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Action movies just aren’t what they used to be. On Saturday night, I watched the film version of the hit 1980s TV show, the A-Team. A part of me hoped for an enjoyable experience, but, just as I had expected, I found the film to be cliched, formulaic, and predictable.
It became evident early on that the filmmakers had taken little to no effort in the making of this story. The plot was boring and predictable, and the characters were two dimensional. Indeed, it seemed that most of the film had been devoted to bad digital effects and over-the-top action sequences.
This is the kind of thing that passes for action movies nowadays. It is a far cry from the greats of yesteryear which, at least in the best of cases, were willing to combine action with intelligence. It is certainly true that these films featured death-defying stunts, mind-blowing special effects, and well-choreographed action sequences. However, it is also true that the best among them also featured complex, three-dimensional characters and clever, intricate plots. Yes, these films often pushed the boundaries of disbelief, but we were more than happy to suspend our disbelief for them anyway.
Any successful movie, particularly an action movie, requires two things: a good plot and good characters. One of the biggest problems with the modern action movie is that they are often boring. The audience finds it difficult to engage with the story because there is no character or plot for them to care about.
Great action movies have great, exciting stories. The problem is that modern action movies have a tendency to recycle the same tired stories over and over again. Audiences have been subjected to an endless array of reboots, remakes, sequels, and prequels. Audiences crave originality. What we need is original stories, not a rehash of a television show that ended over thirty-years-ago.
It’s not as though an action movie’s plot has to be entirely original, either. Most of us are willing to accept a familiar, or even cliched, story provided it’s presented in a new and interesting way. Take, as a case in point, the film Speed. Its plot is essentially a rehash of the Die Hard model, but by placing the action on a bus, the filmmakers managed to gain the appreciation of their audience by presenting them with something novel.
In addition to the importance of plot, it is also equally important to discuss the importance of character. Modern day action heroes often lack interesting character arcs. The audience has not been allowed to care about the characters as people and therefore have little reason to root for them. People like to see characters go through a personal journey. They like to see them grow and develop as a character. Good action heroes have some kind of flaw, whether it be a bad attitude, debris from their past, poor self-esteem, or any one of a thousand different things, that he or she must overcome to complete their mission.
The heroes of great action movies were relatable. The filmmakers knew they had to combine the right amount of vulnerability with the right amount of grit. We had to believe that these people bled, made mistakes, and felt pain.
In other words, these heroes had vulnerabilities. They were not invincible. The audience could believe that Axel Foley (Beverly Hills Cop) spent most of his time busting low-level crooks in downtown Detroit and that he genuinely felt anger and grief over the murder of his friend. In Die Hard, the filmmakers were prepared to take the time to let us get to know John McLane. We learnt that he was an Irish-American police officer, that he was a father, that he was estranged from his wife, and that he was frightened of flying. And when he had to fight terrorists, the Los Angeles Police Department, and the FBI, we genuinely rooted for him because we had been allowed to get to know him.
Equally important, if not more important in many cases, is the film’s villain. Good stories have good protagonists, great stories have great antagonists. There has to be something in a villain that makes him at least a little bit likeable, or even sympathetic. A part of us has to be able to understand his motivations and even root for him. We could understand why Karl wanted to kill John McLane because we had seen McLane kill his brother. And we could understand why Speed’s chief antagonist, Howard Payne, wanted to hold the city of Los Angeles to ransom after we learnt that he had been injured in an explosion working for the LAPD. Heck, even films in which the villain wants money or power, or both, are relatable because we want these things, too.
If the producers of action movies were willing to invest as much time and effort in story and character development as they were on special effects, it is possible that they might someday produce another great action movie. But, with the way things are going, I wouldn’t hold my breath.
NOTE: I apologise for the long delay between articles. I have been in the process of preparing a rather lengthy article on constitutional monarchy.
The rise to power of Nationals leader and Deputy Prime Minister, Barnaby Joyce has come to a dramatic halt as news of his marital infidelity dominates the headlines.
