Wednesday waffle 4: It's all gone blaaack!

"Wrestling with the hows and whys"

In rare lucid moments of this brave new working from home world when I'm not writing shopping lists, forgetting to empty the tumble dryer, or manfully wrestling with how to assess change management at level 7, I seem to go through an infinite loop thought process where I question why I'm still interested in this hobby at the dangerous age of 56.

The thing is, I inevitably get stuck on the moral dilemma of making replicas of killing machines. It's not so much the doing part of the hobby (expensive as it is), or the addiction fuelled by the tactile, visual and olfactory stimulae of the materials, it's more to do with what these things represent.

"Steady on there old chap! I say, this is all getting a bit 'dark'."

Well yes it is and I'll tell you for why.

Some years ago, (2004 or thereabouts) I had a bit of an epiphany. Wrestling with a series of idiotic and ultimately pointless exchanges on a forum with a self-appointed 'sartorially challenged modeller of some repute' who didn't like my tone; it occurred that the argument was more about the actual thing and less about the questionable veracity of the source material. (They're wrong, they always are when they play their 'my very good friend' Top Trumps card. . .)

The upshot was I suddenly realised that it might be morally and ethically wrong to be making plastic effigies of machines designed with a singular purpose: Killing people.

Ahh says I, yeah, but, no but, yeah. . . and in a poorly formed effort to studiously avoid the gnarly issue of mangled bodies and continue the craft based hobby thing, I told myself that they are historical artifacts and representative of an era in the development of the flying machine. "No good getting all het up about the things, don't worry about it. . .crack on regardless, etc".

But it was too late, the seed of doubt was there. So I started to look for ways to excuse the realities of a hobby which is predicated largely on accurate replicas of war machinery and carried on using thinly constructed internal arguments such as, "but its a thing of mechanical purity, or its line and form belie a pure intent in the mind of the designers".

Utter twaddle.

"Face it sunshine, your hobby is predicated on death. Oh and by the way its got a questionable insignia on the tail too.". . . gulp.

The designers (you name em, blood thirsty the lot of em, even the harmless looking ones in the corduroy jackets and strange smelling pipe tobacco), were either chasing a design contract tendered by a government intent on 'whipping other governments air-forces into shape', or they were speculating that their invention might appeal to someone with deep pockets and an eye for a profit. You see, non of the subjects I am fascinated by are there by chance or happy accident. There really is no escaping the fact that they fit, as Sherlock would say 'a singular' purpose.

This Moebius loop of thought was becoming quite a worry. It was getting me into a bit of a tail spin as I argued to myself that it was just about ok to make models of a certain type of combat aircraft because there was a bit of chivalry going on, or that they (the tiny pilots) were on the side of 'right'. The real thing existed in a world where a gentleman's agreement meant that at some point the duel will be broken off, and with a cheery wave the combatants will fly off home for a spot of tiffin or knockwurst, their honour satisfied with empty guns and a few holes in the empennage.

Ahh. . . But what about the bombers? The sexy looking shiny ones or coal black nocturnal ones eh? And what about the devious, sneaky yet strangely attractive nightfighters which stalked them? (another sub-genre obsession). Or getting all contemporary, those modern machines which deliver 'smart' ordnance from miles away without ever seeing the unsuspecting recipients? They're just downright nasty and like the 'let's just drop it in the general vicinity of the target and get out of here' approach from days of yore, are not above wiping out schools, churches and hospitals 'accidentally' when the clever stuff doesn't work properly.

Hun in the sun "eat lead fritz! dagadaga..!!!"

But it gets worse. . .(how?) I only used to build those machines with the black crosses.

To be honest why wouldn't you? I grew up in the mid 70's where lads like me either read Hotspur and Goal! or pored over the Warlord, Victor and Battle. Weekly dozes of ink stained bravado and yellow nosed Me109's (yes, I know) with cannon in the spinner spitting death at our fabric covered hero in his ragged and ultimately doomed Hurricane

"I say! you bounder that's most unfair!"

The baddies (like all baddies machines) were/are cool. They are painted in evil colours with jaggedy patterns and they look altogether more businesslike and oh yeah more 'deadly' than their slightly fey curvy counterparts which are usually green and brown (or occasionally green and grey or even silver).

