Culture column

Real detectives?

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The format of the TV police procedural has always been a good vehicle for writers to express criticism of society. Its basic principle is that agents of the state, usually cynical and damaged detectives, are the only ones capable of getting at "the truth", but only if they challenge the system, and its many interests, in pursuit of it.

Christopher Marlowe

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This month marks the 450th anniversary of the birth of the playwright Christopher Marlowe. Gareth Jenkins celebrates his life and work.

On 30 May 1593 Christopher Marlowe went with two acquaintances to a tavern in south east London. After a long afternoon drinking a fight broke out over who should pay the bill, at the end of which Marlow lay dead of a knife wound.

Thus ended the short life of a poet and dramatist, born in 1564, the same year as Shakespeare. His stage hits had wowed London in the late 1580s, around the time of the Spanish Armada. But writing was only one of his careers.

Black experience in focus

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The runaway success of the searing artistic triumph that is 12 Years A Slave has illuminated a wider shifting landscape of black cinema. We are at a pivotal moment for black experience stories driven by black talent or led by a black majority cast.

Recent headlines about these films aptly encapsulate this period. In Bloomberg Businessweek, for instance, there's: "In Hollywood, Black is the New Black"; Vanity Fair, "Emancipating Hollywood"; New York Times, "A Breakout for Black Filmmakers", and from Hollywood Reporter, "Whites Suddenly Gripped By Black Dramas".

The high price of oils

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The art market is awash with cash, and Qatar is now hoovering up classical and modern collections thanks to its oil and gas dollars. This puffed up market of speculators has distorted creativity, argues Ben Windsor.

Each year Art Review magazine compiles a list of the 100 most powerful people in the art world. This year, the highest ranked artist, Ai Weiwei, languishes at No 9. All places above him are taken by directors of public museums and private galleries (the trend setters of the art world) with one exception.

Art and the market: creativity for sale

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Modern art has always had a troubled relationship under capitalism, writes Noel Halifax. Art movements that express the urges of rebellion, find themselves consumed by capital.

Throughout his life the Russian revolutionary Leon Trotsky had an interest in art. He took part in heated debates after the 1917 Revolution in Russia over the nature of art, poetry, cinema and literature. Trotsky debated with the "Prolecult" movement about the meaning and use of art in the revolution.

Dr Who: Resistance is eternal

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In this, his 50th anniversary year, Doctor Who has become a contested figure. The right think he's one of them. The Daily Mail, for example, sees him as an embodiment of "traditional values".

"What finer example of a man - brave, reflective, with a keen sense of heroic duty - is there than Doctor Who?" it writes. And it's true that there are aspects of the character the right are happy with.

The Doctor is an aristocrat from a fantasy super-Britain. His home planet, Gallifrey, is a combination of Eton, Oxbridge and parliament on steroids.

Winter is coming

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The US cable channel HBO has acquired a reputation for developing television shows that are both intelligent and compulsive viewing. The best of these programmes, such as The Wire and The Sopranos, were able to shine a light on contemporary society in innovative ways.

So it might seem a bit unusual that the latest in this run of culturally relevant TV shows is based not in the streets of New Jersey or Baltimore, but in the mythical realm of Westeros in which kings and queens vie for power using sword-bearing armies, dragons and magic. Yet Game of Thrones is notable not simply for its echoes of medieval Europe but also for its parallels with the world we live in today.

Art and revolution in Mexico

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"I had never seen such a land, and didn't think there were such lands." Vladimir Mayakovsky

The Mexican Revolution that began in 1910 when Emiliano Zapata launched his land reform known as the Ayala Plan, was one of the great social upheavals of the 20th century.

The corrupt and brutal dictatorship of Porfirio Diaz, shaken by a strike wave in the preceding years, was destroyed by the mass peasant armies of Zapata and Pancho Villa. The remnants of the old regime were finally defeated in 1913.

Their propaganda and ours

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I joined my first organisation in 1971. The body had more than 2 million members in more than 20,000 branches and provided potentially life-saving information.

The organisation was the Tufty Club, created by the Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents in 1961 to curtail the growing number of deaths and injuries to children caused by road traffic accidents.

Tufty's songs, books, puzzles and badges are on show at the British Library's new Propaganda: Power and Persuasion exhibition, a subject, of course, that was not all about helpful cartoon squirrels and their fluffy friends teaching "kerb drills" to small children.

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