10 June 2013

The Trouble With Choice

Conditioning is basically the idea that a specific stimulant can elicit some sort of involuntary response. The brains behind this idea was a physiologist named Pavlov who used his crazy new concept to torment dogs by tricking them into dribbling. The plan was to serve them food every time a bell rang until eventually they associated the noise with feeding time. After a while they'd simply salivate when hearing, it regardless of if they'd been fed or not. As great as all that is though, I think I'd prefer scientists to piss about with dogs only after they've cured cancer and discovered whatever species Gary Busey is. Having said that, it was whilst learning this concept in school that a fellow student enquired if we could condition ourselves into getting better grades. The teacher responded by asking how he planned on doing this to which he announced that every time he did well in an exam, he would have a quick wank to reward himself. Although the teacher failed to inform us if this would work, I can confirm that from my own experiments the answer is a very sad no.

A Clockwork Orange is a 1971 film by Stanley Kubrick that is assumed by idiots to glorify violence. Set in a dystopian future Britain, it tells the story of a pleasant young chap named Alex whose amiable personality is only slightly let down by his love of ultra-violence. Like Kubrick's Full Metal Jacket the film itself is kind of split into two halves. The first shows Alex revelling in his rape-y joys and the second depicts his subsequent comeuppance. In the same way that my fellow student wanted to wank himself into a brighter future the government of A Clockwork Orange attempt to condition Alex into being a better member of humanity. Famously, this conditioning sequence involves sitting him in front of a screen and pinning his eyes open as though he's about to be forced to watch Sex and the City 2: Pigs in a City. Instead however he's made to feel sick and shown violent imagery until he associates the two things together. He's then released back into the wild where he quickly learns that society is a massive, scary twat and without the means to defend himself, he'll be well and truly fucked.

Wait- what are we watching?!
Recently I saw a documentary called Room 237 in which a bunch of oddball movie fans rambled on about their understanding of The Shining for a couple of hours. Each of their theories ranged significantly in subject so that by the end the only thing we as an audience could be sure of was that these obsessive weirdoes should probably be locked up. The point is though that with Kubrick, there are so many possible interpretations of his films that it's difficult to really come to a definitive conclusion as to what they're really all about. With A Clockwork Orange though I suppose the main thing that I get from it is that it is an examination into the morality of freewill. I'm sure a million other people could watch the film and decide that it has a different agenda and for them I recommend the comment section below. Not only would we be able to have an interesting debate but most importantly it'd help me get some more traffic here. As anybody with a blog will know, I'm a whore for the hits.

Anyway, as valid as alternate interpretations may well be, if there's one thing that this film definitely does not do, it is portray violence for the sheer joy of it. I think probably the only idiots who assume A Clockwork Orange contains gratuitous horror are those who can't be arsed to actually watch it themselves. Hearing a film has been banned for 27 years for inspiring copycat crimes does sound a little grim but that's only because the reputation is a sensationalist slab of shite. I don't believe that films can cause somebody to act out of character as I stupidly have some small degree of faith in humanity. Perhaps a few psychopaths did commit similar crimes to Alex, but crazy fucktards will always find something to inspire them. Blaming anything other than their own mental health is lazy and dangerous. With the amount of violent films I own, I could commit more or less any crime I liked without worrying about being held responsible. The reason it was banned too was not actually because of its dangerous influence on society. Apparently it was because people were so outraged about its fake violence that their only response was to threaten Kubrick with the genuine stuff. Thankfully the film was re-released in 1999 when its recently deceased director became notoriously more difficult to murder.

That's not to say of course that I'm denying the violence of a scene in which somebody gets their head caved in by a giant cock. In my opinion all the rape, murder and assault simply exists to promote a discussion on the nature of freewill and morality. The more shocking Alex's earlier antics are the more justified his later brainwashing may seem to be. The title A Clockwork Orange implies that something might seem natural on the outside but under the surface everything is robotic and controlled. Pavlov's dogs didn't dribble because they were hungry but because like Alex, they had been conditioned into an involuntary response. Alex might have changed his violent ways but that's not because he has become a better person and the lack of choice surely undermines the morality of the situation. Adding to this, the experiment wasn't done to improve society either but instead was being used as a political advert for a self-serving Government. I'm not saying that Alex doesn't deserve to be punished but allowing those in charge to try and keep power by dicking about with his brain doesn't seem right either. Perhaps the message of the film is that the price to pay for freewill is that some people will always act like cunts.

Despite how grim it might all sound though, A Clockwork Orange is funny as fuck with Kubrick himself describing it as “a social satire”. From what we know, Ed Gein killed about as many people as Alex did but he doesn't even look bright enough to tell the most basic of knock-knock jokes. Alex might be a nutcase but he's also capable of politeness, friendliness and at least has a decent sense of humour. There's therefore an implication that he may simply be a product of his environment which also contains aggressive authority figures and a constant barrage of casual pornographic imagery. Although it wouldn't excuse it, I suppose there could be some irony if his violent behaviour was woven into him to begin with. At the very least it would again throw up the hypocrisy of a Government that aims to control and condition somebody out of a behaviour that they're a partial cause of.

"Please believe me!"
I hate to put on my tin-foil hat and start talking in a hushed tone but with its subversive nature, if I was in charge back in 1971, I'd probably try and discredit the film in some way too. Focusing on its violence and linking it to a genuine and shocking crime seems like a good way to do that. Also, while the crispy hat of conspiracy is on, I think that the Royal Family are Lizards, Aliens live in our volcanoes and The Chuckle Brothers are really father and son. Actually, it is worth noting that at the time of its release, the film was condemned by the Catholic Church which banned its followers from watching it. Ironically though, the voice of reason in the film is probably Alex's Prison Priest who appears outraged at the idea of conditioning and declares that goodness must come from within instead. Still, I'm guessing the Church missed that point as I suppose watching and judging a film while knowing many of your representatives rape and abuse little children can be a little distracting.

Since its release in 1971, A Clockwork Orange has gone on to become a stone-cold classic. Its influence can be felt everywhere from Trainspotting to The Dark Knight and even the epic N64 game Conker’s Bad Fur Day. Despite his brilliant performance as Alex however, Malcolm McDowell's career never took off the way it should thanks in part to drug addictions and his face shrivelling up into a chestnut. Although I probably slightly favour The Shining, I don't think any Kubrick film about a likeable nutter is any less than genius. Every time I watch this movie, I notice something different. On first viewing I noticed the humour and on second I thought more about it's stance on morality. Most recently however I noticed something huge that had previously escaped me. Apparently the big gay looking man near the end that carries the cripple about is actually Darth Vader! How I've only just viddied that bolshy veck, my gulliver will never fathom. 

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