HTLGI2012: Nature of Evil

June 8, 2012

Flying into Bristol from Belfast last night was a good preparation for a consideration of evil.  The pilot did well, but I really should not have swapped landing horror stories with one of the stewards as we came into land.  Three rows behind some children considered it all one glorious roller coaster ride and their parents sensibly encouraged them to whoop it up.  However the guy behind eventually tapped me on the shoulder and whispered shut up you bastard which I suppose was fair comment.   Either way we landed safely, there was no presentation of our souls for judgement, and despite fallen trees and few floods I made it back in one piece.  

Today however was another disrupted day.  Peter and I had to make a 200 mile round trip to Oxford to do some work on the iPad and iPhone versions of SenseMaker® but we managed to attend the first and last sessions of the day. It also meant no bike given the need to make a fast get away, although the wind would have made it an interesting trip!

Now I was looking forward to the first session.  OK we have moved beyond a medieval and over literal understanding of evil but its still an issue in a range of debates in ethics and politics.  We also continue to face its manifestation in all too many natural and human disasters around the world.  Unfortunately the philosophical topic had only one philosopher, and the other discussants were both Directors, albeit famous ones.  Eaglestone, the Philosopher was running a line on the banality of evil and only wanted to talk about that.  Both Directors in effect changed the subject from the nature of evil to the role and representation of evil on the stage and in film.  Now this is an interesting subject, but its not what I signed up to.  That said they made some interesting points ranging from the banal (actors find it more interesting to play baddies) to the profound (we find it disturbing when the human aspects of evil people are revealed).

We also had an interesting discussion on the lack of constraints in internet pornography.  Apparently films have some degree of constraint but this is not the case on the internet.  The argument made was the way in which primarily women are treated here is a modern manifestation of evil.  But the real issue of the nature of evil, and the consequence of a loss of religion was not addressed.

The other session was Don Cupitt on progress, but I am going to post on that separately.


The Nature of Evil

Mike Figgis, Sean Holmes,Robert Eaglestone. Jonanna Kavenna chairs

Missed Robert which is a pain as he was a large part of the attraction of this session.m but he talked about the banality of evil (or so the chairperson tells us)

Mike suggests that the universal perception in the audience, given age,  is very different from the Internet generation.  Evil for him is something he accepted as a part of life growing up in east Africa and a council house in Newcastle.  The best stories deal with bad behaviour and the bad roles are the most fun for an actor.  Function of drama is shared dialogue with public about nature of death and evil, how we deal with them. Issue is now the new digital perception has rendered the existing system and it's rules as invalid.  A new approach to everything including evil is now needed

Sean comes from his experience of playwrights  who deal with evil in their writing.  Theatre is an ancient form of communication that has remained consistent time.  Theatre allows us to enter into evil without becoming evil, so we can examine the extraordinariness of human behaviour,

Chair asks about evil acted and asks if violence is alway Weil.  Mike says it is impossible to talk in absolute terms about any of this.  Robert says that it manifests most in the modern world by its banalai. He doesn't feel evil for owning an iPhone (which he loves) but he is caught up in a web of poor living conditions manufacturing etc.  Mike says that in pornography you have to deny the humanity of the performer, this dislocation is like he remote drone etc. 

Chair says that Hitler being portrayed as human was problematic in a recent German film.   Holocaust raised and Edward responds to say that while there are monsters, the banali of evil affects us very day, it's not the pantomime baddies, but the trivia that trap us all.  

Mike says that in a great drama there is catharsis in dealing with evil.  However in Hollywood there s a passive move to castrate the film in the last 15 minutes to reduce cathartic; inefficient capitalism, just dollar led.  Ended up talking more about censorship and a specific play that the subject itself.

Chair finally pulls us back to the absence of religion issue which is in the programme.  Sean says that in Shakespeare the evil guys  on front us wih the absence of god and the concrete human nature of people who are evil.  Richard III is not possessed we are confronted with grippy evil.   Edward says that the evil is systemic, we are in the middle of it before we know what it is. 

Chair raised Internet and regulation, do we need boundaries?  Mike says the question is meaningless, we could say yes and it would make no difference. The minute you get rid of the limitations of middle class cultured audiences, then you find that controls are gone.   Corruption of language to permit bad behaviour which disturbs him.  The only answer is to see if people will join another view which as this is wrong- reference to abuse of women in Internet pornography.  The old porn history had some form of control, now entirely and fundamentally evil.  Our ability to coexist is corrupted in consequence.

Sean says that playwrights have endless engagement with humanity and evil (my summary).  There job is not to fine, but examine its place in society; the web of our responsibilities and involvements.  Evil is a spectrum and great art makes us realise we are on it.

Edward says that the real world constantly mocks art.  Our newspaper show endless encode, the wonder of art is its portrayals of evil.


Is it evil or redemption at end which is attractive to audiences.  Sean says that we are fascinated by behaviour.  Richard III is the most interesting character on stage.   Mike says that dark is necessary to see where the light is, and that continues to work for a certain kind of drama.  Says that not all films (eg Persona) have no redemption.  Robert references Paradise Lost where redemption is about rejecting the wit etc of SatN.

Does the panel believe we all have evil in us?  Used to torture his enemy toy soldiers with a poker and it's frightened him ever since.  Robert says that we clearly do.   Sean says he may have been making theatre when he tortured his soldiers.  Mike says that there is a line of perversity against we come up with if we want to be creative.  Many don't cross it some do.  Hesitation for reasons of social nicety references on the film set.   Awning the courage to go into the psychotic enactment space is hard.  In theatre you have agreed to this and there is a script, less so on a film where thing can emerge. 

Grandson said that we have the ability to understand play, but how do we educate to allow people to develop.   Mike  doesn't think that the problem is the genii is out of the bottle.  Too late,  have to tie a new approach, acknowledge and find ways collectively to humanise our environment,  it can only come from us not the teacher, the preacher or the politician.

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