Enjoying Science Fiction of the Seventies: UFO and Space: 1999

By Fred Truyen

While we are stuck in isolation, online video streaming can offer some ways to pass the time. Recently two very interesting shows from the 1970s were posted on Youtube: UFO and Space: 1999. Both are the brainchild of Sylvia and Gerry Anderson, who also signed for the famous marionette animation series The Thunderbirds.

Working relentlessly on science fiction proposals for broadcasters, UFO was their first successful shot at it, with Sylvia Anderson as the artistic mind, also designing the costumes. This mini-series of two seasons was produced on a relatively low budget, but already included quite some elaborate props and designs, such as a complete Moonbase. While definitely in the Sci-Fi genre, and with the main theme of an invasion by Alien Spacecraft, most of the action took place on earth. We are introduced to SHADO, an undercover organisation protecting humankind from alien invaders (comparable to the Man In Black narrative, but without the humour!). SHADO operates under the cover of a film studio, where its headquarters are based underground.

For a series of the Seventies, the vision on the future was rather bold, situating the action in the distant … 1980s! but the nice thing about UFO is that it remains so very ‘seventies’. One of the things that have always attracted me in the Sci-Fi genre, and specifically in Sci-Fi television series: there is not really time available to develop a complete alternative world view, since much of the script centres on a simple one-hour episode plot – so it offers mostly a raw, unpolished view on how people at the time of the creation of the series viewed their world: their fears, expectations and worries. But it is mostly through the details that you can experience – in this case – the Seventies all over: as there is only a superficial layer of fantasy laid over it, it exposes the deep, unconscious and self-evident habits, gestures, social codes, and attitudes that made up an era.

So, of course, the fears can quite easily be identified by the main ingredients of the Cold War: an existential battle of life and death with the alien invader, the threat to humanity, the fears of totalitarian regimes, the technological race for supremacy, and, also typical for many Sci-Fi series of that time, a very militaristic view on society, with heroes who tend to be undisputed “commanders”. UFO does not go so far as Star Trek, where the whole setup is largely copied from life on a US Navy aircraft carrier, but its first seasons certainly amounted nearly to idolatry of the military lifestyle.

But Sylvia Anderson was a very creative mind and it already shows in UFO. There are some special quirks to this series that make it quite charming. Not only did they invent a few futuristic looking vehicles such as the Interceptor (I happened to own a plastic toy version in my youth) and the Skydiver, a combination of submarine and space shuttle launcher, but they also created dress-styling and costuming that sets the series apart. While on earth, a tendency often found in Sci-Fi – to opt for minimalistic, sober, uniform designs (for real diversity in dress code we had to wait for Star Trek: Deep Space Nine in the Nineties) – strangely, the dresses on the Moonbase in UFO were complete fantasy: for some reason all the girls wore a purple wig, and a sexy kind of tight, indoor astronaut suit, and when off duty, they would wear a miniskirt. Undeniably the director and/or the camera operator can be suspected duly of having an obsession with long women’s legs! The interior design of the Moonbase and Main Command base on earth is very consistent, displaying a stylish functionalism.

UFO

Michael Billington (Col. Paul Foster), Ed Bishop (Commander Edward Straker) and Gabrielle Drake (Lt. Gay Ellis) on Moonbase. (Image copyright ITC entertainment)

As for the characters, we get a typical setting: a strong, decisive Commander Edward Straker (Ed Bishop), sometimes conflicted with the hard choices he must make, but never wavering and with an absurd sense of duty (even prioritising to fend off an alien attack over trying to save his son’s life in episode 5: A question of Priorities). We see the reliable, wise sidekick in Col. Alec Freeman, performed by George Sewell, and a brave, sporty, testosterone-inflated hero in astronaut Col. Paul Foster, interpreted by Michael Billington. Later on, a woman’s role rose to prominence in the guise of Colonel Virginia Lake, brought to life by Wanda Ventham (the mother of Benedict Cumberbatch). And then there were the sexy girls of the Moonbase, featuring a.o. Lt Gay Ellis (Gabrielle Drake), highlighted in some lengthier, unnecessary stretched scenes off the main script action, such as when she changes dresses in the launch episode (Episode 1: Identified) while a colleague takes a shower.

