Friday, December 30, 2011

And what can we expect from 2012?

The final Simpsons episode ever was more cataclysmic than many were expecting
2011 has been a very surreal year with riots, royal weddings, major celebrity deaths and phone hacking filling the headlines. But with 2011 now in its dying days what can we expect from the next 12 months?

Here are the things I am hoping will happen next year:

A member of the Royal Family gets a pie in the face during the Diamond Jubilee:

You might infer from this that I am anti-royal. That’s not quite true, I consider myself more of an agnostic when it comes to the royal family. I’m not a flag waving patriot, nor am I an angry David Icke-like person who claims that they are actually lizard people stealing all our taxes. Despite not wishing the family ill I still think it would be quite funny to see one of them getting a pie in the face as it would lend a bit of fun to an otherwise somber and stuffy event.

Heston’s Cannibal Feast:

Heston Blumenthal is known for cooking up the wackiest feasts, but this time he cooks up the world’s deadliest game: man!

Bankers worldwide admit the economy is all made up:

This one is slightly overdue already. But I’m looking forward to the day that economists, financiers and bankers alike admit the jig is up and that world markets are actually just an elaborate bluff, confessing that no one can actually keep track of world trade properly.

Big Fat Gypsy funerals:

This year Channel 4 has been embracing the full-on tack fest that is Big Fat Gypsy Weddings - which has probably done more harm to the gypsy community than illegal settlements or fly-tipping could ever do. However given the adoption of this premise why not see it taken to down a more sinister route, where the baying public can high-mindedly snort and laugh at grieving gyppos, whilst chuckling at how extravagant and vulgar the people in the programme are. Additionally I want to see if someone can outdo Jimmy Saville in terms of pointlessly expensive funeral paraphernalia.

Daily Mail is prosecuted over phone hacking:

This one is a personal wish, although I could see it happening in reality. However with the truth about the extent of phone hacking gradually unraveling it would be a surprise if the Mail hadn’t been at it too. I doubt it would stop them from writing narrow-minded moralistic propaganda like they do now but it would be nice to see their positional abuses made transparent.

Failing that Piers Morgan being sent to prison for his involvement in the case would be a good consolation prize.

At least one inexplicable celebrity wedding:

This is an easy one to predict as these confusing weddings often happen, and are quickly followed by a fast annulment or divorce (just look at Sinead O’Connor these last two weeks after all). Here are a few suggested couples: Simon Cowell and Susan Boyle, Stephen Hawking and Edwina Curry, Katie Price and Patrick Moore, Michael Cera and Jesse Eisenberg etc.

Jeremy Clarkson makes an arse of himself again:

This has happened without fail at least once a year for the last couple of years, so why shouldn't the pattern continue? Undoubtedly someone will accidentally (on purpose) ask Mr Clarkson his opinion on a tender issue such as the legalization of drugs, the death penalty or the pro-choice vs. pro-life debate and he will oblige by answering that question very honestly and bluntly. This will inevitably be followed by angry bleating from the well-meaning public whilst the tabloids chuckle as their column inches and letters pages fill up with outraged waffle. I should add, if you are surprised by Clarkson being an outspoken bigot then you are failing to grasp the bleeding obvious and - ultimately - are failing at life.

Kim Jong Un constructs Kim Jong Il Land:

I would ‘dearly’ (read on and you’ll get the pun) love to see this. I’m hoping that Kim Jong Un – The Great Successor – will pay respect to the departed 'Dear Leader' (get it now?) Kim Jong Il by building and consecrating Kim Jong Il Land the first ever North Korean dictator themed theme park. It would certainly let the new leader of North Korea set down a befitting legacy for himself and his father. Expect to see fantastic rides such as The Magnificent Hydro Electric Dam Experience, The Capitalism Terror Coaster, The Juche Tower Drop and Kim Jong Il’s Magical Happiness & DPRK Prosperity Show amongst others.

They finally cancel the Simpsons:

It has to be done; it’s been going on for too long already. Let’s face the fact that The Simpsons hasn’t been that funny for the best part of 10 years as the episodes become more outlandish and background characters become too wacky and developed. Every show has its day and the Simpsons’ was now some time ago. Now it’s just sad to see it being artificially kept alive like a brain dead patient on 24 hour life-support. I don’t care how they end The Simpsons, whether it is that Springfield is destroyed in an earthquake or the family is killed in an unfortunate zeppelin accident. Just end it!

Have a happy New Year now.

Monday, December 05, 2011

Film sequels that should never be

There are a lot of sequels coming out at the moment. This year alone we’ve seen a third Transformers movie, another Chipmunks flick and a further Mission Impossible outing. There’s also a second, Independence Day in the works as well as further Terminator and Die Hard films too. It’s clear to see unnecessary sequels to well established film franchises are the vogue at the moment. However, it’s hard to say who asked for them?

Whilst it could be argued that this is a further symptom of Hollywood’s creative bankruptcy, what else could we expect to see coming up?

Here are a few predictions with accompanying synopsis:

Turner and Hooch 2

A long overdue second part to the much loved 80s buddy movie. Tom Hanks reprises his role as compulsive police detective Scott Turner and is joined by Hooch’s now fully grown puppy, Hooch 2. Turner is enjoying married life when he and Hooch are called to investigate a sinister animal testing experiment ring. In a bungled raid Hooch is turned into a human from the scientific equipment in the lab and Turner is forced to get to grips with his newly humanized sidekick who thinks and acts like a dog.

Sex and the City 3

Carrie is once again dissatisfied with her dull businessman husband and decided to go on a fashion road show in Europe with her 3 BBFs the ginger one, the prudish one and the old one. During the tour, each of the girls questions monogamy as they are tempted by a group of statuesque male models. All while cackling away, shopping for shoes, drinking copious amounts of cosmopolitans and making stereotypical semi-racist comments about the locals. *Warning* contains full-frontal images of Sarah Jessica Parker’s face.

