I’m currently dwelling on past times. I have a film coming out based on the crazy events that took place in 1953 when Stalin died. (He lay having a stroke on his rug and in his urine for hours since everyone was too scared to knock and see if he was all right.) We shot the film last summer. Then Trump happened. Now, journalists grill me as if the movie was an intentional response to that bloated troll’s election victory. Films take years to finance and write, and another year to shoot and edit; in that time, there’s no way anyone could have predicted the election of America’s first balloon-animal-inflated-by-potato-gas as President.
Social media makes us take immediacy for granted. Anyone who writes a letter these days starts looking like they’re living in black and white. So it seems weird working in a medium that takes forever to get finished. I’d say the average film is four or five years from conception to release. Books are far worse, though. I’ve just published a book on classical music, Hear Me Out, that’s a response to a lifetime of listening to music and about a decade or so of writing on it. With unerring precision, the book and the movie seem to be coming out at the same time, even though both were started years ago, when film was in its infancy and Gutenberg was still staring at a wooden mangle and trying to think what else it could be used for.
This means that I’m on two breathless promotional tours simultaneously, hopping in between book and film festivals. The most abrupt jump happens next week, when I spend one day discussing The Death of Stalin at New York’s Comic Con, then head home next morning for the literary festival in Ilkley. I’m not sure how many planes fly direct from JFK Airport to Ilkley, but I’m sure my two publicists are conspiring to persuade an airline to charter one now. These publicists now hold my confused life entirely in their four hands, but I haven’t felt anxious for a second. The reason: in among the mayhem I remember their names, which are Faith and Grace.
UK politics is in a swirl and by the time you read this, we may well be about to have our very own thatched balloon animal as PM in the shape of Boris Johnson. Theresa May recently downplayed the challenge with a casual ‘Boris is Boris’. It was a ploy reminiscent of her triumphant election message ‘Brexit means Brexit’ and her sage response to terrorism, ‘Enough is enough.’ When is the collective mass media going to confront her with this habit, and shout ‘Repetition is just repetition’?
Theresa May is doing in hyper-concentrated form what a lot of us have been guilty of for years: assuming that just by stating something, we have justified it. It comes when someone starts an email ‘I know you’re busy, but…’ As if by merely acknowledging your busyness, they have somehow bought immunity from it. That’s no strategy. Try going up to a stranger and saying, ‘I know you hate being stabbed, but I just wondered if you’d be up for being stabbed now and me running off with your purse?’
I’ve just landed in Texas for another screening of the film. The devastating hurricane damage here and across the Caribbean should be alerting our leaders to the warnings from science on climate change. Alas, not only is denial big business in these parts, but a recent scientific paper gave the deniers encouragement. What it said was that we may have a tiny bit more time to get our carbon emissions down than first thought. Deniers have seized on this as one more example of climate scientists being nothing but confused liars.
The problem is we’ve always sold science as fixed and incontrovertible truth. It’s not. The Scientific Method is about coming up with a model that best explains the facts. When a piece of new information doesn’t fit, we refine or replace that model with a better one. Newton’s theory explained gravity just fine, until Einstein showed how it didn’t quite and replaced it with his own. That doesn’t mean all we previously believed about gravity is false. We know the sun comes up every day, but I can only 99.9999999 per cent predict it will come up tomorrow. Deniers would tell us that 0.0000001 per cent difference means the whole sun thing’s a fraud. If you subscribe to that logic, I’m almost certain you’re an idiot.
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