REVIEW / An assortment of facts in search of a thesis
With this in mind, he set out a while ago to compile a complete lexicon of human gesture, the ultimate dictionary of global body language. Last night's opening programme to his new series (a pretty unabashed retread of Manwatching and The Naked Ape) consisted of a long browse through the work in progress, complete with illustrations. It was entertaining enough watching this anthology of humanity's tics, but it isn't long before you begin to wonder when he's going to get to the point - what central idea is actually concealed beneath this gaudy pile of fascinating facts?
In fact, Morris's mission strikes me as being slightly comical; it could easily be a satirist's invention, designed to mock the stamp-collecting diligence of scientists, their ability to get caught up in an earnest myopia. Certainly I found myself giggling a little as he provided a scholarly translation for a sequence in which people from around the world made obscene signs at each other, something like a very bad-tempered Benetton ad. And, at times, his enthusiasm makes him sound decidedly foolish. 'Body language is so powerful that it can change the course of history and affect the behaviour of millions of people,' said Morris, over footage of Hitler gesticulating wildly, as if the history of the Third Reich could be boilded down to some cunning hand signals.
'I've sometimes been accused of degrading mankind,' Morris said at the end, arguing that he doesn't see why any shame should attach to the perception that we are animals. The problem, though, is not reductionism but a general woolliness of purpose. At times, he seems to be arguing a case for a biological determinism, as when he describes the evolution of the smile out of primate grimaces of submission. At others, his evidence testifies to the peculiar power of human culture, over and above genetic inheritance; in Italy, you can draw a line on the map that separates those who signal 'no' by shaking their heads and those who use a sharp upwards movement of the head, a line that historically marks the limit of ancient Greek colonisation. Morris is clearly eloquent in the language of the body - I just wish I knew what he was trying to say.
No such problems with Speaking in Tongues (BBC 2), the first of six plays specifically conceived for the television studio. Tony Marchant's script was about words and their depleted ability to hold the truth in a world of synthetic feeling. It was not hesitant about bringing this to your attention. In the opening scene, Susan, a simulated lover, was talking dirty to a sex-line caller as her husband Joe, a simulated labourer, returned from the folk museum and her son, a simulated racing-driver, played with a video game. In case that didn't get through, the script was littered with self- consciously meaningful bits of dialogue. ('You keep dressing up the truth, Joe,' says Susan, as he removes his 19th-century tram-driver costume.) Watching the play was rather like reading a story that has been attacked with a fluorescent highlighter pen, an analytical experience rather than an emotional one.
GlastonburyWI to make debut appearance at Somerset festival
TV reviewIt has taken seven episodes for Game of Thrones season five to hit its stride
Arts & Ents blogs
- 1 School kitchen manager 'fired from Colorado school for giving hungry students free lunches'
- 2 California man brutally beat 82-year-old Sikh grandfather he mistook for 'one of those people'
- 5 Charles Kennedy 'had better judgement drunk than many sober politicians' says Ian Hislop
Game of Thrones season 6: George RR Martin doing 'anything he can' to get new book The Winds of Winter out before next HBO series airs
Game of Thrones, Battle of Hardhome: 20-minute Wildlings versus White Walkers battle took a 'solid month' to film
Game of Thrones season 5 episode 9, The Dance of Dragons: Jon Snow returns to The Wall after epic Battle of Hardhome
Touch-screen Teletubbies say hello: Tinky Winky, Dipsy, Laa-Laa and Po are back, now with smart technology
Black Angel: Long lost Star Wars precursor to be made into crowdfunded feature film
Thousands of teenage girls enduring debilitating illnesses after routine school cancer vaccination
Migrants in Kos: Photos show real tragedy after Brits abroad complain of 'awkward' holidays
British tourists complain that impoverished boat migrants are making holidays 'awkward' in Kos
Michael Gove determined to scrap the Human Rights Act – even if Scotland retains it
Threat to scrap Human Rights Act could see UK follow Nazi example, warns UN official
Church of England 'one generation away from extinction' after dramatic loss of followers