Last Night's TV - True Stories: War Child, More 4; How TV Ruined Your Life, BBC2
They're playing deadly games
Wednesday 16 February 2011
It is difficult to know where to begin with a film like Jezza Neumann's
War Child, an account of the lives of several Palestinian children who lived through Operation Cast Lead, Israel's punitive attack on Gaza in 2008. It tackled a subject traditionally mired in claim and counter-claim by focusing on one simple and incontrovertible truth – that no child should have to watch her father shot dead in front of her and no small boy should be blinded by a missile that blew a nearby friend in half. It concentrated, in other words, on the one unanswerable argument against military violence – the collateral damage that can't be folded inside any kind of realpolitik or ever effectively defused by the rhetoric of regret. Friends of Israel may well argue that it gives a partial account of who is responsible for the suffering it showed. They may point out that Israeli children can feel pain and fear too, and that if you were to film it it would be just as piercing. But if such a thing as a dispassionate audience still exists for this kind of a film, it seems inescapable that it would contain fewer friends of Israel by the end of a viewing. And even Israel's friends might be asking themselves whether any kind of durable peace could ever be sown in such broken, blood-spattered ground.
It began with children in the wreckage, picking through the remains of their own houses and describing the day "the Jews came". Mahmoud and Amal showed us the bullet holes in their breeze-block walls, and described how their father was shot down after he answered the door to Israeli soldiers. Amal, now nine, found herself cut off from the rest of her family in a neighbour's house that was later shelled and lay for two days in the rubble between the bodies of her uncles. Archive footage showed her arriving in hospital shrieking in pain and begging for water. Now she's a solemn, quiet child, stricken with headaches from the shrapnel still embedded in her brain. Loay, aged 10, is in an even darker place, literally and figuratively. Blinded by a missile strike he flails around his house, raging at his brothers and his condition: "By God, I want to die," he wailed, "Call this living?" Ibraheem, not injured in the original assault, described his life on his brother's fishing boat, repeatedly fired on by Israeli warships that patrol the coast. On shore he plays at Jews and Arabs with his friends, making toy boats out of rubbish so they can be impounded and "taken to Ashdod to be vandalised".
The large question here was how such wounds would scar over. And the unsurprising answer was almost certainly in ugly ways. Not all of their education is in hatred. While one schoolteacher taught that friendship with "the Jews" was impossible, poisoning their minds against the "kuffar", at least one was seen encouraging his pupils to exempt Israeli children from any culpability for the wretched life they endured. But counselling understanding and forgiveness to a child who's seen her father killed in front of her isn't easy. "It's impossible I think," said one female teacher, "Could you? Could you convince Amal?" Where exactly would you begin, you wondered, and what miracle of self-incrimination would have to be involved first. "Did we hurt them?" another boy asked, questioning the reasons for the Israeli attack. The answer to which would have be a complicated "yes", though he was never going to hear that from adults locked into their own cycles of justified retaliation and self-defence. Revenge is far easier to teach, so Mahmoud's uncle shows him images of dismembered suicide bombers and teaches him how to use a Kalashnikov. "With this you'll avenge your father," he said. Mahmoud's mother smiled indulgently as her son talked proudly of one day blowing "a Jew's head off". War Child was a shocking account of how brutal and counter-productive the Israeli approach to Gaza is, but it properly let you see that that was a crime against childhood, too.
To describe Charlie Brooker as biting the hand that feeds him in How TV Ruined Your Life isn't quite right. What actually happened is that television saw him gnashing and snapping away in print like a rabid alsatian, and thought "That looks lively... I wonder if it would be fun to stick a hand in his mouth." And the answer is yes. This week, he was addressing the effect the "flickering fibbing machine" has on our attitudes to romantic love, with its nightly propaganda about soul mates, physical beauty and the proper conduct of a love affair.
Much of the energy came from satirising our illusions about love itself, rather than any telly-induced misconceptions about it. He made a decent case, for example, that chewing gum offers a good metaphor for the trajectory of the average infatuation: "After the initial burst of excitement you soon find yourself just going through the motions, while your interest drains away and then you end up just spitting it into a hankie." But he's also very good at the clichés of television presentation, neatly caught here in a TV news bulletin about the progress of an office romance, presented as if it were an unfolding political story, with an earnest pavement reporter telling the news anchor that "our sources indicate she intends to terminate their 18-month relationship". I'm not sure what Konnie Huq will make of his bleak view of love, but for anyone not married to him it was very entertaining.
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