“If you’re one of those ‘I love Pink Floyd but I can’t stand Roger’s politics’ people, you might do well to fuck off to the bar right now.”
That announcement bellows out at the start of Roger Waters’ “This Is Not A Drill” tour. The former lead singer and bassist of Pink Floyd has always been active and outspoken politically, but his recent comments on Russia’s war in Ukraine have been particularly controversial, leading to him being labelled a “Putin apologist” earlier this month by Polly Samson, the wife of Waters’ former bandmate David Gilmour. When approached by Tortoise for comment this week, Samson said: “I despise that [Waters] uses a platform that was built on David’s and the late Rick Wright’s beautiful music for his hateful political posturing.”
The Pink Floyd drama is a story that stretches back decades and is about far more than politics – but Waters’s stance on the war does indeed seem to have brought things to a head. The singer has called it “probably the most provoked invasion ever”, and recently told The Daily Telegraph that “Nazis” were “in control of the government” in Ukraine. In an interview with James Ball in October for Rolling Stone, Waters claimed that allegations of war crimes committed by Russia in Ukraine were “lies, lies, lies”.
There is nothing new about artists having controversial opinions but the target of Waters’ recent outbursts – the war in Ukraine – is very hard to ignore. Even if we are not paying for the war with our lives, we are paying with our energy bills. Separating the art from the artist is all very well, but try explaining to the Ukrainian refugee in your office or village why you’re still listening to Roger Waters.
The other seismic event of the last few years – the Covid-19 pandemic – also brought favourite artists’ unpalatable views to the surface with uncomfortable proximity. Covid provided a breeding ground for conspiracy theories, and celebrities were by no means immune. In 2020, former Stone Roses frontman Ian Brown’s tweets made clear he was against the vaccine and lockdowns. In September 2021 Nicki Minaj tweeted that she wouldn’t take the jab because it made her cousin’s friend impotent and gave him swollen testicles. Madonna claimed before the creation of a Covid vaccine that one had in fact been found, and that it was being kept from public distribution in order to “let the rich get richer”.
The lethal, close-up nature of the pandemic meant that just dismissing these people’s views while still streaming their tunes wasn’t so easy. It’s one thing to just laugh and turn the music up if you find out your favourite singer is a flat-earther; less so when they’ve called the virus that’s just killed your grandparents a hoax.
True believers also may not leave their views at the studio door. Spotify removed Ian Brown’s 2020 song ‘Little Seed Big Tree’ as it contained the lyrics about a “forced vaccine” and planting microchips. (The platform wasn’t so quick to act when Neil Young threatened to pull his music over vaccine misinformation in the Joe Rogan Experience podcast.)
It’s hard to say whether celebrities are more likely than the average person to embrace fringe or extreme views. There’s no data on it, and Dr Daniel Jolley, an expert on the psychology of conspiracy theories, suggests they gain more prominence primarily because the spotlight is on them.
And what a spotlight they have in the 21st Century: social media means that stars can spread information – or misinformation – to their followers in raw, unfiltered form, and algorithms spread it like wildfire. A 2022 study from the University of Edinburgh found that celebrities and influencers have the most impact on people’s opinions online, posing far more of a threat than bots when it comes to misinformation on controversial topics like Brexit, immigration, climate change or Hillary Clinton. That, combined with the fact that trust in experts is at rock bottom, creates an environment where fans can be brainwashed by their favourite stars.
So where do the listeners, the viewers, the consumers fit in? Pandemics, war and climate change will all continue to affect our lives, while also serving as fodder for culture wars and misinformation. At some point, we’ll all have to decide whether to do as Roger Waters says and fuck off to the bar.
Not another bloody show about zombies
Keith Blackmore, editor of the Tortoise Quarterly, explains why game-to-screen phenomenon The Last of Us deserves your attention
Even by recent standards, 2023 has been a golden year for long-form television. In the first two months alone, the BBC has given us the brilliant final series of Happy Valley, and two excellent police dramas, the aptly named Gold and Better. This week ITV will offer a new series of Unforgotten, and next month Apple will air the latest episodes of the football comedy, Ted Lasso. Sky’s much anticipated fourth season of the media epic, Succession, follows ten days later. But at year’s end the very best of this blizzard of excellence may turn out to be none of the above. Instead it will surely be The Last of Us (Sky) the tale of a man and a 14 year-old girl trying to survive in a world all but destroyed by a deadly fungus.
Computer games, no matter how good in their own right, have usually disappointed as sources for televised or cinematic drama. Producers have tended to ignore the lack of plot in terrific games like Doom, Tomb Raider, Halo and Warcraft and film them anyway. The Last of Us, however, is a glorious exception, winning just about every garland available to a Playstation game. By putting its creator, Neil Druckmann, together with Craig Mazin, maker of the superb Chernobyl television series, the producers have struck gold.
The plot follows the desperate flight of Joel (Pedro Pascal) and Ellie (Bella Ramsey) – the only person apparently immune to the deadly infection – across a devastated landscape populated, if that’s the word, by the “infected” and murderous bands of survivors who kill anybody they think might carry contagion.
It may be another zombie story, but while it certainly has moments of pure horror and, as the announcer warns, some distressing scenes, it also has an abundance of heart and warmth. The third episode in particular has rightly attracted rhapsodic praise and might be the only thing we see this year that is better than the finale of Happy Valley. We are on episode six now, with three to come. If you are faint of heart, hide behind the sofa. But watch it.
Here are this week’s recommendations.