Yogi Bear 2

Dan Akaroyd is back as the Pick-a-nik basket loving bear. Yogi and Boo Boo’s friendship is put to the ultimate test as they both fall for the same lady bear. This is set against the backdrop of a major conflict between the USA and Denmark, in which Yogi is made to come to terms with his love rivalry with Boo Boo, whilst preparing for his impending draft into the US navy.

Taxi Driver 2 – Who’s looking at who now?

30 years on from his bloody rampage though the cesspits of New York; Travis Bickle is still driving his yellow cab. However, after investing all his savings in Lehman Brothers shares, Travis loses everything during the 2008 financial scandal. To prevent the bank from repossessing his cab, he is forced to compete in New York’s most dangerous death race. Also featuring Christopher Walken.

Home Alone 5

Kevin McAllister, now 30 and recently divorced, finds himself Home Alone yet again. Although this time his enemy is not a couple of comical burglars; it’s himself, as he battles the twin evils of drink and depression.

Uncle Buck 2

Inexplicable sequel starring Kevin James, as Buck is once again called upon to babysit his nephew and nieces. This time hilarity ensues as he tries to make a success of his new dog track bought using a large mafia loan. Buck is left to juggle the twin responsibilities of his nephews and nieces' well-being, with trying to raise enough money to keep his legs unbroken.

Star Wars Episode 7

Just no!
(Note: Unfortunately it would turn out later that this was to become a reality

God willing, none of these films will never be made. Then again, stranger things have happened and I was right about my prediction of a live action CGI Yogi Bear movie.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

I just don’t believe anything anymore

I’ve given up suspending disbelief. I just don’t believe anything in the world anymore. I’ve given up full stop. I thought by my mid-twenties I’d be settled in my belief in my own existence and the existence of everything around me but I can’t keep up the charade anymore.

Let’s be fair we live in a time when many anchors we hold true are being unraveled completely. Look at the economy for example. We spent years trusting that the well-to-do gents who went to town every day in their suit and finery had a good idea of what they were doing, but of course as it transpires, they’re as clueless about the magic numbers that are imagined in the stock markets as everyone else. Perhaps even more so!

Whilst banker bashing is like shooting fish in a barrel, I’ve become a disbeliever of nearly everything else. Like Greenland for example, is it really there or just an elaborate prank played on the rest of the world by the Danish? Let’s be honest no-one really lives there, so is it just the case that they’ve got together enough people game for a laugh to pretend they live there? Perhaps they’ve taken a few pictures of some backwater towns in Iceland and pretended a giant country where no one lives exists in the North Atlantic.

Nothing on TV is real. Documentaries are sexed up highlights of historical or natural events. Do you think anyone would watch animals doing stuff that didn’t involve humping or killing? Of course not, we watch enough of ourselves doing that already. Also do you believe that Justin Bieber actually exists – would you want to anyway - and isn’t just a cruel joke being played by a series of music executives? What’s to have stopped them hiring actors and to have scripted some lines for them?

You can’t believe the news either. As the Levinson Report at the moment seems to suggest, most of it is made up. I should know as I play a part in that in my own way.

History is almost exclusively written by the winners, or by a Wikipedia editor. Twitter and Facebook and all our access to mass media just allows rumour to spread at an unprecedented rate so no one really knows what’s true and what’s not for the most part.

Religion, how do we not know that someone sitting in ancient India invented the idea of gods as an elaborate practical joke that worked too well? Or alternatively he got high and everyone just believed his rantings? Stranger things have happened.

Life is confusing.

Friday, September 30, 2011

Looking at the T4 Presenter.

Heeey Kids! It's time to meet your new best pals.
Presenters come in all shapes and sizes and act in many different ways, from the doddering decrepit old-time entertainment provided by Bruce Forsythe, to the obnoxious red faced ranting of Adam Bolton on Sky News.

Then you get T4 presenters, who are a weird bunch. As I’ve probably made clear from my past scribbles I don’t really like them. I find them loud annoying and in-your-face (which to be fair, is probably part of their job description). But they persist year after year, coming in as fresh-faced failed radio presenters or models heavily draped in Top Shop’s latest rags, until they are metaphorically euthanized from the line-up at age 24 like an old incontinent farm hound, with an uncertain future of bit-part presenting jobs like the X-tra Factor or popular entertainment oblivion.

After all look what happened to Alex Zane after he was put out to pasture. Now he struts around an empty studio, in a suit that is far too smart for his face, laughing to himself at YouTube video’s that were popular 6 months ago. He’s the British TV equivalent of Gary Busey.

Its hard to know what logic led to the creation of the T4 presenter. Was it a cynical attempt to cash in on the average half-witted teen looking for the latest repeats of Friends and Smallville, or is it an on the mark representation of what today’s thinking young-adult craves. All I can say is that if it’s the latter I’m going to start praying for a case of mass impotence like in Children of Men.

Overall the only thing that T4 presenters themselves are really guilty of is that they’re vapid, personality vacuums housed in this year’s designer fashion and hair gel encased skulls; armed only with an encyclopedia of pop culture slang. Let’s be fair the female presenters are little more than squawking human clothes horses for River Island. It’s just a shame they’re there to greet me on weekend morning when I’m hungover and purposely avoiding loud colours, and a cooler-than-thou attitude.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

The bulletpoint movie, or Rick Generic blows up stuff

Today I felt like doing something a bit different. Now I’m a big fan of action movies and especially love the cheesier variety of this genre, like the Expendables or Snakes on a Plane. As a result I’ve decided to write my own screen play but in bullet point form, allowing me to quickly layout a plot and/or easily make any modifications to the story.

The title for this is going to be Rick Generic Blows Up Stuff. Now, why such a crass name you may be wondering? Well quite frankly I feel it goes with the territory and why spend ages skirting round the issue of what the movie is. With this title you get exactly what it says on the tin and know who it’s featuring.

Now our hero is a chap by the name of Rick Generic. He’s called Rick because it’s a stereotypically dynamic sounding name and Generic is an obvious nod to what this whole premise is; a stupidly self-conscious attempt to deconstruct the Hollywood code for an action film.

