Friday Arts Diary | 8 November 2013

Our cultural picks for the week ahead.

Exhibition

World Press Photo 2013

Friday 8th November – Tuesday 26th November

Southbank Centre, Royal Festival Hall

This year’s World Press Photo winners capture a world in jarring transition, at scales ranging from the intimate to the industrial. The winner of the Spot News category may well become an enduring image of the Israeli-Palestine conflict; ‘Gaza Burial’, taken by Swedish photojournalist Paul Hansen, depicts the chilling scene of two dead toddlers, killed by an Israeli airstrike, being carried by their weeping uncles to a mosque, down a hazy, narrow alleyway.

 

Radio

I'm Sorry I Haven’t a Clue

Monday 11th November, BBC Radio 4, 6:30pm

Series 60, Episode 1

The preeminent and completely silly Radio 4 panel show – or, as it calls itself, the ‘antidote to panel shows’ – started in April 1972, and it shows no sign of slowing as it begins its diamond jubilee run. Prepare for the usual surreal, witty musical diversions from Barry Cryer, Graeme Garden and Tim Brooke-Taylor, joined by guest panelist John Finnemore. Jack Dee morosely chairs the affair, and Colin Sell ties the whole thing together at the piano. As the wonderful Humphrey Lyttleton once ended a round: ‘All good things must come to an end, so let's carry on.’
Recorded at the Playhouse Theatre in Weston-super-Mare.

 

Music Festival

London Jazz Festival

Friday 15th November- Sunday 24th November

Various venues around London

This year marks the 21st birthday of London’s biggest city-wide music festival. All grown-up, the festival is now spread across ten days, and takes in an extraordinary range of live music played in venues of all varieties, from Snarky Puppy’s slot at Shoreditch’s red-bricked Village Underground to the soulful voice of Natalie Williams playing the once-smoky, still-venerated stage of Ronnie Scott’s in Soho.

 

Film

Gravity

Released: Friday 8th November, 2013

Critics and audiences are falling for Alfonso Cuarón’s latest effort, which has just broken the all-time box-office record for an October release, grossing over £250m, and has so far earned a meta-rating of 97% on Rotten Tomatoes. Gravity stars Sandra Bullock and George Clooney as greenhorn medical engineer and grizzled astronaut forced to work together after a straightforward shuttle mission goes drastically wrong.

Or, if sci-fi isn’t your thing, and you’re in London on Monday 11 November, you can head down to Leicester Square to try and catch a glimpse of Jennifer Lawrence at the premiere of the new Hunger Games film, Catching Fire.

 

Comedy

Stewart Lee: Much a-Stew About Nothing

Leicester Square Theatre

4th – 30th November, 7:15pm (Mon to Sat), 4pm (Sat)

Tickets £17.50 (Mon to Thu), £20.50 (Fri & Sat)

The dry, sardonic and obnoxiously meta comedian - once proudly ranked the 41st  best stand-up of all time, and made infamous after penning ‘Jerry Springer: The Opera’ - will be in residence at the Leicester Square Theatre this month, presenting ‘a mixed bag of unrelated ideas, read off of some crumpled bits of paper’ in preparation for his new TV series in 2014.  If jokes about William Blake and 20-minute Beckettian digressions about a man made of carpet remnants sound like your kind of show, grab a ticket now, as it’s likely to sell out fast.

Paul Hansen accepts his World Press Photo award (Getty Images/Robin Utrecht)
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The boy who lies: what the Daily Prophet can teach us about fake news

The students at Hogwarts are living in an echo chamber of secrets.

They can make objects levitate, conjure up spirit animals and harness the power of invisibility. But perhaps the strangest thing about the witches and wizards of the Harry Potter universe is that despite all their magic, they still rely on old-fashioned print media for their news.

Although the Daily Prophet bills itself as “the wizarding world’s beguiling broadsheet of choice”, the reality is that its readers have no choice at all. Wizards don’t have their own television network – the risk of muggles accidentally tuning in was deemed too high – they don’t generally use the internet, and rival publications are virtually non-existent. (No, Witch Weekly doesn’t count.)

JK Rowling clearly sought to satirise the press in her portrayal of the Prophet, particularly through its poisonous celebrity journalist Rita Skeeter and her tenuous relationship with the truth. And in doing so, the author highlighted a phenomenon that has since become embedded within the muggle political landscape – fake news, and how quickly it can spread.

In the run-up to the recent French presidential election, an Oxford University study found that up to a quarter of related political stories shared on Twitter were fake – or at least passing off “ideologically extreme” opinion as fact.

While they don’t have social media at Hogwarts – probably for the better, despite the countless Instagram opportunities that would come with living in an enchanted castle – made-up stories travel fast by word of mouth (or owl.) The students are so insulated from the outside world, the house system often immersing them in an echo chamber of their peers, they frequently have no way to fact-check rumours and form rational opinions about current events.

When the Ministry of Magic flatly refuses to believe that Voldemort has returned – and uses the Prophet to smear Harry and Dumbledore – most students and their parents have no choice but to believe it. “ALL IS WELL”, the Prophet’s front page proclaims, asking pointedly whether Harry is now “The boy who lies?”

While Harry eventually gets his side of the story published, it’s in The Quibbler – a somewhat niche magazine that’s not exactly light on conspiracy theories – and written by Skeeter. He is telling the truth – but how is anyone to really know, given both the questionable magazine and Skeeter’s track record?

After Voldemort’s followers take over the Ministry, the Prophet stops reporting deaths the Death Eaters are responsible for and starts printing more fake stories – including a claim that muggle-born wizards steal their magical powers from pure-bloods.

In response, Harry and his allies turn to their other meagre sources such as The Quibbler and Potterwatch, an underground pirate radio show that requires a password to listen – useful to some, but not exactly open and accessible journalism.

Rowling is clear that Harry’s celebrity makes it hard for him to fit in at Hogwarts, with fellow students often resenting his special status. Do so many believe the Prophet’s smear campaign because they were unconsciously (or actively) looking forward to his downfall?

We are certainly more likely to believe fake news when it confirms our personal biases, regardless of how intelligently or critically we think we look at the world. Could this explain why, at the start of last week, thousands of social media users gleefully retweeted a Daily Mail front page calling on Theresa May to step down that was blatantly a poorly-edited fake?

The non-stop Hogwarts rumour mill illustrates the damage that a dearth of reliable sources of information can cause to public debate. But at the other end of the scale, the saturation of news on the muggle internet means it can also be hugely challenging to separate fact from fiction.

No one is totally free from bias – even those people or sources whose opinions we share. In this world of alternative facts, it is crucial to remember that all stories are presented in a certain way for a reason – whether that’s to advance a political argument, reaffirm and promote the writer’s own worldview, or stop an inconvenient teenage wizard from interfering with the Ministry of Magic’s plans.

Now read the other articles included in the New Statesman’s Harry Potter Week.

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