Oliver Francis

Thoughts from the spaces in between


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Socialists, eugenics and time travel

A bit of a longer post this time. A recentish piece by Jonathan Freedland on socialism’s past enthusiasm for eugenics got me thinking about (sorry that should read ‘has given me an excuse to write about’) one of those literary Fabians, H.G. Wells, and how he provides an interesting case study on this topic.

A neon sign, Venice

At the turn of the 20th Century, Wells was an enthusiastic eugenicist. In 1904 he wrote:

“The way of nature has always been to slay the hindmost, and there is still no other way, unless we can prevent those who would become the hindmost being born. It is in the sterilization of failure, and not in the selection of successes for breeding, that the possibility of an improvement of the human stock lies.”

Eugenics was by no means only a socialist preoccupation, but Freedland rightly recognises that neither was it at odds with the Victorian-Edwardian Fabianism that it prospered under, with their love of Science and Progress and Planning and Engineering, and other grand ideas starting with capital letters. Of all Wells’ fictional work, The Time Machine (1895) is a useful little prism through which to examine the reasons that eugenics held such allure for ‘progressive’ thinkers in the late nineteenth century. Continue reading


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The rise (and fall?) of the Wilhelm Scream

Recently I came across this very thorough compilation of Wilhelm Screams. If you don’t know it, the Wilhelm Scream is a stock sound effect dating from 1951 that’s become a bit of an in-joke amongst movie makers. (There’s a good summary on Wikipedia and a nice little essay here.)

The compilation seemed to point, unsurprisingly, to an increase in use after the late 1970s when legendary sound designer Ben Burtt rediscovered it and used it in Star Wars (about 2 minutes into the above). Burtt also gave it its name after the original screaming character.

Idly I wished there was a graph that showed its use over time, but couldn’t find one. Realising that time doesn’t waste itself, with the help of www.whereswilhelm.net and IMDB I put one together. Continue reading