So let’s get started:

To set the scene Rick Generic is a former special ops Navy Seal (or another oft seen branch of the US special forces) He’s living on his idyllic farm in Minnasota with his lovely wife Miranda and his 8 year old son Skip. He’s happy in retirement and has left his violent past behind, or so he thinks…

· Rick is visited by his old buddy in arms Hanson (who is soon to retire from the forces) & his pregnant wife Julia.

· Hanson implores that Rick come back to do one last mission, to take down an old enemy of theirs Henry Magnum – a notable drugs/arms/contraband ringleader/ industrialist.

· Rick of course refuses, feeling that his family could be in danger if he gets involved.

· Hanson isn’t pleased with the news but warns his family could be in danger anyway. They part and bump fists.

· Shortly after specially trained mercenaries break into the farm and kidnap Miranda and Skip. They also shoot dead his dog “Freedom” and the farm’s corn silo is blown up in the ensuing chaos.

· Realising Magnum is to blame, he swears revenge and calls up Hanson to save his family.

· Using their old contacts in the forces they locate Magnum’s base, which is on a small island in the Indian Ocean.

· Hanson and Rick head to a seedy bar, where Magnum’s drug/arms dealers operate out of to find out more details about the villains plans. Naturally there is a bar fight over someone taking exception to the two newcomers.

· Rick and Hanson chase after one of Magnum’s heavies, who gets in a sports car and drives off. Hanson and Rick pursue.

· A car chase takes place wherein stuff is smashed, people are nearly run over and stuff gets blown up.

· Rick and Hanson capture the man and start to interrogate him using crude makeshift torture tools. The man is about to talk when Magnum – who monitors all his men via implanted chips- remotely activates a chip in his brain that wipes his memory. The man is left brain-dead. Rick punches a nearby mirror in his rage (first of all going to some effort to actually find a mirror in the room).

· Rick is then called by Gadget (an ops friend) who explains more of the Magnum’s plan, revealing that the villain’s island has an extensive security system they’ll need to deactivate first if they want to gain access. Hanson swears and Rick punches another breakable object within reach.

· The code key to turn off the system is held by Magnum’s right hand man Chimp. He happens to be off the island on a bender amongst the bars of South Africa.

· Rick and Hanson hurry to Cape Town.

· Meanwhile on Magnum’s island Henry taunts Rick’s family, who are adamant he is coming to save them. Skip makes several references to how great his dad is. Magnum laughs heavily at both of them whilst smoking numerous cigars and punching a cat to death.

· Magnum reveals that he plans to start selling a new drug that is so addictive that after one hit you are so dependent on it that not taking it can kill you.

· Miranda and Skip insist he won’t get away with it. Magnum laughs heartily and shoots a parrot.

That about does it for a start, hopefully I’ll be able to keep committed to this so that I can develop it further. Whether I do or not is now down to fate and how disciplined I remain.

Saturday, September 03, 2011

It all started when the aliens began drinking at my bar

Going to a university which was and still is used as the setting for a flagship British sci-fi series takes getting used to, especially if you’re a fan of said show.

Cardiff University's new vice chancellor was more right wing than his predecessor

Now I’m talking about Doctor Who and Cardiff primarily and as a former student of the University there (Cardiff University not UWIC for any pedants out there) it’s been an odd experience seeing places I recognise mocked up as a historical locations since leaving. If nothing else it spoils the suspension of disbelief.

The case in point came when the first new episode since June was shown – the catchily titled “Let’s Kill Hitler”. Of course this required the eccentric Time Lord and his chums to visit Nazi Berlin, or as I saw it, my old university buildings draped in Nazi regalia. The most ironic fact of all this was in one of the same buildings now Nazified” as Hitler's headquarters for the purposes of sci-fi is actually named the "Temple of Peace" in real life. Weirder still, in the building next door I spent hours of my life extensively studying the effects of Nazi propaganda on mass media theory and picking apart how it was effective. 

 When the aliens started drinking there it just wasn't the same anymore

This is not the first time I’ve seen this happen post uni. I remember during the episode that saw David Tennant turn into Matt Smith that the Doctor visited my old university bookshop for a book signing and then proceeded to go to an alien bar, which happened to be one of my old night spots. You know you’ve been away from a place for a long time when your drinking holes turn into the Cantina from Star Wars. 

I think the point of all this is that fiction and reality should never mix. 

A real blog post (and not hopeless ramblings) next time. 

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Ok so the Kaiser Chiefs were right but let's just think about this for a moment

I did attempt to write something on the rioting in London this time last week and well, we all know what happened then. I ended up having to completely re-revise my view whilst glued to the insane fiery scenes taking place in Croydon not more than 20 minutes away from my home. 
I couldn’t begin to start explaining what caused the violence and I think it would be incredibly short sighted to claim that there is one overarching reason. One thing that does seem certain is that the riots were not really a political statement. 

Reeves Corner believe it or not was not the center of Croydon’s intelligentsia or political scene, nor was it a symbol of police power.   No, it was just a humble family-owned furniture shop and was unnecessarily gutted by idiots caught up in the thrill of a riot. I might have at least understood the reasoning behind it all if a significant government building had been set on fire (I’m not suggesting people do that either I might add), but this was unfocused opportunism.

The rioters didn’t seem big on political sentiment and I would assume many couldn’t muster a political opinion if they tried. However if one of them can explain to me a clear, well-thought out and non-excuse filled political reason for raiding Footlocker then I would love to hear it (and "claiming back taxes," or “showing the police we can do what we want” do not qualify as an argument).  

The reaction to the rioting however has been more depressing than the rioting itself, as the Con-Dem coalition is still trying to cut police numbers and everyone who speaks on the issue is now speaking for their own agenda and not for the people hurt in the ensuing violence. But hey they make good emotive case-study points, so why not try and get what influence you can from their plight.

