrepresented his opinion by falsely implying that he supported another coup.

In a Facebook post on 31st July, Sondhi speculated on the future of Thai politics, listing thirteen potential scenarios. The last of these was the possibility of another coup, which he described as “ไร้ความชอบธรรม” (‘illegitimate’). Later that day, the Prachatai website reported Sondhi’s comments about the chances of a coup, though its headline omitted the word ‘illegitimate’.

The Criminal Court noted that the first sentence of Prachatai’s article quoted his reference to an ‘illegitimate coup’, and that the article also went on to reproduce Sondhi’s list of thirteen scenarios in full, thus mitigating any potential misunderstanding caused by the headline. (Dateline Bangkok raised the same points a few days after Sondhi sued Prachatai.)

13 October 2023

“Meloni, Salvini: bastardi...”
(‘Meloni, Salvini: bastards...’)

>A political commentator was found guilty yesterday of defaming Italian Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni. Speaking on the Piazzapulita (‘clean sweep’) talk show on 3rd December 2020, Roberto Saviano criticised Meloni and another far-right politician, Matteo Salvini, for their anti-immigration rhetoric: “Viene solo da dire: bastardi. Meloni, Salvini: bastardi. Come avete potuto?” (‘it just makes you say: bastards. Meloni, Salvini: bastards. How could you?’)

Saviano was fined €1,000, though he will only be liable to pay if he repeats his comments. Prosecutors had originally sought a €50,000 penalty. The clip from Piazzapulita is still accessible on the website of La7, the TV channel that broadcasts the programme. Meloni is also suing singer Brian Molko, who called her a fascist at a concert earlier this year.

05 October 2023

คนอุบลใน 6 ตุลา
(‘Ubon people and 6th Oct.’)


Tomorrow marks the forty-seventh anniversary of the massacre that took place at Thammasat University on 6th October 1976, the most notorious date in modern Thai history. The anniversary will be commemorated at Thammasat tomorrow, but only for a single day. There will be a one-day exhibition—112 มรดก 6 ตุลา— (‘112: the legacy of 6th Oct.’) and screenings of the documentary Different Views, Death Sentence (ต่างความคิด ผิดถึงตาย ๖ ตุลาคม ๒๕๑๙) and the short film Pirab (พิราบ). There will also be a discussion titled เอายังไงดีกับกองเซ็นเซอร์: บทบาทของคณะกรรมการพิจารณาภาพยนตร์และวิดิทัศน์ภายใต้รัฐบาลซอฟต์พาวเวอร์ (‘what to do with the censors: the role of the National Film and Video Committee and soft power’), arguing that Thailand’s film industry can only contribute to the country’s soft power if the censors’ role is restricted purely to classification rather than cutting or banning films.

คนอุบลใน 6 ตุลา (‘Ubon people and 6th Oct.’), an exhibition at the Songsarn café in Ubon Ratchathani, runs from 22nd September to 6th October and includes photographs of the massacre. Outside the cafe is an enlargement of the Neal Ulevich photograph that has come to symbolise the tragedy, with the hanging man’s body cut out, leaving a physical void in the image to symbolise the whitewashing of the event. A folding chair—a reference to Neal Ulevich’s famous photograph of the massacre—is also hanging outside the venue, and will be used in a performance by artist Narasith Vongprasert tomorrow.

Both the Thammasat and Songsarn exhibitions feature reproductions of the infamous Dao Siam (ดาวสยาม) newspaper front page that precipitated the massacre. The Thammasat exhibition also includes a copy of a speech read by Panusaya Sithijirawattanakul at a 12th December 2021 protest calling for the abolition of article 112 of the criminal code (the lèse-majesté law). The paper is stained with Panusaya’s blood, as she carved “112” into her arm at the demonstration.

Pirab will also be shown on 8th October at Bangkok Art and Culture Centre. It was previously shown at Future Fest earlier this year, and at the Thai Film Archive in 2017. Folding chairs have also been shown suspended from ropes at the Status in Statu, Uncensored, and Khonkaen Manifesto (ขอนแก่น แมนิเฟสโต้) exhibitions.

27 September 2023

The History of Press Graphics 1819–1921:
The Golden Age of Graphic Journalism

The History of Press Graphics

Alexander Roob’s The History of Press Graphics 1819–1921: The Golden Age of Graphic Journalism, published earlier this year by Taschen, is a stunning 600-page survey of illustrations from nineteenth and early twentieth century newspapers and magazines. The book features hundreds of images, many of which are full-page and double-page reproductions (such as the John Leech drawing from Punch magazine that first used the word ‘cartoon’ to refer to satirical art), and it includes a comprehensive bibliography.

A prologue outlines the early history of press graphics, from the late sixteenth century onwards, though the book’s starting point is 1819. This was the year of the Peterloo massacre in Manchester, England, and William Hone and George Cruikshank’s pamphlet The Political House That Jack Built, published in response to the tragedy, which “established the era of pictorial journalism”.