The political fallout has been immense, but predictable. On Thursday, the Senate passed a motion that called for Joyce for to relinquish his post as Deputy Prime Minister. Greens leader, Richard Di Natale called on Joyce to resign and even demanded that the Nationals fire him if he refuses.
The Prime Minister, who commented that Joyce had made a “shocking error of judgement”, responded to the scandal by changing the ministerial code of conduct to prevent Federal Ministers from having sexual relations with members of their staff.
Joyce’s shocking lack of moral fibre has jeopardised any real political power conservatives in Australia have, and has threatened the delicate balance of power between the right-wing and left-wing factions of the coalition Government.
Following the usurpation of the conservative Prime Minister, Tony Abbott by Malcolm Turnbull – a prominent voice of the left-wing faction of the Liberal Party – many on the right hoped that a Joyce-led Nationals would be able to counteract the centre-left leaning Liberal Party with their brand of traditionalism.
Naturally, Barnaby Joyce’s marital infidelity and dishonesty puts the trustworthiness of politicians in question.
A large part of the fury over Joyce’s affair is not the sexual infidelity, but the fact that he dipped into the public purse to finance the charade. As the political scientist and commentator, Jennifer Oriel stated in her article, “Barnaby Joyce’s Greatest Sin is Being Conservative”, the combination of corruption and marital infidelity violates the most basic codes of common decency.
Barnaby Joyce’s behaviour is precisely the reason Australians are cynical about politicians.
The idea that people ought to be cynical about politicians is hardly news to anyone with any real knowledge of history, politics, or human nature.
The reason countries like Australia place so many checks and balances – separation of powers, the Constitution, an independent judiciary – on those in power is that power tends to have a corrupting effect on the human soul.
As Lord Acton famously put it: “Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely.”
The greatest measure against tyranny is the establishment of a political and legal system that places restrictions on power. We should be thankful that Barnaby Joyce’s biggest transgression was marital infidelity, and not much worse besides.
(This is derived from an old essay I wrote for university)
The size of government is an important yet seldom discussed issue. This is a peculiar phenomenon as the size of government is integral to our freedom. When government power is not limited those with power are able to encroach upon the freedoms of the people. However, when the powers of government are limited people are able to live in peace, freedom, and prosperity.
The Age of Enlightenment (c. 1685 – c. 1815) represents a period in history where the principles of the old world were replaced by new ideals. It was during the Enlightenment that the concepts of modern democracy (democracy originated with the Ancient Greeks, albeit in a rather primitive form), liberty, and inalienable rights began to emerge. One of its key concepts, limited government, came about during the High Enlightenment (c. 1730 – 1780). The English philosopher John Locke (1632 – 1704), perhaps the greatest defender of limited government, believed civil power should be derived from individual autonomy and that the separation of powers was necessary to protect people from tyranny.
Limited government works on the idea that governments should have a little interference in people’s lives as possible. Supporters of small government believe that big government destroys human creativity and innovation because. As the Austro-Hungarian philosopher, Friedrich Hayek (1899 – 1992) stated: “the more the state plans, the more difficult planning becomes for the individual”. Numerous supporters of democracy and liberty had held limited government as an important, and necessary, ideal. The American statesmen, founding father, and President, James Madison (1751 – 1836) sought institutions which would limit the scope of government and give more rights to the individual. Similarly, the Australian Prime Minister, Malcolm Fraser (1930 – 2015) argued that “the power of the state should be limited and contained”.
In no other area is this been clearer than the economy. The economist, Adam Smith (1723 – 1790) argued that regulations on commerce are not only ill-founded but also counter-productive as countries depend on capital accumulation . According to James Madison, guarding persons and property would: “encourage industry by securing the enjoyment of its fruits.” Nations with small governments create their own fortune by allowing the people to participate freely in the marketplace.
Small government makes them master of their own destinies rather than making the government master of them. The people should never forget, as Ronal Reagan put it, “we the people are the driver, the government is the car.” Only small government can continue to survive into the future, only small government can protect the rights of the individual, and only small government celebrates human achievement. This is why small government matters.