Although episode-based, there is an underlying main plot to the whole story expressing a rather more modern fear about the future: the fear of soulless, computer-like beings ruling the world, where humans are just used and controlled. The pieces of this reality come together in the final episode (Episode 26: The Long Sleep).

Watching this series can be specifically interesting from a cultural studies point of view in the ways gender relations are encoded in the non-action scenes. Attractive women seem to wander across the camera viewpoint at random as a kind of background decor. There is also the rather direct way in which Paul Foster and Alec Freeman start courting women. Social rituals that might be felt today as quite grotesque, were probably perceived on the contrary as subtle innuendos by the contemporary audience. In one episode, Colonel Foster gets drunk in a very typical seventies party with the tunes of the Beatles’ “Get Back”. The relations between the main male characters, the steadfast and ever-serious Commander Straker and the maverick, daring, and intrepid Colonel Paul Foster, are elaborated in depth in two pivotal episodes where both men challenge each other (Episode 2: Exposed and Episode 7: Kill Straker). This classic scene of showing off who’s “the boss” recalls some of David Attenborough’s nature documentaries on competing male animals. A narrative spun over a few episodes highlights how Commander Straker cannot marry his duty with his family life, with tragic consequences (Episode 5: A Question of Priorities). But it would be unjust to accuse Sylvia Anderson for stereotyping, when on the contrary she did add complexity to the characters she developed, which contributed to the success of the series. It is more today’s nearly 50-year distance which lays bare a quite different social society. The end result was very good TV, highly appreciated in its time, and with still quite an active, nostalgic fan base.

Their second endeavour, Space: 1999 was by all criteria a major step up. It was a co-production of ITC Entertainment with the Italian national broadcaster RAI. Not only was there a sizeable budget increase, a choice was made to hire two American actors (Barbara Bain, portraying Dr. Helena Russel, and Martin Landau, taking the role of Alpha Moonbase Commander John Koenig) to be at the centre of the narrative. The lead dynamics between these two main characters defines the series, and their acting talent carries much of the tension. And, as UFO showings proved that the Moonbase episodes were the most popular, the action was completely transposed in Space. Actually the Moonbase became, once the moon broke out of Earth’s orbit due to a nuclear waste disaster, the epicentre of the galaxy and the subsequent journey through space. The leading theme would become the often fruitless quest for a new home planet, never giving up hope and testing the resolve of the about 300 survivors on Moonbase Alpa.

Space1999_Year1_Title

The fanciful dresses of the Moonbase staff in UFO were swapped for Star Trek-style uniforms. For me, it is rather funny to watch since my father actually had similar pyjamas and since his general posture resembled very much that of the Commander Koenig, I cannot escape the feeling of seeing my father in the midst of interstellar action … in his pyjamas! Anyway this series was on all levels a better production, that could easily match Star Trek in quality, but circulated much less in audiences across the world.

To continue the plot, which seems very much visionary: due to the mishandlings of quite incompetent, even evil politicians, a badly controlled nuclear waste dump on the moon exploded, pushing the moon out of orbit, and into an interstellar voyage, in which the cast explores a multitude of new worlds in their quest for a new home. Contact with earth is lost, but it is assumed the fate of the earthlings is dire. From UFO, the series inherits the Moonbase, but introduces a new space shuttle, the Eagle, which also became a much sought-after toy in the late seventies and early eighties! And yes, I confess I owned one. The lead characters are assisted again by a more daring astronaut, Alan Carter, played by Nick Tate, who sometimes challenges Koenig’s authority. Another important role is for Barry Morse, who plays scientific advisor Victor Bergman. This series has more commonality with the original Star Trek series than UFO. It contains much more elaborate philosophical dialogues (often featuring Victor Bergman), and has the same adventurous space discovery theme as Star Trek, rather than the very dark, earth-centered alien invasion theme of UFO.

Unfortunately the show ended after two seasons, due to the marriage of Garry and Sylvia Anderson going sour. Certainly a shame, because this British-Italian TV series really could compete with the best and most popular Sci-Fi series of their time.