Along with them are the ignorant morons trying to turn the issue into a socio-racial argument, with some arguing to lock up everyone resembling the ilk found on Jeremy Kyle. On top of that you also have erudite racists like David Starkey – who have unfortunate access to television airtime - trying to blame the problem on Jafrican culture. 

The international reaction has been quite an odd experience also, as countries like Libya have decided to stick the boot in an ironic twist, claiming the riots were political and that David Cameron should stand down. I can’t say I blame them, they have every right to feel smug in the current climate and after everything the British government has said about them. Still there’s one thing you can say about Cameron over Gaddafi and that is that he wouldn’t appear on TV encouraging women and children to die for him. Cameron tends to be a little more genteel about these things at least. 

Overall, as the dust settles, the rioters have looted more than a few pairs of trainers and some plasma screens. They have stolen our carefree complacency, as well as our patience. More worryingly, they may have in fact led to the loss of many of our civil rights. The politicians are knee-jerking left and right in the aftermath and we in the UK could face draconian police measures being drafted in a similar way to the post 9/11 environment. 

One good example is the manner that the government has attacked social networking, which was a mixed blessing at best during the actual violence. There is no doubt that some recent Twitter campaigns have challenged conventional political authority and I genuinely hope that politicians aren't trying to smear it so they can disrupt this process. True, Twitter and social networks aren't always able to deliver a representative voice for the people but they are a good start.

I’m not complaining that we’re trying to toughen up on crime. I welcome it to a degree as many idiots on the street have got too cocky; swaggering around bleating about human rights rules they couldn’t begin to understand the significance of, yet which can render the authorities powerless. Yes there does need to be less of that, but then what if the balance of power swings too far in the other direction?  

In the worst case scenario would we see a return to the policing of the 1980’s where Bobbies could batter peaceful protesters (although some would argue that already happens)? In that case we only face more of the same disenfranchisement that led to the initial violence in Tottenham etc. I think the biggest challenge we face as a country is how to make people care and respect for each other again as there are some very strained nerves and community relationships out there.

There is some hope. The clean-up campaign organised on Twitter was absolutely inspiring and really showed that the British public are still very good at coming together and picking up the pieces. If the one good thing that comes of all this is a continuation of that unity, then it does provide a very sweet ice-cream chaser to the bitter pill of the riots.  

One thing I will say as a local of the near-Croydon area (and of London in general) is please donate to the business owners and homeowners who have been unfairly put in the middle of this gigantic mess.
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Tuesday, July 05, 2011

NoW this is a mess.

Was anyone surprised that the News of the World could stoop so low, as it was revealed this week that the newspaper hacked into the mobile phone of murder victim Milly Dowler and deleted voice mail messages from concerned friends and family?

The hacks have done it again, but this time the very righteous indignation and powerful human emotion they harnessed to sell thousands of papers has been blown back in their faces in a perfect storm of disgruntlement and blind outrage.

The murder of Milly Dowler was a major case when it occurred and stirred-up public emotion no end. However, the sadness has now become anger and that anger has been aimed squarely at the News of The World and its former editor Rebekah Brooks.

Now, Brooks does not have the best ethical track record in the business it must be said. She is a formidable women who when she wasn’t baiting the public with campaigns to lynch suspected paedophiles on a national scale (leading to innocent casualties), spent her evenings beating up Grant Mitchell whilst the paper she edited ran an anti-domestic violence campaign. Now she is head of News International owners of The Sun, The Times and News of the World. Naturally it is not without coincidence that she is now at the centre of this deplorable case.

Unsurprisingly, Brooks has been pleading ignorance to these goings on in a similar manner to her NoW successor Andy Coulson (who of course was fired from a government communications role for his involvement in the NoW phone tapping scandal) and the Murdoch owned empire News Corporation is dragging its heels about firing her. Ignorance is not a great excuse however, as if anyone in a senior position of responsibility let something as awful as this happen under their stewardship they would be fired so fast their P45 would probably leave an exit wound as it was forcefully thrust into their chest.

Now I’ve commented before on what I think of journalists who excuse phone tapping due to their own misguided sense of what makes an open society. This time however the floodgates are going to open in a massive way and the effects are going to be great and far reaching.

Firstly, there will be questions over the legality of News Corp buying out the remaining shares of BSkyB given the unethical disrepute the organisation is currently in. Secondly and crucially, the NoW can expect a gigantic backlash from its readers, advertisers and other key stakeholders. Sales will undoubtedly drop and advertisers will want out. You also have to wonder if we could see a mass boycott not seen since citizens of Liverpool turned their back on The Sun following the coverage of Hillsborough.

Even now questions are being asked as to whether NoW did any phone tapping during the Soham murders and the Sarah Payne disappearance. Quite frankly I wouldn’t be surprised if they did. I doubt it will end there either and worse findings will be yet uncovered.

Furthermore it actually shows what a messy and corrupt system the tabloid media operates and I’m glad the seedy underside of the industry is being shown for what it is.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Lord Sugar returns to savage another set of business mavericks

The Apprentice has burst back onto TV again at its normal time of year – with none of this conflict of interest because Lord Sugar is in the government kerfuffle- and welcomes another shower of business bastards onto our screens; all blustering and purring about how they are unstoppable selling machines and that they will declare war on low profit margins. Things are the same as ever.

This year amongst the contestants: we have an automaton who works 24/7 without switching off and I am sure will kill us all once Skynet orders the termination of humanity, a nutty inventor, a sexual harassment prosecution waiting to happen, as well as a woman who claims to have been taught to achieve a higher purpose personally by the Dali Lama. There were also the usual droves of interchangeable, deluded middle managers with career achievements as realistic sounding as a child telling you he will be a ninja astronaut when he grows up.

This year there is a bit of a twist in the format of the game show. Instead of winning the dubious honour of being Lord Grump’s business pet, the eventual winner will be showered with £250,000 of the mighty Lord’s money. The catch however is that the winner will have to start a business with the cash and will be forced to share control of it with His Lordness. Whilst this is probably better than winning the chance to be Lord Amstrad's lackey, this still strikes me as a bum deal. Especially as you can win this kind of money with far less effort, and with no strings attached, by picking the correct numbered box on Deal or No Deal.

