Joseph Ernst: Red Riding Graphic Designer Of My Dreams

This Red Riding promotional picture (ident?) by Joseph Ernst is the best thing I have seen not only this week but possibly, idk, ever. *hearts for eyes emoji*. Pylons! Cooling towers! Other excellent landscape features! Maxine Peake’s beautiful haunted face looking beautiful and haunted! Different filters demarkating different time periods!

somebody's heaven

The torn paper palimpsest (shout out to everyone else who first learnt that word from The Handmaid’s Tale) effect looks like the peeling posters of yesterday’s entertainments pasted up by Bill Stickers and left to decay in the rain. It’s like a microcosm of the kind of media quotidian milieu — everyday life sculpted from the cultural artefacts of a given time and place, that carry within them the aspirations and anxieties of that society — that I love banging on about in my thesis and anywhere else I get the chance to.

My only complaint is that it could do with a bit more Sean Harris and a bit less of the massive number 4, but then again, couldn’t we all?

The ident is otherwise perfect. It’s such a pungent distillation of the kind of Northern neo noir visual tropes that really gives off the flavour of ‘Yorkshire noir’ that Peace has sought to establish: pure ‘gritty bafta’ iconography. I strongly recommend clicking on the image for a bigger version and having a good old gawp for a bit, and also maybe clicking aimlessly around Ernst’s website for a while.

Re: Harris’ absence from this picture, I partly say this in jest because I am known to be a big fan of his, but also, were I blocking the positions on this image, I would have placed Harris (who plays Bob Craven) where the character Bill Molloy (Warren Clarke) is standing. It would have been helpful to me if Ernst had in fact done so as I could have used it to support my interpretation of the texts that suggests a northern true crime -inflected re-mapping of the kind of situation described by Eve Kosofsky Segewick’s theory of homosociality. She adapts Rene Girard’s conception of triangulation, whereby the classic two dudes competing for one lady love triangle is a sublimation of strong social and/or sexual feelings between the men in question. And I in turn re-imagine this triangulation in a different context — more twisted power play than classic love rivals.

In the second Red Riding film (Red Riding: In The Year Of Our Lord 1980) the three characters played by Paddy Constantine, Sean Harris and Maxine Peake, who are all police officers and all find themselves working on an internal team looking into the possible mishandling of the Yorkshire Ripper investigation, have a fraught set of relations. Peter Hunter (Constantine) has been having an affair with Helen Marshall (Peake), now over, and Bob Craven (Harris) not only makes it his business to both hamper Hunter’s investigation as much as he possibly can, whilst being openly rude and obstructive to his colleagues, but to use Marshall as the object of explicit verbal sexual harassment, and also to threaten Hunter in a weirdly intimate and homoerotic style (the classic Harris move, featured in several of his roles, of rubbing his head down people’s faces whilst mumbling cryptic threats: master of the Creepy Bastard role). This all leads up to the blood-drenched hammer-clutching twist reveal.

So, basically, the three of them have this weird quasi-love-triangle dominance struggle thing going on, which forms the nucleus of the second film, in my reading of it at least, so, wang us some Harris in the left corner Ernst so I can use your picture as an example of how other people can see this too I didn’t just totally make it up. #academiainanutshell

Roles 2014

But, that was a minor nitpick. I’m trying to work on turning my paper about this theme that I presented a paper (partially) about at the Roles Sexuality and Gender conference in May into an essay for Roles’ forthcoming edited essay collection (WATCH THIS SPACE) based on the proceedings of that conference, and so, obviously, I have a bee in my bonnet about this facet of the RR films.


Delicious Research

delicious research

This week’s #AcWriBloMo is draw your research in the form of a cake or other foodstuff. Because #yolo. My thesis is about representations of the Moors Murders and Peter Sutcliffe in popular culture. I don’t know how well I summarised it but the tiny haircuts took me ages so, wevs.

Next week’s theme, in honour of the start of term, is about new stuff – new ideas, new directions, new beginnings.


This reminds me that I did once make murderer biscuits for a fashion/talent show (Hamburger Queen). To be honest I misunderstood how coherent my stage persona was supposed to be, so, because I was doing a talk about the aesthetics of murder for the talent round I thought, welp, better run with this. I got my comeuppance for this foolhardy (AND WILDLY INAPPROPRIATE, PROBABLY) idea; the judges weren’t very impressed with either the taste or the aesthetics. One of them said my Fred and Rose West looked like the Beatles, and then the host Scottee accidentally dropped my Hindley biscuit down a gap in the stage because it was crumblier than expected. Here she was:


I’m definitely a proper academic.