Given the volatile nature of videos on Youtube, I will not provide direct URL’s but just search for “UFO tv series” and “Space: 1999”. There are Wikipedia articles on both series, the Andersons, and the different actors about whom you might want to read.

Enjoy!

Violence and Comics

By Nicoletta Mandolini

Cover

Representing Acts of Violence in Comics

Eds Nina Mickwitz, Ian Horton and Ian Hague

New York: Routledge

ISBN: 978-1-138-48453-5

Hardback: 120.00 £

Ebook: 22.50 £

There was a time, approximately around the beginning of the second half of the Twentieth Century, when comics were considered as a mere tool for entertainment. Back then, the academic debate on the use of violence in comics was mainly focused on the dangers of displaying gruesome acts by means of such a popular medium, accessed by such a young readership. This resulted in the demonization of graphic narratives, which was followed by important acts of censorship (think, for example, at the strict regulations imposed by the Comics Code Authority in the U.S. during the 1950s). Now that comics’ dignity as an art form has been recognised by critics and academics, the debate has switched and scholars have started asking themselves other, equally important, questions. How can comics contribute to the political act of denouncing the horrors of war? When it comes to sexual and gendered violence, how can comics represent the phenomenon without re-victimising the abused? How does the combination of text and images facilitate the reception of narratives aimed at sensibilising the reader on anti-violence stances?

Representing Acts of Violence in Comics (Routledge 2019), edited by Nina Mickwitz, Ian Horton and Ian Hague, is one of the first scholarly books to address these issues. Paired with its companion volume, Contexts of Violence in Comics (Routledge 2019), the publication stems from a conference organised on the topic of graphic narratives and violence by the Comics UK Forum in 2014 (https://comicsforum.org/comics-forum-archives/comics-forum-2014/). If Contexts of Violence in Comics focuses on critical points such as the issues of history and memory, war and peace, urban conflict, law, justice and censorship, by giving relevance to specific historical and geo-cultural contexts (the Spanish civil war, the Second World War as seen through the lens of French comics, the Lebanese civil war, the Swedish comics market and the Second World War, the use of comics by the American defence industry), Representing Acts of Violence in Comics aims at analysing the narratological and stylistic techniques employed for depicting abuse in graphic narratives.

The editors’ decision to divide the volume in four different sections testifies of the interest in prioritising a medium specific and thematic approach. The first section, entitled Depiction because of the authors’ declared interest in the formal characteristics of the texts, includes contributions on graphic narratives such as Keiji Nakazawa’s manga Barefoot Gen (John Miers), the underground comix anthology magazine Slow Death (Laurike un t’ Veld) and on the representation of biblical violence in Robert Crumb’s The Book of Genesis, Siku’s Manga Bible and the series The Goddamned (Zonne Domoney-Lyttle). The second part, Embodiment, gathers two chapters that look at the body (considered both object of the representation and subject engaged in the physical act of reading) as a crucial component in the representation of violence: Laura A. Pearson’s analysis of Michael Nicoll Yahgulanaas’ Red: A Haida Manga and Ester Szép’s reading of Joe Sacco’s The Great War. The third unit, Humor, looks at irony as a strategy used to portray different kinds of abuse in the British comics Beano (Christopher J. Thompson) and in graphic memoirs centred on episodes of sexual or domestic violence (Nicola Streeten). This last essay functions as a trait d’union with the last and most conspicuous section of the book, dedicated to Gendered and Sexual Violence, with chapters by Maggie Gray on Alan Moore’s The Ballad of Halo Jones, Joseph Willis on The Last Man and The Walking Dead, Jamie Brassett and Richard Raynold on the figure of Marvel’s supervillain Killgrave/The Purple Man.

As this brief summary shows, the analysis is conducted through a close reading that, in some cases, leads to important reflections on graphic narrative’s ability to overcome the problems of representability of abuse and its traumas. Szép’s affective investigation of Joe Sacco’s work, for example, identifies in the performative and, together, material dimension of the reading experience imposed by The Great War’s giant publishing format the possibility to reduce at a minimum the risks of approaching images of violence as a remote spectacle. Another valuable contribution is given by Gray on the ethically controversial matter of representing gendered violence. Supported by her analysis of Moore’s comics strips, she states the imperative, for feminist portrayals interested in describing gender hierarchies without confirming stereotypes or dichotomies, of showing “the dystopian reality of what is, while sketching utopian possibilities of what could be” (155). Graphic narratives, according to Gray, can be considered a powerful tool for such an enterprise.

