Tag Archives: Martin Cooper

Terrorists and psychopaths: standing on the shoulders of creative giants

I was watching Penn & Teller: Fool Us on ITV last night and they did a trick in which a long ribbon-like sheet was wrapped round and round a 9-year-old boy’s neck. Penn on one side and Teller on the other then stood apart and pulled the opposite ends of the sheet tightly and… of course, the sheet unravelled and came away from the boy’s neck.

A variation on the cutting-the-knot-out-of-a-rope trick.

I was amazed this had been screened – presumably the defence is that it was after the nine o’clock watershed.

The possibility of children doing this to each other – wrapping a sheet or length of material or rope around another child’s neck and pulling it, killing the child, seems quite high to me.

I once interviewed the British Film Censor John Trevelyan. He was highly important in Britain, because he was in charge of British film censorship 1958-1971 when everything changed.

He told me that, as Secretary of the British Board of Film Classification, he had had a panel of psychologists advising him and, as a result, he had made slight cuts to the 1968 movie The Boston Stranger. He had cut the sound of ripping fabric which was heard as the leering strangler’s face was seen while attacking a victim. He had been told the sound of ripping fabric was a ‘trigger’ and a stimulant to would-be rapists.

He also cut scenes where sex acts were immediately followed – or were interrupted – by murder, especially involving knives or sharp instruments. Again, this was because he was told it was a turn-on for psychos. These scenes are now almost de rigueur in slasher movies… A teenage couple are having sex in a bunk in an isolated cabin; one or both of them are then immediately skewered by a deadly sharp implement.

Generally, though, I don’t believe that violence on the movie or TV screen really affects ordinary, non-psychopathic adults. And you can’t fully run your culture by making concessions in case a psycho gets an idea from a movie or TV show.

It is the Nature v Nurture debate.

Or, more correctly, Nutter v Nurture.

If 50 million people see a movie and one person copies it, the cause lies within the person not the movie

When news of the bomb explosion and island massacre in Norway started coming through yesterday – particularly the island massacre – a friend said to me: “It’s like some movie” and, increasingly, over the last 50 years, psycho and terrorist attacks have been getting like what you see in the movies.

When the Twin Towers were attacked on 9/11 everyone was saying, “Ooh – It’s just like a disaster movie.”

Maybe psychos and terrorists are being made more creative by access to other, more creative minds.

Novels, movies and sometimes even episodic TV series are written by more-than-averagely-creative minds. To get a movie script, a novel or a TV series made and out there and available to a mass market, you often – well, sometimes – have to have a spark, perhaps even a giant flame, of originality.

Rod Serling, who created The Twilight Zone, reportedly died still blaming himself for writing a 1966 TV movie called The Doomsday Flight which was a then-highly-original story about a bomb on board an airliner which has an altitude-sensitive trigger device. Unless a ransom is paid, the bomb will explode when the plane descends to land.

Apparently Serling blamed himself because, after this TV movie was screened, the PLO and others started a spate of airliner hijackings and bombings. He blamed himself because he thought they might have seen or heard of the plot and decided to target planes.

To me, this does not sound likely – the plot is too far removed from what became an ordinary terrorist attack – though it does make me wonder where the idea for the 1994 movie Speed may have come from.

But creative thinkers have always driven reality. The skylines of modern cities were clearly inspired by decades of science fiction films dating back to Metropolis and beyond. We are now building what we were once told would be our future. The fictional thought of flat screen TVs has been around for maybe 50 years. The concept of the hovercraft was surely partly inspired by endless hovercraft in sci-fi comics and novels. And famously, of course, sci-fi novelist Arthur C Clarke wrote an article in Wireless World in 1945 proposing the concept of communication satellites.

Martin Cooper, who developed the first hand-held mobile phone, said that he had been inspired to do it by seeing the hand-held communicators on Star Trek.

Irish novelist Robert Cromie’s 1895 book The Crack of Doom described a bomb which used the energy from an atom. I do not know if anyone on the Manhattan Project had ever read it – perhaps the idea would have come about anyway – but the idea of an atomic bomb was around for 50 years before it became a reality.

Of course, conspiracy theory thinking and making links where none exist is always a dangerous temptation.

Iconic international terrorist Carlos The Jackal was given that nickname by the press after a copy of Frederick Forsyth’s novel The Day of the Jackal was found in a London flat he had rented. It was said he had copied details from the book. In fact, it later turned out it was not his book and he had never read it.

But the cliché nutter is a loner with a grudge against something or someone. By definition, a loner – “Ooh, he was a quiet one,” neighbours traditionally tell newspaper reporters – has access only to his own deluded psychopathic ideas. Over the course of the 20th century, though, nutters had increasing access through books, TV, movies, DVDs etc to the more creative ideas of other, better minds. Now, in the 21st century, almost all human knowledge and the creativity of the best of human brains past and present is a mere click away on the internet.

On Friday night, as first reports of events in Norway were still coming in, one commentator on the BBC News channel said that, if the Oslo bombing and the island shootings turned out to be linked, that would point to al-Queda because they had a track record of linked attacks. As it turned out, he was wrong. But presumably the Norwegian killer was ‘inspired’ by al-Queda’s publicity-seeking methodology.

When I first heard details of the 9/11 terrorist attacks back in 2001, I thought to myself, “I’ve heard this before. I read about this maybe a year ago in the Sunday Times.”

I can’t find the relevant article now but it turned out I had read about it before. Because the 9/11 attacks were based on someone else’s much better idea – the Bojinka plot which was conceived in Indonesia and suggested to al-Queda, who adapted and downgraded it.

The Indonesian-originated plan was a three-tiered concept.

1) assassinate the Pope

2) blow up at least 11 passenger jets simultaneously over the Pacific

3) fly a single light aircraft laden with explosives into the CIA headquarters or several aircraft into buildings across the US, including the World Trade Center and the Pentagon

The 9/11 attacks were not an original idea. They were inspired by someone else’s idea.

I imagine the lone Norwegian nutter was inspired by the methods of al-Queda.

I suspect we will get increasingly creative and increasingly paranoia-inducing terrorist attacks.

The internet allows even nutters to stand on the shoulders of giants.

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