How predictably dull. . . and anyway in 1973 I'd no idea that Fascism was a bad thing or that everyone engaged in the design, production and use of the German war machine without exception, was committed to the cause and either a card carrying National Socialist or was openly supporting the regime. Or maybe at that tender age I already had an eye for the design aesthetic? Oh yeah I knew cool when I saw it, I had a Vindec 10 speed metallic red racer.

So in an effort to break that thought loop, I am still trying to get to the bottom of why the attraction existed in the first place, why it's still valid and despite being of questionable ethical standing, is not something I can let go of that easily.

And it has to be childhood.

A weekly diet of the aforementioned heroic action/death comics and Commando magazines, of being allowed to sit up late to watch black and white films featuring Richard Todd and Kenneth More being all stoic and legless while sticking it to the Germans or the Japanese. (Strangely there didn't seem to be any Italians. Quite odd given that they invented the whole Fascism vibe. . .) And then there was Sir Laurence Olivier's dulcet commentary washing over Thames Television's seminal The World At War. Hooked.

Thinking further, its apparent that no one ever thought to put these things into context back then. Our society wasn't really all that fussed with the rights or wrongs after war, decades of austerity and whether someones sensibilities were being unwittingly (or otherwise) trampled on. It just wasn't equipped to do so despite the emerging civil rights movements and racist and sectarian acts across the globe which were bringing this into stark focus. Being unaware doesn't make it right though and the societal offensiveness of a black dog's name in a film about a seminal act of technological innovation and bravery which arguably changed the war, was lost on the viewer through a point of historical accuracy and a ripping yarn as told by the cinematographer. Of course its easy to say now that Gibson knew full well that the name was offensive, (it always has been) but who was going to tell him "really old chap, you can't call your dog that" in 1943? He'd have laughed as assertive leader types of that ilk are wont to do, and then climbed into his Lanc to go and drop high explosives in the general direction of a place full of children and women; and no doubt also the very people who were supposedly to be liberated from the tyranny of an oppressive regime too. A moral dilemma which doesn't bear thinking about in styreneland. . .

But what about the models? From the mid sixties through the mid seventies of my formative years, jingoistic war films were in vogue and we lapped them up, they were the primary source of inspiration for the styrene ceiling dogfight, We didn't understand or worry about a sub-narrative of national pride. Triumph over a real and present evil was conflated with the telling and retelling of heroic actions in the face of terrible odds and making a model of that was in some way a three dimensional miniature realisation. The terror of a horrible death at 20,000 feet was never seen but implied in a bloodless stoical clenched jaw sort of way. The Film Board censor saw to it that the tail gunner being scooped out of his shredded turret always ended up on the cutting room floor.

Spinning forward, our exposure to the realities of war via the screen and an enduring interest in the machinery of war has matured through considered contemporary authentic story telling (such as Band of Brothers or Tom Hardy wrestling a faltering Spitfire over the Channel). Movies where men who 'stop one' now fall to the ground as the life is taken from their body rather than spin in a Spandau ballet of death while letting out a dramatic "aieee!" go some way to painting a more real, visceral human trope.

But we also seem to be on a downward trajectory again back towards a jingoistic desire to kill the enemy by celluloid proxy but this time in gory-ous technicolour, not soft focus mono. The recent movie 'Fury' reintroduced the weekly comic/magazine death with a gratuitous festival of exploding heads and an 'untouchable war weary hero' who seemed impervious to soft tissue damage after coming into close contact with two stick grenades inside a tin box. While thanks to millennial CGI and rotoscope artists, we have Red Bull ready fully aerobatic Dauntlesses rated to +12g and turbo-charged Fokker DrI's with endless ammo boxes.

So I suppose my own internal (and ultimately pointless) struggle with the ethics of modelling death machines is driven by a childhood and early adolescent exposure to an unreal war trope, and is something that might never be fully resolved. Because hey, it just sort of connects with something I still find fascinating yet repulsive, obviating yet compelling.

"Angels one-five, Tally-ho chaps!" it most certainly wasn't. I know that now.

"But Algie dear, you could always start using acrylics. Cyril said he felt much calmer without so much lead in his diet".

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