The Magical World of Moss (BBC iPlayer)
Telling the unexpectedly wondrous tale of moss, this BBC Four documentary sheds a charming new light on an unsung horticultural hero. Critical to oxygenating our planet 450 million years ago, moss is determined to survive, even in the most inhospitable environments. Thanks to a dedicated network of bryologists (moss observers) around the world, we know that there are more than 25,000 species – including ones which have been revived from a thousand-year period of suspended animation, survived nuclear disaster, and even conquered the harsh (albeit simulated) conditions on Mars. Sophie Fenton
Don’t Shoot The Albatross (Vault Festival)
Hidden in the overwhelming choices of the 11th London Vault Festival is a gem of a monologue play entitled Don’t Shoot The Albatross. Written and performed by non-binary actor Sam Woof, it tells the coming-of-age story of nonconformist protagonist Alby. Through music, movement and speech, Woof explores the internal machinations of a Gen Z finding their place in a Boomer world.
A day that starts exploring an unwise sex choice is drowned out in the headphones and sounds of a city, as he wanders and contemplates who or what they are. Brilliantly insightful, the one-hour play explores the difficulty of finding an identity that is defined by labels and not simply by who you are. Think Black Swan meets Netflix’s Dead To Me, with a blend of La Boheme and Ravenhill’s Shopping & F*cking and you’ll understand why you shouldn’t miss this. Paul Atherton
Fleishman is in Trouble (Disney+)
What is Fleishman is in Trouble about? A lot. It’s about the messiness of separation – the titular character Toby has just finalised his divorce with ex-wife Rachel. It’s about the different lives different types of love force us live – Toby’s struggles include understanding how a failed marriage could have ever have contained love, the wrenching wholeness of his feelings for his two children and the lust-entangled love directed at his newly single self from thousands of women on dating apps in New York City. But at its core it’s a show about masculinity. It tells the tale of modern-men doing modern-men things, by embracing the humorous side of banality and befuddlement, so as not to fall into the expected trap of delivering a grand theory of where men might be going, but to paint a beautiful portrait of things just as they are. Sara Weissel
Follow the Money: How Much Does Britain Cost? – Paul Johnson (Abacus)
If you pay attention to UK fiscal policy (and, in the last year, it’s been hard not to), you’ll probably recognise the name Paul Johnson and his think tank, the Institute for Fiscal Studies. In his new book, Follow the Money, Johnson explains how the government raises and spends its cash each year – where and who it gets it from, where it goes, and how the systems for doing so (VAT, National Insurance etc) were conceived and work. It goes without saying that there is a lot of ground to cover, and as such it’s a heavy read, but Johnson’s prose makes it easy and it’s refreshing hearing criticisms of the current system and ideas for alternatives which aren’t being used for political point-scoring. After a year of taxes being hiked, slashed and then hiked again, and with more changes to come in the Budget on 15 March, Follow the Money is essential reading.
Siblings – Brigitte Reimann, translated by Lucy Jones (Penguin)
Originally published in East Germany in 1963 as Die Geschwister, it’s taken 60 years for Brigitte Reimann’s semi-autobiographical novel to be translated into English. Based in the GDR in 1960, Siblings follows brother and sister Uli and Elisabeth as they’re drawn towards opposing ideologies. Elisabeth, despite clashing with party officials, ultimately believes in the socialist utopia promised in East Germany; Uri is more cynical and harbours ambitions to escape to the West. Practically the same age, Elisabeth and Uri are close, having grown up doing everything and going everywhere together, but the clash of worldviews – capitalism vs. socialism, democracy vs. dictatorship – in a state where such matters are the difference between life and death, in the end proves too much. I won’t give away the ending, but while viewed by many as a compromise in order to get the book published in the GDR, it still serves up a surprise.
Desire, I want To Turn Into You – Caroline Polacheck
Caroline Polacheck has – for the rizla-using, Audre Lorde-obsessed music crowd – pretty much done it all. In Chairlift (her duo with Aaron Pfenning) she cemented her indie bonafides. Collaborations with artists like Charli XCX saw her prove that ethereal has a place in pop. Heck, she’s recently made opera bearable. But in her second solo album, she proves that she can really, really sing. And write. And produce.
“Richness” in music usually refers to audio quality, but it can also mean songs where the wholeness of the sound masks all the different parts layered together: a wall hits you. Desire, I Want To Turn Into You is that wall, but instead of knocking you out, invites you to explore a new world – one crafted from screeching highs cut with quiet and expertly placed funk beats, that will leave you wondering how something so large could ever be stored just on a phone. Sara Weissel
Gaslight (Radio 4)
The term “gaslighting” didn’t enter common use as a term for manipulative behaviour until the 2010s, and it’s reasonable to assume that most people who use it haven’t read Patrick Hamilton’s 1930s psychological thriller or seen either of the 1940s films based on it. For those who find 40s-style storytelling a little creaky, Gaslight has been reimagined for a modern audience as a five-part audio series by the BBC.
James Purefoy (Rome, Sex Education) and Lacey Turner (Eastenders, Our Girl) lead a strong cast, and it doesn’t take long before the drama draws you in. Given how much the plot relies on actual gaslighting, the update just about gets away with it by setting the spooky action in a restored house – “The Foundry” – described in such detail it almost becomes a character in itself. Original music and songs from Imelda May act as an unsettling Greek Chorus, commenting on the action. The production loses a mark on BBC Sounds where it has inexplicably been chopped up into short 20-minute episodes, interspersed with fun “found footage” extras – how much they disrupt your enjoyment will depend on your listening habits. That said, this modern Gaslight still delivers a decent fix of chills and paranoia that made the originals so compelling. Mark St Andrew
Don’t forget to send in your own recommendations for Creative Sensemaker to email@example.com.
That’s all for now. Take care of yourselves and have a lovely weekend.