As usual the process began with the contestants gathered in the boardroom, until Lord Premium Bonds descended from atop the mythical Mount Business and through the frosted glass doors of doom to greet them. He then barked at them to go out and sell some fruit with his £250 investment and be sure to make a profit lest they be flogged, or worse fired.

The two teams then set about picking their names, with the girls opting for Venture and the boys for Logic. What logic has to do with The Apprentice I don’t know, but that is their name anyway and I was left disappointed once again that no one had chosen a more sinister name such as Strike-Force or Knuckleduster. The boys then fumbled around in the task's early stages trying to work out if an orange was an orange, while the girls turned on their feminine charms to get a discount on fruit from the wholesaler and then hit the streets with their products.

During the task the boys attempted to sell orange juice - once they’d established they had actually bought oranges and not some kind of reddy coloured lemons - and tomato soup, whilst the girls prepared fruit salad and vegetable pasta. The fruit salad sold well although the girls seemed to be flinging them frantically at unwitting passers-by until they gave in and bought them, whilst the veggie pasta went down as well as Lord Sugar taking part in the Vagina Monologues. The boys on the other hand sold steadily, that is when they finally got round to selling. It took them nearly half the day to squeeze all the oranges and never really recovered. Naturally they lost.

Much of the loss was blamed on the enthusiastic but gormless manager Edward, who made insane statements such as: “When I was producing, that was production” and wouldn’t stop insisting how he could “roll with the punches”. He also then committed business suicide by admitting he had purposely underused his accountancy skills because he was ashamed of the negative stigma the accounting industry has. Lord Frown had heard enough and pulled out his firing finger, sent Edward on his way and that was that.

The first show wasn’t too bad overall but you do have to wonder if the show is still the great reality TV event that it was two or three years ago. There’s no denying that Stuart Baggs ‘The Brand’ took exaggerated confidence to new highs (or lows depending on your opinion) and one has ponder if that was the exact moment that the format jumped the shark. Still, whether the inevitable decline has begun or not, the show is still mightily entertaining and if today wasn’t enough to satisfy your appetite for watching big-headed salespeople blundering up business tasks, then you’ve got another episode to look forward to tonight.

Wednesday, May 04, 2011

To AV or not to AV

I’ve decided to finally write something about the upcoming AV vote as the campaigning reaches fever pitch for the referendum on Thursday.

The campaigning itself has been anything but dignified and has at times perpetuated outright myth. This is true of both sides of the debate unfortunately. The No campaign tries to scare people into voting no, whilst the yes campaign seems obsessed with implying that AV will fix everything wrong with politics in the UK.

Now to explain where I stand on the issue: I am behind the Yes campaign. I feel that AV is a better system than FPTP, primarily as it fixes some of the problems with the current system. It’s been pointed out to me many times that AV won’t affect some constituencies as they already have an MP elected by a clear 50 per cent majority. This is absolutely true but AV cleans up the less clear outcomes in constituencies with a more spread out vote where there is no clear majority and where tactical voting comes into play.

It is surely not a bad thing to introduce a system which is more democratic - if only slightly - that works pretty much the same way as the current one whilst fixing some of the problems with it. Especially if it means that the voting preferences of the people are better represented.

The No campaign has also troubled me as it approaches people with a few arguments that just aren’t true. When you actually do a bit of research it’s easy to find examples to the contrary.

What I’m going to do now is pick apart some of the points made in one of the leaflets that came through my door campaigning for No:

· The leaflet says: AV would produce more coalitions
But: Australia uses a preferential system similar to AV and have only had two coalition (including the incumbent Labor led government) governments ever using their preferential system (which has been in place since 1918).

· The leaflet says: AV is used by only 3 countries – Australia, Papua New Guinea and Fiji – and Australia wants rid of it.
But: More countries use AV than that. The leaflet actually means only three countries use AV to vote for a national government. An AV style preferential system is actually used already in the UK for the Welsh Assembly elections (which I myself have voted in) not to mention by all the major UK parties to vote in their leaders. Funny how such a "bad" system is actually used by them at all. Also it is worth mentioning that Australians don’t want to abandon AV. This article better explains where the misconception lies.

· The leaflet says: AV allows the second or third placed candidate to win.
Sorry what? If people’s preferences using AV actually give a candidate that would have come in third place under FPTP enough votes to win then doesn’t that highlight the current system’s flaws rather than disprove the new one?

· The leaflet says: AV will cost the country £250 million.
That seems like a lot of money to print new ballot sheets and to put up a poster explaining how people should vote using a number instead of an x. The No campaign reached this figure by adding up the £90 million cost of the referendum (which we pay even if we vote yes or no), £26 million cost for voter education and £130 for vote counting machines (which seems to be pure fantasy as no country that uses AV-like systems actually use these and there’s no obvious sign that we will either). Charlie Brooker for instance refers to the calculation as “the sort of magic maths which involves closing your eyes and repeatedly banging the calculator against your forehead” and I can’t help but agree with him. If you want to know more about the cost, here is a very good article laying out all the facts and figures.

· The leaflet says:
AV means that someone else’s fifth preference is worth the same as your first.
But: Yes that is actually true, but they only get one vote that counts towards the result as they do now. They do not get extra votes as this seems to imply. If a person's fifth preference is used then that means that his/her first four preferences had been eliminated from the count and their fifth hadn't but why should that be a problem if a party has not achieved a 50 per cent majority. Otherwise you can sometimes end up with a party, which the majority of voters wouldn't choose, winning by a 30 per cent majority; because the votes were split between two parties that better represented the interests of the majority. This silly video involving cats kind of explains it in a simplified way.