The table of contents also demonstrates the editors’ effort to diversify the analysis by including studies on different types of violence (direct and indirect abuse, war violence, colonial violence, environmental violence, sexual and gender violence) as they are represented in different typologies of graphic narratives (graphic novels, mainstream comics, independent comics and even research-based comics). Notwithstanding this visible effort, Representing Acts of Violence in Comics mainly focuses on Anglophone texts (the only exception being the Japanese manga Barfoot Gen). This decision, which contradicts Contexts of Violence in Comics’ attempt to follow a global perspective, deprives the volume of a crucial aspect and risks to corrupt the work’s integrity. In presenting their book as a general investigation on violence and comics, without specifying the Anglophone-centric perspective from which the analysis of most contributors clearly stems, the editors somehow confirm the problematic tendency to impose the analysis of cultural products published in English (the language that, not by coincidence, is culturally hegemonic at present) as universal. Far from being a marginal issue, the awareness of power relationships (even in the realm of languages and culture) is an imperative when it comes to every discussion on violence and its representations.comics-4056840_960_720

 

 

 

Research project: Leuven as European Capital of Culture 2030

As cities around the world converge, becoming gradually more similar to one another in sight, it becomes increasingly important to examine the factors contributing to the development of a city’s competitive edge and increasing its attractiveness in the eyes of its inhabitants and visitors alike. Students of cultural studies unanimously position culture among the high ranks of such catalysts, highlighting with their academic and professional devotion the immaterial potential ingrained in experiencing culture.

Leuven is a city with a strong international footprint that oftentimes extends to its cultural sector. The city’s creative field holds vast potential not only as a unique melting pot of diverse and creative productions, but also as a tool of aggregate unification and integration.

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© Liesbet Van Cauteren/Mino Studio

The city’s aim to candidate as European Capital of Culture (ECOC) in 2030 is an inspiring proposal that allowed a team of students from the Master of Cultural Studies to participate firsthand in the preparation of a project of such a scale – incorporating not only the needs of the various communities of Leuven but also their changing preferences over time.

In cooperation with the “Stad Leuven”, a research project was initiated focusing on a more exhaustive overview of the preferences of the international community residing in Leuven. This approach allowed to take into account the comments and proposals of the cultural stakeholders, the residents themselves and their own views upon best strategies of increasing one’s integration in the cultural scene.

The concluding aim was raising awareness for Leuven’s candidacy for the title of ECOC in 2030 in order to popularize this initiative among the city’s residents.

The students, internationals themselves, took this project as an opportunity to examine the very backstage of a city with a strong cultural identity and to become acquainted with the infrastructure of developing and implementing cultural projects of such a scale. The final results will be presented to Leuven’s arts advisory board at the next possible date in April and may potentially serve not only as a strong catalyst for audience development for 2030 but also as an opportunity to review the well-being of the international community in Leuven today.

 Paraskevi Malisioti, Megija Milberga, Anna Puhr

De//Colonize Together

The term “decolonize” has gained popularity over the recent years. One Google search can get you more than 800,000 results within a second. Many organisations develop initiatives concerning the decolonization of a workplace, a museum, an institution, a public space… Not only places can be decolonized, persons can be too. Decolonization is not a process you go through alone, you always decolonize with other people; you always decolonize together.

De//Colonize Together is a project created as a part of the course ‘Cultural Policy’ by Cultural Studies Master students Anke Stroobants, Wannes Van Ingelghem and Kaat Fransen. The end goal of this course is to successfully organize an event or several events concerning a topic of your own choice.