Gritty Bafta

Gritty. Bafta? Gritty Bafta.

I’ve decided to use this blog/my #AcWriBloMo challenge to directly engage with texts as I go along. So here is a kind of microblog closely looking at the comedy sketch ‘Gritty Bafta’ from (the otherwise unspectacular) The Kevin Bishop Show:– a response to and engagement with the famously bleak and northern ch4 drama series Red Riding (2009), consisting of a 3 part film set of adaptations of David Peace’s quartet of novels. {No I’m not going to properly format the title because nuts to you, you’re not my thesis.}

Its title references ‘grit’, in the context of a term for something which is both style and a genre of crime drama — a mode perhaps? a flavour? one that hinges predominantly around conveying certain types of locations and masculinities (and that is also found elsewhere, not just in crime, the Western for example is another – a genre that Red Riding plays with, and pastiches with noir, in a way that is in the direct lineage of both film and novel The Third Man). The other half of the title is the BAFTA (British Film And Television Award), creating a specifically British context, but also poking fun not only directly at Red Riding but also at the conventions of ‘serious’ drama and the tendency for such kinds of drama, dealing with “difficult” topics (in specific kinds of ways) to be over-represented in award success. This is alluded to in the glibly vague voiceover

‘it’s the 70’s, someone’s in care, probably, there’s a prostitute, almost definitely […] coming soon to channel 4, and all award ceremonies’

The genericness and vagueness of the pitch (‘probably’ – ‘and other people you sort of recognise’) combined with the use of a nonsense filler phrase rather than sample dialogue — the equivalent of ‘rhubarb rhubarb’ or ipsem loren — highlights the genericness and thus keeps the focus firmly on genre. The lack of verbal content also puts emphasis on the visual, spatial, sound elements, and the performance of the bodily actor as well as the meaning of the actor’s persona and how this inflects the text.

photo 2

[This bit where Kevin Bishop plays Sean Bean (in a mash up between the character he plays and the police setting, which we never encounter him in) is also a great nod towards the way RR deals with location and the frequency with which characters are portrayed in corridors, staircases, entrances, underpasses, underground car parks,  and other labyrinthine architectural structures — for an excellent blog post on Red Riding‘s use of this theme (also referencing The Third Man, go here.]

The star personas represented here are united by their status as high level British character actors, but low level celebrity staus (‘Samantha Morton, Sean Bean David Thewlis, and other people you’ve sort of heard of’), perhaps rendering their connection less of a ‘star system’ a la Richard Dyer’s conception, and more an ‘actor intertext’ (to use, as I frequently find I do and that it has filled a pressing need in my research, a term coined by Bethan Jones) — these actors, all northerners, also all have resumes stuffed with the gritty as well as the bafterous. (And indeed we may recall that Morton famously played Myra Hindley in the, award-winning of course, 2006 film Longford.)

In The Guardian’s Pop Culture 2009 list, just before mentioning the ‘Gritty Bafta’ sketch alongside its source material, RR was  described as having

‘an all-star lineup of maximum grit. Paddy Considine. Maxine Peake. Sean Bean: even the actors’ names sound like something you’d see written on a long-haul truck.’

Likewise, Justin Quirk, in his otherwise extremely sharp, astute and searching review of Red Riding, lists some of the cast in a throwaway fashion,

‘Lesley Sharp, David Morrissey and Maxine Peake also crop up, chinking tumblers of whisky and crying, “To the north – where we do what we want!” ‘

when quite patently only one of the actors listed (significantly, and hardly surprisingly, the only male one) is shown doing this. It may seem nitpicky, but, these kind of generalisations create a cumulative effect of implying that the northernness of these actors is of primary importance over their specificity, and that they, as is anyone othered in this fashion, are general, interchangeable, replaceable.

rr colour

 You may have already read some of my tangential musings on Red Riding‘s use of colour on my previous post about Utopia; well, if brown is the colour of history, washed-out is often the colour palette of late twentieth century grit. Gone are the stark black and whites (mostly black) of noir, in favour of murky mid-tones.