· The leaflet says:
AV will mean that supporters of the BNP and other fringe parties would decide who wins, because they will be eliminated first and then their votes could be counted again and again for other parties. That will encourage other candidates to pander to the likes of the BNP.
Are we saying now that supporters of the BNP and other fringe parties shouldn’t get a say in who runs the country? This sounds as if it's implying that people who vote BNP should be banned from voting or that their voting opinion shouldn't be trusted? Now I don’t like the BNP one bit, but if that’s the case then we should simply abandon democracy now. Also I don’t think politicians are so shallow and mindless that they would resort to outright racism to win votes (ok maybe a couple would) from BNP voters. Finally, the BNP itself is campaigning against AV as they know that they won’t even get a look at seats in parliament under the new system. So saying a vote for AV is a vote for the BNP is just fantasy.

 What I will say finally, is that I feel AV as Nick Clegg once said is “a miserable little compromise” but I also think it’s the best way to make politicians sit up and realize the country is in need of electoral reform. Otherwise I worry that those in power will continue to serve their constituents in a substandard way; fobbing them off as inconvenient and backing government policies they prefer instead of listening to what the voters want. It also improves on the current system rather than changing it dramatically.

After all if things don’t change they stay the same and I would honestly prefer things to change. I feel that the current system is flawed and can in some cases disenfranchise the voting preferences of the majority of a constituency. Rather than being the solution, I see AV as being the first step towards a better system. Surely that’s worth voting for?

But don’t feel like you have to be persuaded by my views, read around the issue and make up your own mind. Make sure you vote though, this could be the biggest decision we get to make as voters for some time.

Thursday, April 28, 2011

A Right Royal Fuss

It's impossible to ignore. Flags are appearing hither and thither, wedding themed displays are going up in shops and the media is bracing itself for the oncoming publicity frenzy. The most talked about thing in the country at the moment is easily the royal wedding, especially today on the eve of the event.

The royal wedding either enthralls you with its chest thumping patriotic glee/ romantic fairytale connotations, or gives you that sinking feeling of being an outsider who doesn’t really get what’s going on. After all when you look at the wedding in the cold light of day it really is just about two aristocrats being wed to each other. Do you pay this much attention to the wedding of someone you don’t know (celebrities aside)?

In the scheme of things the hoopla and analysis that has gone into this wedding – including fun little side-quests like betting on what colour hat the Queen will be wearing on Friday – is a little bit weird when you really think about it. If anyone spent this much time critiquing your wedding you’d probably turn into a gibbering wreck, muttering about how many tiers there should be on the golden disco wedding cake. Still at least the celebrity wedding analysts have yet another outlet for their otherwise useless vocation.

The public obsession with celebrity weddings highlights how boring weddings are unless you know the couple involved or have an invite of your own. After all, many people simply attend a wedding as a sign of familial or friendly support and to abuse the open bar. An OK Magazine-style wedding or definitely doesn’t allocate its readers bar privileges and neither does the Royal wedding. To attend you either arrived in this world wrapped in a shroud of Windsor placenta or be a friend of someone who was once wrapped in a shroud of Windsor placenta. Failing that you’re relegated to the sidelines amongst the flag waving royal fan club members.

The most notable feature of this event is the sudden rolling out of nationalistic regalia and the repeated bleating that people, “think it is a good thing”. Being British is quite a reserved identity on the whole, as we are not very in your face about our national pride – something that the far right parties like the NF and BNP are often blamed for. I for one actually find this restraint ok as I don’t see what is endearing about blind faith in one’s own country. Sure I’m happy to live here and be British but I find the idea of flying the flag a little jingoistic and a little grotesque. I don’t really like this idea that to prove you love your country that you have to resort to such a narrow stereotype. Sure go out on Friday and celebrate your Britishness with everyone else and enjoy it, but let’s not retreat into a full-blown small minded national bubble.

Despite my protestations of our distance from the actual wedding, I genuinely wish both William and Kate (not Catherine as the media and the royals seem to have re-branded her) the best on their special day. They both seem like nice people who probably just want to be together without all the bother and attention. As irony would have it that is the one thing will probably never attain despite all their money and influence.

Also on the positive side of things, at least we get an extra bank holiday despite the moanings of small business owners up and down the country who can’t switch off for just one extra day. Killjoys.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Advertise this!

Today – for the millionth and first time - I’m going to have a little muse on adverts. Now adverts are interesting things. In short, they are attention bandits looking to distract you towards the wild and crazy things or messages they are trying to sell. You find them everywhere, as they increasingly invade your consciousness like an annoying child trying to sing an annoying song they’ve learned from the TV.

Here follows a collection of the different types of advert you may have seen around the world and what they are secretly saying to you. Most of these are quite obvious, although some carry more subtle messages.

Web banners (especially any that incorporate pop-up sound and video)

What they are: These have grown up with the internet. True, not many of them are as annoying as they could be. Although I’ve noticed that recently advertisers are starting use video ads that have an irritating habit of suddenly taking up most of the screen. As for what they subtly say….. Actually there is no subtlety to these what so ever. It’s the advertising equivalent of shouting in your face whilst holding a banner.


Introductory offers:

What they are: These have become quite contentious of late as people have slowly become aware that this is a ruse to exploit the creatures of habit that consumers are perceived to be. Every ad is there to hook you in some way or another, although this style of advert literally takes the hook ploy to the next level by sticking a tasty worm on it. Much like a hooked fish that has enjoyed it’s disappointing and surprising worm dinner and has got a barbed spike through its lip, the customer has been lured towards something that appeared tasty only to find there was a sting in the tail.

What they are actually saying:
“Yes! Come into my trap you fool! I shall lure you with treasures beyond you’re wildest dreams and then, and only then, you shall belong to us!”

Adverts promising that a company won’t rip you off (unlike all those other bastard competitors):

What they are: These exist as a direct response to the above and also relish in the opportunity to slag off the competition. It’s a sad world where a company has to explicitly promise not to rip you off.