For De//Colonize Together the end goal is the 26th of March with an interesting and evocative evening filled with talented artists from in and around Leuven. Firstly, Peter Verlinden, Africa expert and professor at the KU Leuven, will start off the evening with a reading, and will be interviewed afterwards about his work and the colonization of Africa in general. He will also present his upcoming work “Zwarte trots, witte schaamte” (Black Pride, White Shame), which will hit the bookstores in May 2020. Afterwards we will switch over to poetry and its strong ability to convey emotions that are not so easily expressed through conventional speech. Three spoken word artists of Urban Woorden will present their work on colonization with a political, emotional and personal focus. Together with our partners we decided that with our event we wanted to create a safe space for everyone involved and interested in the topic of decolonization. Everyone is welcome to come and listen to the artists, have a nice drink and talk openly about what is on their mind.

For more information, visit our Facebook page and event on https://www.facebook.com/decolonizeleuven/. Feel free to contact us with questions or remarks via Facebook or via decolonizeleuven@gmail.com.

decolonize together

IN / BETWEEN PLACES

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Christian Milovanoff, Still from Travail dramaturgique autour du livre Bureaux, 2017

IN / BETWEEN PLACES brings together artists and poets/writers who contributed to PLACE, an online magazine that promotes encounters between various artistic practices and theoretical writings. For the first time, the exhibition reunites these artists within a specific physical setting in order to create a dialogue between the virtual space of the magazine and the real space of the gallery. The latter can be understood as the material counterpart of the digital platform, inviting thus the visitor to travel between these spaces – the virtual and the real – of which the frontiers become increasingly porous in our contemporary media society. If most of the displayed artworks may refer to different kinds of places, the exhibition’s particular focus concerns the question of how the digital place of the Internet and the physical environment of the gallery provide specific forms of displaying art that, rather than being confined to their proper spheres, might be conceived as distinct but communicating and interacting contexts that create places situated in/between the virtual and the real.

Contributing artists: Alexander Apóstol, Jan Baetens, Paul Bogaert, Vincent Broqua, Thierry De Cordier, Michel Delville, Denis Deprez, Peter Downsbrough, Mark Geffriaud, Kenneth Goldsmith, Suzanne Lafont, Pascal Leclercq, Christian Milovanoff, Sinna Bryce Nasseri, Jan Peeters, Michael Punt, Narmine Sadeg, Alexander Schellow/ARG, Agnès Thurnauer, Elisabeth Waltregny

Curators: Alexander Schellow (ERG) and Alexander Streitberger (UCLouvain)


Opening: 12 March 2020, 7 pm
With an online talk – Kenneth Goldsmith with Laurence Rassel / Gabriel Franjou, live streamed on ergTV 8 pm.

Public event: 13 March, 2 pm – 5 pm
Introduction PLACE by Narmine Sadeg / Jan Baetens,
Artist talk moderated by Alexander Streitberger / Alexander Schellow
Lectures by Michael Punt and ARG (AnimationResearchGroup)
Performance by Mark Geffriaud 13 March, 10 pm, starting at ERG – main entrance, rue du Page 87


Exhibition display: William Reidiboym, Giuliana Diada, Dorian Timmermans

In cooperation with ergTV


IN/BETWEEN PLACES
L’Ecole de Recherche Graphique (l’ERG) in Brussels
12 – 19 March 2020
From Monday to Friday, 10 am – 6 pm
Free admission
Rue du Page 87, 1050 Brussels, Belgium
Phone : +32 2 538 98 29

Look What You Made Us Do. An Examination of Precarity in the Arts

We often equate the life of an independent artist with one of glamor and embellishment, spending their euros from sales on tubes of paint or a brick-walled studio with big windows and natural light. Rarely do we consider the invisible hours strained over meticulously budgeting and submitting and networking and documenting.

What began as one look into a performance summoning culture spectators and enthusiasts to show support-in-numbers by way of attendance and capital, quickly became an appeal to artists to share their stories.

On March 18, at The Poetics of Precarity. Literature, Art and the Precarious Condition held in the Faculty of the Arts, we will premier our video dialogue with artists about these strains and struggles and the hidden mental gymnastics required to maintain a life as an artist. These culture creators – essential for community, beauty, and discourse – have shared their testimonies with us for our Look What You Made Us Do awareness campaign.