- Adam Smith Institute, ‘the Wealth of Nations’: http://www.adamsmith.org/wealth-of-nations. [23/03/2014]
- Australian Greens, ‘the Greens’: http://greens.org.au/. [23/03/2014]
- Australian Greens, ‘the Economy: We Live in a Society, Not an Economy’: http://greens.org.au/economy. [23/03/2014]
- Australian Greens, ‘Standing Up for Small Business’: http://greens.org.au/small-business. [23/03/2014]
- Australian Government, ‘Australian Constitution,: Australian Politics, http://australianpolitics.com/constitution-aus/text [23/03/2014]
- Australian Government, ‘Australia’s System of Government’: Australian Government: Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, https://www.dfat.gov.au/facts/sys_gov.html. [23/03/2014]
- Australian Government, ‘Australian Government Taxation and Spending’: 2011-12 Budget Overview, http://www.budget.gov.au/2011-12/content/overview/html/overview_46.htm. [23/03/2014]
- Moran, ‘Economic Freedom Delivers Results’, Review – Institute of Public Affairs, vol 59, no. 3. 2007.
- Australian Labor Party, ‘Australian Labor Party’: http://www.alp.org.au/. [23/03/2014]
- Australian Labor Party, ‘Labor is for Growth and Opportunity’: Growth and Opportunity, http://www.alp.org.au/growthandopportunity. [23/03/2014]
- Eltham, ‘Size of Government: Big is Not So Bad’: the Drum, http://www.abc.net.au/unleashed/3912918.html. [23/03/2014]
- Bonner, ‘the Golden Rule: He Who Has the Gold Makes the Rules’: Daily Reckoning Australia, http://www.dailyreckoning.com.au/golden-rule/2008/03/05/. [23/03/2014]
- Bowen, ‘Economic Statement August 2013: Joint Media Release with Senator the Hon Penny Wong Minister for Finance and Deregulation’, Australian Government: the Treasury, http://ministers.treasury.gov.au/DisplayDocs.aspx?doc=pressreleases/2013/016.htm&pageID=003&min=cebb&Year=&DocType. [23/03/2014]
- Cracked, ‘Australian Greens’: http://www.cracked.com/funny-6522-australian-greens/. [23/03/2014]
- Boaz, ‘Remembering Ronald Reagan’: Cato Institute, http://www.cato.org/publications/commentary/remembering-ronald-reagan. [23/03/2014]
- M. Cooray, ‘More About Limited Government and the Role of the State’: http://www.ourcivilisation.com/cooray/westdem/chap6.htm. [23/03/2014]
- Western, ‘Big Government is Good for You’: the Guardian, http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/cifamerica/2009/oct/13/obama-healthcare-economy-socialism [23/03/2014]
- W. Younkins, ‘John Locke’s Limited State’: Le Quebecois Libre, http://www.quebecoislibre.org/06/060219-4.htm. [23/03/2014]
- For Dummies, ‘How the Enlightenment Affected Politics and Government’: http://www.dummies.com/how-to/content/how-the-enlightenment-affected-politics-and-govern.html [23/03/2014]
- History, ‘Enlightenment’: http://www.history.com/topics/enlightenment [23/03/2014]
- Indiana University Northwest, ‘Two Enlightenment Philosophes: Montesquieu and Rousseau’: http://www.iun.edu/~hisdcl/h114_2002/enlightenment2.htm. [23/03/2014]
- A. Dorn, ‘the Scope of Government in a Free Society, Cato Journal, vol 32, no.3. 2012. Pp: 1 – 14
- Novak, ‘Small Government Means Better Governance’: the Drum, http://www.abc.net.au/unleashed/4147992.html. [23/03/2014]
- P. Sommerville, ‘Limited Government, Resistance and Locke’: http://faculty.history.wisc.edu/sommerville/283/283%20session10.htm. [23/03/2014]
- Liberal-National Coalition, ‘the Coalition’s Policy to Increase Employment Participation’: http://lpaweb-static.s3.amazonaws.com/13-08-27%20The%20Coalition%E2%80%99s%20Policy%20to%20Increase%20Employment%20Participation%20-%20policy%20document.pdf. [23/03/2014]