What they are actually saying: “Oh you want to buy something from our competitor? Oh that’s cool. But I heard off someone that they molest dogs, not that we ever did that ourselves of course”

Avant Garde nonsense ad:

What they mean: Because of new laws governing how snacks can be sold, advertisers have attempted to circumvent the rules by producing nonsensical stuff, which has nothing to do with their product and makes the viewer associate an interesting image with their brand. The Cadburys gorilla is the best example of this. 

What they are actually saying: “Look at the monkey, look at the silly monkey. Oh and buy this.”

The smart-arse friend:

What they are:Like a helpful friend, the advertiser is trying to make you aware of a new law or scheme coming into effect. These adverts often depict a couple of mates talking about a common problem, when suddenly one of the chums launches into a highly articulate description of a company, service or piece of information.

What they actually say: “Alright mate having a problem, maybe if I went into unnaturally nuanced detail that may help. Funny how I know so much about the new extremely complicated football tax that’s recently been introduced isn’t it”

Informant meets idiot:

What they are: These are frustratingly common. The situation depicted in these occasionally varies between a scene with a weirdo acting weird or a complete idiot being easily led into buying something with little to no discernment and a lot of gullibility (by the way they are implying the idiot is you).Why do they do it? Simple: funny/entertaining/irritating scenes are memorable and using idiots is the best way to create that kind of scene.

What they actually say:

Informant bank teller: “Hello sir. Welcome to Fiddler’s Bank, how can I help you today”


Informant Bank teller: “I see, did you know that you could earn 10 per cent extra in interest a year if you give us all your money and let us keep it. Scouts honour we won’t piss it up the wall on executive bonuses” 

Idiot: “GUUUURRR! GUUUR!” (indicating he says yes)

(Let’s face it most of the public are weird idiots when it comes down to it)

Look how fucking good we are:

What they are: You will have seen this a lot. This refers to any time a company has boasted to you about how good it’s employee’s farts smell or that how everyone who ever used it’s service or product is now a millionaire sex god/goddess. The boasts are often based on some level of truth, but dig a little deeper and you’ll often find something embellished somewhere, showing that once again the world is based on lies.

What they are actually saying: “Did you know that last year we were voted the no 1 insurance company in the world ever by Ostrich fancies monthly? Well now you do, so you know, buy our fridge insurance” (that’s right most of the time when companies are showing off, holding up an award or accolade, it’s mostly been presented by some unimportant magazine or consumer organization, only so the winning company can stick a logo/award notice on its ads to assert it's importance to the undiscerning viewer.)

Visual Masturbation:

What they are: TV is a visual medium so why not. Ever seen an advert that made you want to grope a roast chicken or a new car? Chances are you've seen one of these. Any ad that makes a product look irresistibly good or sexy then you are probably watching one of these.

What they are actually saying: “Cor! Look at this car! Look at how sexy the bonnet is! Look at headlamps on that! Wow I just want to get in it and drive it and drive it and drive it till I’m fucking sore!”

Boring people/ celebrities talk about how great something is:

What they are: This is how advertising on TV began. Simple coercion towards buying something because someone said so and plenty of information explaining what the benefits of using this product/service is.

What they are actually saying: “You know when I first visited Perkin’s Pork Clinic, I was skeptical. I was blown away by the pork products on show, which was no small feat considering I’m a vegetarian. I have to say I love Perkin’s Pork Clinic, and I think you will love it too.”

This is by no means a complete list of the ads you will find out there but as many themes overlap you will be able to spot quite a few next time you sit through a break in Celebrity Cosmetic Surgeon Factor or whatever makes up your own personal evening entertainment.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Hacked off

A very interesting piece of journalism was produced by the New Statesman yesterday, giving a worrying insight into the mind of the tabloid journalist and also hinting that several acts of perjury have been committed in the ongoing News of The World phone tapping case. Oddly on this occasion, this was not the work of a trained undercover journalist but was the result of a disgruntled Hugh Grant deciding to record a conversation with a hack called Paul McMullen, who had recently run a story on the celebrity.

Despite not receiving much in the way of mainstream coverage, it was nice to see someone turn the tables on a so-called journalist, who seemed to think he had a god given right to spy on people for profit and then claw the moral high ground by shoving public interest into the debate.

What was worrying however was Grant’s claim that McMullen had said: “phone-hacking was a price you had to pay for living in a free society”, belying the self important, hypocritical idiocy that tabloid journalists sometimes possess.

It is an argument I have heard journalists make before, when challenging the authorities. However, I have always winced at the irony they have missed in making such a statement, considering that that makes them an authority unto themselves.

The sad fact – especially after reading some of the information that McMullen unwittingly provided - is that the would-be ‘stewards of our freedom’ are often part of the same corrupt systems and frameworks that we are all trapped within. The only difference is they can do what they do with an inflated sense of self-esteem and occasionally fuck up the plans of politicians they might personally dislike; bearing in mind of course that is not done for our benefit but for their own.

This is not to say that all career journalists are bad. Having worked as one myself I have been lucky enough to meet genuinely good ones, who do represent the ideals that journalism aspires to. However it is so often the case that the most unpleasant, assiduous hacks end up writing the important news.

In many ways the average journalist is quickly becoming redundant. Bloggers and sites like WikiLeaks continue to do a better job of getting information about corruption into the public domain, rather than plying us with stories about what brand of milk celebrities are buying. Perhaps this is a good thing if the people delivering us our daily dose of information are as self-important and amoral as McMullen is.

The most important thing for any person to understand about the news is that it is representative of someone’s viewpoint. Everyone views the world through subjective goggles so you can’t receive any news without taking it with a pinch of salt. True, some events are indisputable (take 9/11 for example) although the facts behind those events may never be known fully.

Also the arguments made by the News of World in favour of their ‘phone tapping for freedom’ activities are about as effective as screwing for virginity.

Grant actually poses an interesting idea though. Why don’t we subject the same sanctimonious hacks to invasive harassment, in order to find out more about their lives? After all, according to their own arguments they’ve entered themselves openly into the public forum and therefore are fair game to us, the reading public. Shouldn’t we really get to know who it is that is writing our news? I’d imagine the truth won’t be very pretty.