Look what you made us do

The conference is a four-day program exploring the foundation of the precarious lifestyle:

“The conference ‘The Poetics of Precarity’ focuses on the intellectual and cultural imaginations of precarity from a historical point of view. Since the 1980s, sociological precarity theories have provided an influential and productive discursive model to describe the work and life conditions in post-Fordist and global capitalism. Precarity and acquainted notions like ‘precarisation’ capture various aspects and effects of the socio-economic processes that gradually push more and more sections of the population in an intensified state of uncertainty and contingency. These structural developments have generated a new ‘dangerous’ class, the ‘precariat’, that manifests itself in protest movements such as the ‘Mayday Movement’ or, most recently, the ‘Yellow Vests’. These narratives, concepts and phenomena not only have poetical and theatrical dimensions of their own; they have inspired cultural and artistic production as well. By way of aesthetic experiments, artists and writers have tried to mediate and shape the imagination and perception of precarious realities. New poetic tools and writing strategies have been developed to represent, explore, transmit, legitimize or criticize the many faces of precarity. Up to now, these trends and their imaginative and aesthetic foundations have solely been examined by focusing on the novelty of the contemporary precarious condition. Whereas precarity has always been a part of capitalism and modernity, exactly this aspect has been neglected. The conference will explore the historical origins of the intellectual traditions and aesthetic reflections of the imagination of precarity from a variety of angles; its goal is to engage upon a critical dialogue between sociologists, political theorists and literary scholars, but also with writers and artists themselves.”

The testimonies illuminate the tedium and stress endured behind the scenes. Look What You Made Us Do was conceived in the wake of the Flemish Cultural Minister’s proposed budget cuts for the arts by 60%. The policy, which has since been enacted, envisaged cutting subsidies given to cultural institutions to cover their operating funds and specific projects. Many artists shared their thoughts and we are humbled to present them to a broader audience in the coming months. Stay tuned!


For more info:

https://www.arts.kuleuven.be/german-literature/precarity2020

https://www.facebook.com/lookwhatyoumadeusdo

lookwhatyoumadeusdo@gmail.com

De//colonize the mind

As the 30th of June will mark the 50th anniversary of the independence of the Democratic Republic of Congo, many questions subsist. Whilst those who lived in the colonies recall with nostalgia their times in Africa, much of the younger generation seems to know close to nothing to the ties that bind Belgium to Congo. Who is to blame? A government that never took responsibility for the atrocities which it inflicted upon a nation? An education system that fails to accomplish its critical duty when it comes to reflect on our national past? Or a social mass that seems to remain indifferent to colonialism, vaguely perceived as a gift of civilization to poorer lands?

De//colonize Leuven does not have an easy answer to these complicated questions. However, this project, created by Masters students of Cultural studies for their Cultural Policy project, calls for actions against a system that is deemed both obsolete and unfair. This year, Caroline Vervloet, Shushanna Shakaryan and Nina Teugels partnered with Nora Mohammed from the Dutch-Flemish house for debates De Buren to tackle the question of the decolonization of education in Belgium.

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The project aims at raising awareness about Belgium’s colonial history, on the one hand, and sensitizing the public on the importance of decolonization, on the other hand. In its own way, it hopes to engage in the process of changes in education, which are necessary in Belgium for the construction of a fairer society.

The event will be an interactive evening for students led by Miguel Heilbron and Hari Prasad Adhikari Sacré, our two guests.

Miguel Heilbron (Fawaka WereldBurgerschap& the Black Archives) will give a session on “World Citizenship”, discussing the legacies of colonialism and transatlantic slavery, among other things. He will discuss the various developments already visible in Education in the Netherlands and encourage the audience to participate in a collective brainstorm on the changes that could be done on our own educational system.

Hari Prasad Adhikari Sacré (For All Queens & UGent) will bring a completely different and refreshing approach to the decolonization debate. He will do a live story telling on his Samsara series (exploring displacement), followed by a workshop.

Rendez-vous the 5th of March at 19:30! RSVP desired, please book your tickets (for free) at www.deburen.eu.
More info on the Facebook Page: https://www.facebook.com/events/539062580062613/
Address: Naamsestraat 69 , 3000 Leuven. Hogenheuvelcollege kapel 00.50
There will be beverages!