Friday, December 12, 2008

Campaigning Journalism

I was thinking about a comment made a couple of posts back about all the great television presenters with knowledge, authority, and gravitas that have either been retired or passed away. One or two remain but their voices seem to be drowned out by the gaggle of blathering imbeciles who carry no weight or real knowledge of their subject matter.

It’s probably not the fault of these gibbering, witless loons. If someone asks if they want to appear on television, what are they going to say? After all, being pampered in Hair & Makeup before gabbling in front of a camera is a whole better option than digging ditches for a living. But when these cretinous cunt rags pop up on screen, I can’t switch over fast enough because the only other alternative is to drive a spike deep into my left cerebral hemisphere.

Earlier in the week I flipped channels and came across that supercilious, bollock-headed leftie, Tony Robinson spouting the usual sensationalist gibberish. He’s a prime example of these smug, no-knowledge presenters drafted in simply because they have a recognisable face that I would be more than happy to see being repeatedly punched in the face by someone wearing a boxing glove made of anvils. Luckily, just to show that the work hasn’t completely fallen on its ear, there is a reserve of decent replacements able to step into the shoes of the original scholars, who actually have the education or enough years of experience to speak on the subject of their choice.

Alexander Boris de Pfeffel Johnson may not have been everyone’s cup of tea, either as an MP or the incumbent Mayor of London, but if he ever puts politics behind him there’s certainly a future for him in television. His calamitous appearances on Have I Got News for You showed that he can do comedy, whether intentionally or not, and portrayed him as a bumbling PG Wodehouse creation made flesh. But then in early 2006 he presented the two-part documentary The Dream of Rome in which he illustrated how the ancient empire of the Caesars united Europe in a way that today’s European Union is categorically failing to achieve.

After an engaging edition of the genealogical series, Who Do You Think You Are?, in which Boris learnt that he was direct, if illegitimate, descendant of King George II, he’s been back on our screens the past couple weeks with the equally fascinating After Rome: Holy War and Conquest, to investigate the less than harmonious relationship between Christianity and Islam. It should have been required viewing not just for anyone interested in history, geopolitics and religion but more especially any blinkered zealots who regard the two doctrines simply as the difference between the side of right and the infidels.

While Eastern Europe was scrabbling around in The Dark Ages, the sophisticated Islamic civilisation regained half the territories of the old Roman Empire in less than a century. Anyone who thinks of them as a second-class or primitive race only needed to look at how, during the three century-long occupation by the culturally superior Moors, medieval Spain became the centre of logic and reason. Once they finally surrendered Granada at the culmination of the Reconquista and were eventually expelled from the Iberian Peninsula, their glorious mosques were subjected to cultural and religious vandalism as they were turned into Christian churches. When Boris interviewed average Spanish citizens every one of them denied that the Islamic conquest had enriched their country’s heritage.

More damning indictments of the west came when the second episode concentrated on the consequences of Pope Urban the Second’s demented call to arms at the end of the eleventh century to retake Jerusalem. Taking the offer of a remission of all the sins they confess, which Boris referred to as their “get out of hell free” cards, 60,000 knights, peasants, religious cranks and assorted misfits marched on the Holy Land in the first of four bloody crusades. Those that made it to the gates of Jerusalem slaughtered everyone in sight, including the Jews, which were burnt alive in their synagogues.

By the fourth campaign, Latin Christians sacked Constantinople as they fought their Greek Orthodox counterparts, eventually installing a drunken prostitute on the throne as they carried out God’s work. If every there was a symbol of Western aggression in the Middle East, the crusades were it. When Boris talked to young Muslim students and mentioned how Britain we would have a crusade against drunkenness or a crusade against littering, the casual use of the word left them horrified. So when Bush called the war on terrorism a crusade, it was simply the last word he should have used.

When Richard the Lionheart led the ultimately unsuccessful third crusade to retake the Holy Land from Saladin at the end of the 12th century, Boris revealed that he got on well with Saladin’s brother after they discovered they had so many interests in common. Between the bloody conflicts Christians and Muslims coexisted quite happily in Jerusalem and the surrounding regions, which is perhaps more than can be said for today.

As the second episode came to a close, Boris decided that “If we don’t have the wit to escape from history, then at least let’s try to relive the good bits.” Call him a buffoon of you want, but those are probably the wisest words I’ve ever heard from a politician and a gifted television presenter.


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