I found an a good summary of this by Christina H on comedy list website Cracked,which actually (sort of) works as genuine critique in spite of its humorous intention

‘the visuals need to get the point across that this is a bleak, joyless world with no easy answers and no happy endings, which is equivalent to no distinguishable colors. In a world where you can’t tell an enemy from a friend, it just seems logical you wouldn’t be able to tell green from red.For example, Man of Steel showcased a Superman so conflicted he couldn’t even remember what colors Superman wears.

 (bonus points for how Christina’s example image gets in a bit of gritty corridor marching seriousness for good measure)

If you think trawling comedy sites for potential cultural studies references is bad, you should see how many eons of time I waste on tv tropes, counterbalancing my laughter by sighing that no-one’s written an academic book on most of it yet. My good friend Dewi Evans, the author of brilliant Agatha Christie blog Styles of Dying,  once said something to me along the lines of cultural studies is what starts when you stop laughing at something  and start examining it. I’m paraphrasing because we were probably in the pub when he said it, but, it’s a pretty excellent summary of the whole process (as well as a salve for my constant feeling of being gazumped by Chris Morris all the time). Comedy usually gets in first and laughs botyh last and loudest, but academia is (relatively) easier to get into, and involves far less being booed offstage in the initial stages.

The sketch this post discusses is engaged in identifying and re-presenting  important tropes in

  1. The text (RR)
  2. In the genre it more broadly lampoons

I mean, that’s basically the entire essence of satire, that it replicates that which it critiques.

We have, the body of an attractive female victim (which is a constant in visual crime forms – but the slab use felt particularly Prime Suspect-y to me), a brief salute in the direction of a dream, delusion, supernatural or occult element in her waking at the end, we have the typical locations, the use of faded, dim colours, the dialogue delivery style and type of actors we would expect (the stars of whom add to it’s ‘quality drama’ feel as well rather than the kind of jobbing actor training school — whose alumi retrospective create a set of star references — provided by, say, The Bill), we have the rain, the police, the costumes and styling. And furthermore, we even have the type of credits and moorscape that strongly resembles that of See No Evil (2006) – which I find a particularly interesting reference because of the use of the ‘Samatha Morton’ character is kind of a feint for Maxine Peake, who also played Hindley, but in See No Evil, and Helen Marshall in Red Riding: In the Year of Our Lord 1980 . The sketch also creates an excellent miniature pastiche of Dickon Hinchliffe’s (amazing) soundtrack to this same film, merged with ‘generically drama-y music’ – nodding both to the generic audio tropes we expect from this kind of television but also to the specifics that made RR stand out.


Finally someone else has noticed this too:

I’ve been telling people this for EVER. The outfits are even identical. They are making this series SUCH A TROLL.
Which two guys famously had a feisty younger female companion to help them pick up young people and put them in harms way? 

told you so

But in all seriousness, you do have to wonder if the iconic Brady mug shot image has, in permeating the cultural unconscious to the extent that it has, made itself available as a template to be plucked from the ether when an actor who resembles him and a strangely similar logistical and power dynamic happens to come along. I know it is at risk of trivialising to compare the two, but, allusions to elements of these famous archetypes are how popular culture quickly and efficiently creates certain atmospheres subtextually without having to ever explicitly announce a connection. It seems almost disingenuous to deny that the makers of Who and Capaldi himself have been making claims for how much “darker” etc this series is going to be. Emulating the Brady mugshot suiting (or rather, the kind of masculinity and dark austerity of purpose that it has come to signify) doesn’t exactly hurt when emphasising that facet of the Doctor. And of course, all texts by virtue of their very existence automatically are in dialogue with all other texts, be they pictures or murderers or episodes of alien adventure shows.

what time of year was it what jumper were you wearing

However unintended, there is certainly the possibility for an extremely creepy reading of the Doctor (thanks for taking this and running with it, Moffat): one that foregrounds the quasi-imperialist, instrumentalist, gendered power-imbalanced implications of this 900-odd year old alien from a ~more advanced race legging it from his war-related crimes and coming to earth to almost exclusively pick up young earth women for unpaid PA duties and sort of semi-romantic pseudo-sexual relationships.
(Which of course only became yet more noticeable as he got made the king of the gin and bunting nationalist brigade. We might know him by the company he keeps and so forth..)
Just batting around some ideas, but, ultimately: HMMMM.