- Liberal Party, ‘Our Plan for Real Action’: https://www.liberal.org.au/our-plan. [23/03/2014]
- Liberal-National Coalition, ‘the Coalition’s Policy for Trade’: http://lpaweb-static.s3.amazonaws.com/Coalition%202013%20Election%20Policy%20%E2%80%93%20Trade%20%E2%80%93%20final.pdf. [23/03/2014]
- Lobao and G. Hooks, ‘Public Employment, Welfare Transfers, and Economic Well-Being across Local Populations: Does a Lean and Mean Government Benefit the Masses?’, Social Forces, vol 82, no. 2. 2003. Pp: 519 – 556
- R. Cima and P. S. Cotter, ‘the Coherence of the Concept of Limited Government’, Journal of Policy Analysis and Management¸ vol. 4. 1985. Pp. 266 – 270
- Baird, ‘The State, Work and Family in Australia’, the International Journal of Human Resource Management, vol 22, no. 18, 2011. Pp: 1 – 14
- New Learning, ‘Ronald Reagan on Small Government’: http://newlearningonline.com/new-learning/chapter-4/ronald-reagan-on-small-government. [23/03/2014]
- Parker, ‘Religion and Politics’, Distinktion: Scandinavian Journal of Social Theory, vol 7, no. 1. 2006. Pp: 93 – 115
- Public Interest Institute, ‘A Short History of Economic Theory Classical Economic Theory: From Adam Smith to Jean-Baptiste Say’: http://limitedgovernment.org/ps-12-9-p3.html. [23/03/2014]
- Hollander, ‘John Howard, Economic Liberalism, Social Conservatism, and Australian Federation’, Australian Journal of Politics and History, vol 53, no. 1. 2008. Pp: 85 – 103
- Kelman, ‘Limited Government: an Incoherent Concept’, Journal of Policy Analysis and Management, vol. 3, no. 1. 1983. Pp. 31 – 44
- Pryce, ‘the Thatcher Years – Political Analysis: Putting the Great Back into Britain?’: Margaret Thatcher: 1925 – 2013, http://www2.granthamtoday.co.uk/gj/site/news/thatcher/analysis.htm. [23/03/2014]
- Dunlop, ‘Small Government Can Equal Big Problems’: the Drum, http://www.abc.net.au/news/2014-02-28/dunlop-small-government-can-equal-big-problems/5287718. [23/03/2014]
- US Government, ‘Bill of Rights’: the Charters of Freedom “a New World is at Hand”,http://www.archives.gov/exhibits/charters/bill_of_rights_transcript.html. [23/03/2014]
- US Government, ‘Constitution of the United States’: the Chapters of Freedom “a New World is at Hand”, http://www.archives.gov/exhibits/charters/constitution_transcript.html. [23/03/2014]
- Various Authors, ‘Social Issues and Political Psychology’, International Journal of Psychology, vol 47, no. 1. 2012. Pp: 687 – 697
- We the People, ‘Principles, Priorities, and Policies of President Reagan’: Ronald Reagan and Executive Power, http://reagan.civiced.org/lessons/middle-school/principles-priorities-policies-president-reagan. [23/03/2014]
- Voegeli, ‘the Trouble with Limited Government’, Claremont Review of Books¸ vol 7, no. 4. 2007. Pp: 10 – 14.
- W, ‘Size of Government: Brooks and Ryan’s False Choice’: the Economist, http://www.economist.com/blogs/democracyinamerica/2010/09/size_government. [23/03/2014]
This week for our cultural article, we will be examining Rembrandt’s (1606 – 1669) 1642 painting, “The Night Watch.”
“The Night Watch” represents a style of painting that was unique to Holland and the northern Netherlands during the 17th century: the Schuttersstuk. Furthermore, Rembrandt’s rendition is, in and of itself, a highly original rendition in that it does not rely upon the typical rows of figures common to the style. Instead, Rembrandt’s painting featured animated subjects engaged in the various duties and responsibilities of the Civic Guard.