Roob examines the technical developments in printing over the period, from wood engraving and lithography in the 1870s to photoxylography a century later. There is also extensive coverage of caricature and political satire, including Charles Philipon’s cartoons of the French King Louis-Philippe.

La Caricature Le Charivari

Philipon was arrested for treason after drawing Louis-Philippe as a plasterer in La Caricature on 30th June 1831. At his trial, he mischievously demonstrated that the King’s likeness could be discerned in almost anything, even a pear, and that fruit became a symbol of Louis-Philippe in subsequent illustrations by Philipon and others. On 27th February 1834, Philipon’s magazine Le Charivari (‘hullabaloo’) published a front-page editorial about the King in the form of a calligram, with the text typeset to resemble a pear.

Philipon’s pear sketches, and a caricature of Louis-Philippe as Gargantua by Honoré Daumier, are reproduced in The Art of Controversy. There is a chapter on press graphics in History of Illustration. The History of Press Graphics 1819–1921 is published in a folio format, the same size as Taschen’s Information Graphics, History of Information Graphics, Understanding the World, and Logo Modernism.

25 September 2023

The Fall:
The End of the Murdoch Empire

The Fall

Rupert Murdoch—proprietor of The Sun, The Times, and Fox News—ran his media empire for more than seventy years, before finally retiring aged ninety-two. Murdoch was an endling, the last surviving member of an endangered (and now extinct) species: the press baron. He announced his retirement on 21st September, less than a week before the publication of a new book on the twilight of his career, which will be released tomorrow.

The UK edition of Michael Wolff’s book is titled The Fall: The End of the Murdoch Empire, and little did the author know how prescient that subtitle would be. (In the US, the subtitle is The End of Fox News and the Murdoch Dynasty.) This is Wolff’s second book on Murdoch: he previously wrote The Man Who Owns the News, an excellent biography that benefited from rare access to Murdoch himself and his immediate family.

As Wolff writes in his introduction to The Fall, “Murdoch hated my book about him,” so this second volume is an unauthorised account. But Wolff still has contacts close to Murdoch, explaining that this makes him “the journalist not in his employ who knows him best.” (This is actually rather modest for Wolff, who boasted in a November 2011 GQ article about Murdoch: “I know what he is thinking; I know how he is thinking it; I know the rhythms of the way he talks about what he thinks; I know what he remembers and I know what he forgets.”)

After that first Murdoch biography, Wolff wrote a series of books on Donald Trump’s presidency, starting with Fire and Fury, which relied for many of its revelations on Steve Bannon, Trump’s former chief political strategist. Wolff similarly uses former Fox News chief executive Roger Ailes as a major source in The Fall. The problem this time, though, is that Ailes resigned in disgrace in 2016, and died a year later. Despite this, The Fall is padded out with a prologue on Ailes, who Wolff still seems to admire.

The Man Who Owns the News contained extensive notes on its sources, but The Fall has no notes whatsoever. And while it’s become standard practice for writers of contemporary history to cite unidentified sources, Wolff goes a step further: often, he doesn’t even refer to individual sources, whether anonymous or otherwise. Also, Wolff didn’t approach Fox News to verify what he had written, breaking a basic rule of journalism. Then again, as he explains in his introduction, he sees himself as “a writer, perhaps more so than as strictly a journalist”.

This results in a book with plenty of colour but little evidence. Wolff adds novelistic details to his dialogue, telling us not only what the participants said, but also how they said it, how they felt, and even their body language at the time. He quotes Murdoch’s concerns about the Dominion Voting Systems defamation case, for instance: “quietly, but clearly” Murdoch said that the lawsuit “could cost us fifty million dollars”. Later in the same conversation—on Murdoch’s yacht—the tycoon banged a table, grumbled, scowled, and felt affronted. How Wolff knows all this is anyone’s guess.

Murdoch’s prediction of the Dominion payout was a gross underestimate, as Fox ended up paying almost $800 million for broadcasting Trump’s lies about election fraud. Wolff was in the courtroom when the judge announced that Fox had settled the case, and he reveals that Murdoch originally proposed firing host Sean Hannity as part of the settlement. (Ultimately, Tucker Carlson was sacked instead.)

Another of Wolff’s stylistic devices is to distance himself from the narrative, to an extent that sometimes misleads the reader. In Fire and Fury, he wrote that Trump telephoned an “acquaintance” without revealing that the acquaintance was Wolff himself. Likewise, in The Fall, he describes Ailes speaking to an “interlocutor” without disclosing that he was almost certainly the interlocutor in question. (He has also done this in recent interviews, with an anecdote about Murdoch, Trump, and a “guest” in a lift. In some interviews, he has identified himself as the guest, though in others he leaves the guest unnamed.)

When Murdoch retired last week—an event that Wolff did not foresee—he confirmed that his son Lachlan would take over as executive chairman. (As in the HBO series Succession, the long-term heir will only be determined once Murdoch dies.) In light of that announcement, Wolff’s reading of their relationship now seems off beam: “he seemed to wholly disregard whatever Lachlan might say. Could it be that the father had had it with the son?” It’s a rhetorical question, but the answer is apparently ‘no’.