*Sits back and waits for all the Whovians who haven’t already wtf-ed at me IRL about this to pile in*

#AcWriBloMo and The Many Crastinations of the Academic Blogger

I’ve decided that now is the time to raise my academic blogging game. This old thing just sits here gathering the internetual equivalent of dust, when there’s “impact” and “engagement” to be had in them there equally internetual hills. And, what’s more, I genuinely have a lot of ideas I want to share with the world, you guys! And a lot of conversations about stuff that I would love to have with anyone who happens to be reading this. However, I am quite bad at motivating myself to do things that are scary, which for some reason blogging is, in a stage-fright, feeling vulnerable and exposed kind of a way. So I have decided to motivate myself in two ways:


The process whereby you put off doing actual work by doing other work-related things that aren’t currently as urgent or important. This is how I get 90% of anything done tbh: by finding something else I want to do less.

This is perhaps one of the most benign forms of crastination, a suffix that can also be used with many other words. Some of my favourites include woecrastination (making yourself too miserable to work by telling yourself you’re useless, awful, etc, possibly also looking at pictures of exes, thinking of mean things people have said about you, all the unpleasant things you have ever done in your life, etc, etc), ragecrastination (reading below the line, ever), and lookingathorribletatonebaycrastination (for e.g., wowsers).

Right now I am putting off writing a book proposal, an essay for a book, a vastly overdue essay for an online publication, the last two or three sections of the chapter I’m working on, doing a segmentation of a weird and annoying film that is taking forrrrrreeveerrrrrrrr, and, oh, just the usual hilariously long list of other things that I don’t want to think about that are lurking formlessly around me like moth-ball smelling ghosts of old debts. Suffice to say, writing a blog post instead suddenly seems wildly more attractive than it did previously.

me and my obligations, yesterday

me and my obligations, yesterday

2) Peer Pressure: (public shame as motivational tactic etc)

I run a group over on the facebook for postgrads and early career researchers to moan about stuff and find solace in one another’s moaning.

You should join us, it’s lovely, honestly. Anyway, I only started it so that I had other people to moan at and ask questions that seemed really stupid to, but now we have 300+ members so who’s stupid now? Well, still me, or at least, probably no less stupid than I was then, but at least I have people to help me. So I have talked them into joining me in a self-imposed #AcWriBloMo, in which we write a blog post a week for the next 4 weeks (how long is a month? how does time even work? what do words even mean? whatever).

We’ll be using that hashtag on twitter and facebook (sporadically, I expect) over the next 4 weeks while we try to do a blog post a week (roughly), each centred around a different loose theme. The first week’s theme is ‘taking stock’, which is what this post is meant to be about —  it can be taking stock of where you are in your research, maybe, or where you are in your blogging, or your career, or your field, or a specific task you’re working on (or any combination of the above) — just any kind of situating yourself in where you are currently.

Next week’s theme, or, perhaps more accurately, challenge, is to finish a previously-started but uncompleted blog post. I currently have 12 drafts (most of them cryptic three word aid memoires that do no such thing) so the choice is abundant.

As for the current topic:

Where Am I Now

For me, right now, I am just about to start my third year of my PhD, which is on representations of the Moors Murderers and Yorkshire Ripper in popular culture. My thesis will have a chapter on true crime, a chapter on fiction, a chapter on tv and film, and a chapter on music. I would have liked to have a chapter on visual culture and art but mate it is literally amazing how quickly you can spend a massive word limit. I suppose to be honest I feel like I have covered this area already to some extent already in my MA disseration (entitled ‘Visuality, Tourism and the Pop-Cultural Proliferation of Myra Hindley’, and something that I still, in spite of having handed it in getting on for 4 years ago, have done nothing about publishing/doing anything, but that’s a whole other vortex of worry for another day). I’ve just been working on the tv and film chapter, covering these tv shows and films:

This Is Personal: The Hunt for the Yorkshire Ripper (2000)

See No Evil (2006)

The Red Riding series of tv film adaptations (2009)


Longford (2006)

Peter: Portrait Of A Serial Killer (2011)

And chances are if this blog challenge goes to plan I will be returning to tell you more about all of these in the nearness of soon.

In the meantime, if you would like to get involved in this blog challenge, please feel free to comment below or join us on #AcWriBloMo, and please check back over the next 4 weeks. Thanks for reading.