Painted using oils on a 142.9 by 172.0-inch canvas, “The Night Watch” is Rembrandt’s largest painting. Despite its title, the painting is actually set during the day. The reason the painting’s background looks so dark is that the varnish Rembrandt used darkened over the years. It was restored to its original glory in the 1940s, but the name “The Night Watch” stuck. On a side note, it is interesting to observe Rembrandt’s well-known use of the technique ‘chiaroscuror’ (Italian for ‘light-dark’) which uses light and dark to create dramatic contrasts and a sense of three-dimensionality.
Painted during the Dutch Golden Age, Rembrandt was commissioned to create the painting by the Kloveniersdolen – the guild hall of the Amsterdam Civic Guard Company of Musketeers. In the Netherlands, Civic Guardsmen were tasked with the defence of their cities, the maintenance of law and order, firefighting, and forming a strong presence during festivities and parades for visiting royalty. Each company of Civic Guardsmen had its own guild hall decorated, according to tradition, with group portraits of distinguished members. These portraits were designed to evoke a sense of affinity between the members of the company and asserted their power and status within the cities they protected.
Is there any other time in history more malaligned than the Middle Ages? Our modern conception of the so-called “dark ages” is that it was time characterised by superstition, barbarity, oppression, ignorance with a few outbreaks of the plague, just to make things interesting.
This view has been helped by numerous so-called educational resources. BBC’s Bitesize website, for example, takes a leaf from certain 19th-century British historians, the type of who saw Catholics as ignorant and childish, and caricatures Medieval peasants as “extremely superstitious” individuals who were “encouraged to rely on prayers to the saints and superstition” for guidance through life. It even accuses the Catholic Church of stagnating human thought and impeding technological development.
This does not represent the view, however, of many serious historians and academics. As Professor Ronald Numbers of Cambridge University explains:
“Notions such as: ‘the rise of Christianity killed off ancient science’, ‘the medieval Christian Church suppressed the growth of the natural sciences’, ‘the medieval Christians thought that the world was flat’, and ‘the Church prohibited autopsies and dissections during the Middle Ages’ [are] examples of widely popular myths that still pass as historical truth, even though they are not supported by historical research.’
In reality, the Middle Ages saw advances in law, politics, the sciences, theology, philosophy, and more. It saw the birth of the chartered town which ushered in the tradition of local self-governance. The existence of a strong papacy laid the foundations of limited political power as it prevented monarchs, who justified their power through their so-called “unique” relationship with God and the Church, from monopolising power. This symbolic limitation on monarchical power was manifested in the Magna Carta (1215) and the birth of the English Parliament.
The people of the Middle Ages produced magnificent Gothic cathedrals and churches. Many medieval monks became patrons of the arts and many were even artists themselves. In literature, the Middle Ages saw Dante’s the Divine Comedy and Geoffrey Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales. In music, the Middle Ages laid the foundation of Western classical music and saw the development of musical notation, western harmony, and many of the Christmas carols we know and love today.
Likewise, the Carolingian Renaissance of the 8th and 9th centuries saw advancements in the study of literature, architecture, jurisprudence, and theology. Medieval scholars and scientists, many of whom were monks and friars, studied natural philosophy, mathematics, engineering, geography, optics, and medicine.
In the spirit of intellectual and spiritual enlightenment, many universities, including Oxford University, Cambridge University, and the University of Cologne. These universities educated their students on law, medicine, theology, and the arts. In addition, the period also saw the foundation of many schools and many early Christian monasteries were committed to the education of the common people.
The Middle Ages saw advances in science, literature, philosophy, theology, the arts, music, politics, law, and more. Its legacy is all around us: whether it is in the limitations placed on the powers of Governments, the music we listen to, or in the tradition of education many of us have benefited from. In an era of political correctness perhaps we should be wondering whether we’re living in the “dark ages.”