Sunday, April 03, 2011

It just made suckers of the audience

Over the weekend I visited the London Imax to see the latest Zack Snyder film Sucker Punch. I have enjoyed his earlier films, such as 300 and Watchmen, which were wonderful realizations of famous comic books. Sucker Punch however was based on Snyder’s own story and even before I had taken my seat in the cinema I knew the reviews hadn’t been good. Many had attacked the film for its ludicrous plot and lack of characterization. I had taken this with a pinch of salt as the film looked as if it would be an action spectacular which would sell itself on its spectacle whilst making no apologies for its lack of good storytelling. Ultimately I was right, but I wasn’t satisfied.

There are many problems with Sucker Punch. Firstly there is the issue of gender politics. The girls that make up the main characters are vulnerable (and questionably insane but that link is never proven or disproven, aside from the fact they have been placed in a mental institution) and yet are dressed up in outrageously titillating cosplay-cum-stipper outfits. I could understand that if the imaginary scenes were the product of the male mind (word of warning to any girls reading, that is effectively what this film is giving you a glimpse into, at its most simplistic), but the fact that Snyder is trying to say that this is the way that the women in this film want to see themselves is patronizing beyond belief. As if that wasn’t bad enough, the men in the film are so two dimensionally monstrous and simplistically perverted that it just made me want to forcefully extract my Y chromosomes in a fit of guilt and blood. I don’t know what kind of a point Zack Snyder was trying to make about women in this gaudy nightmarish world of male fantasy gone awry, but he is certainly not selling the idea of the women being empowered. Especially not with stripper names like Baby Doll, Sweet Pea, Blondie and Rocket, which they seem to have been assigned with by the drooling Snyder, as he mentally pleasured himself with red-faced, wheezing glee.

Essentially this is a Zack Snyder snuff film. It’s pornographic in the way it holds the audiences gaze and all without a single private part or nipple appearing in its run time. Every action scene is peppered with excess and many shots seems to scream at you: “TITS! TITS! TITS! LOOK AT THOSE TITS! PHWOAR! IS THAT A SCHOOLGIRL OUTFIT?! WOW YOU CAN SEE HER PANTIES IN THAT BIT!” Amongst the sexploitation you also get several other boy-like fantasies like: samurai, robots, clockwork zombie Nazis and dragons, thrown in for good measure. Zack Snyder has basically put on screen a teenage boy’s fantasy, or at the very least his own.

I know it’s slightly unfair to judge a film that trades so heavily on its lack of plot for its action. I could just about handle that, but when a high concept element is used so seriously as a framing device for the action it’s hard not to be irritated by a plot that is as ham-fisted as Sucker Punch’s. The film basically follows the plot to the average Rugrats episode, although with the babies replaced with sexy mental asylum inmates. The same dives into imagination are all there to see and the links back to the real world, to show how the protagonist imaginations sync to the reality of their actions. Or at least it would if the plot wasn’t lost in an Inception-like dream within a dream reality for 90 per cent of the film. The final insult however, is that there is quite a large (and fairly predictable) twist near the end of the film, which makes much of what we’ve seen largely pointless.

Whilst the action is spectacular to behold and is at times very entertaining, it does also tend to become samey to the point boring. For a film, so heavily geared towards action, to produce boring action at the expense of well-formed characters and a decent plot is utterly unforgivable. The scenes don’t build up gradually to a satisfying level. Instead they just blow their load at once and don’t stop to wipe up the mess.

The only saving grace of Sucker Punch is a quite frankly epic soundtrack featuring covers and remixes of great songs like White Rabbit, Sweet Dreams, We Will Rock You and Army of Me. This actually managed to make the film seem impressive, if only for fleeting moments.

Whilst Sucker Punch had me bedazzled by samurai robots and epic sword/gunfights it also had me grinding my teeth with rage at the audacity of the plot, the repetitive nature of the action, its utterly sexist premise and the pseudo philosophical bullshit being quoted during the fantasy scenes. If for two minutes, Zack Snyder had spent a little less time calculating a perfect storm of OTT effects and optimizing sexy outfits and worked on producing a better all-round experience then perhaps Sucker Punch may have fared better. Ultimately though, it is a humungous turd of a film with a gleaming CGI effect, cosplay outfitted sheen.

2 out of 5

Tuesday, March 29, 2011


Last Saturday I was amongst the throng of people that descended on London to protest the government’s austerity cuts. Whilst I wasn’t formally protesting with any organization, I still thought it useful to go and see the action for myself.

Naturally, since then many of the grievances put forward by the marchers have been lost in the discussion about violence, and violent acts committed by the almost predictable cluster of excitable idiots that turn up at every protest to pick a fight with the police or the windows of high street chains. This doesn’t tend to win any sympathy for their cause and drags the cause of the actual protest through the mud.

The violent types always make me cringe. I saw a few on the day and they were stereotypical to say the least. Most of them were people of my age or younger with little in the way of a thought out political agenda apart from rebellion in general. They were just angry idiots that wanted to smash things because they saw this as a semi-legitimate context. Not to mention that most of them spent the day getting drunk before going to take out their frustrations on the 2012 Olympic clock and the police.

Ultimately the violence has no place in any discussion about the march and its aims. They are linked, but are created from separate sources. It’s also irritating that since Saturday, Emperor Palpatine-alike Home Secretary, Theresa May, has decided to stick her boot into the matter by suggesting new draconian powers – such as banning troublemakers from protests - against the thugs. Good idea in principle, but why do I get the impression that this will just mean that policing at protests will become more heavy handed again and that legitimate protestors will start being banned under the vague pretense of “disturbing the peace”. Isn’t the whole point of civil disobedience to disturb the peace in some manner (without resorting to setting fire to a Starbucks of course)?

Overall however I wasn’t very impressed with the march on Saturday. I had hoped it would have been bigger and would have been less a coverall protest for anything from women’s rights to the conflict in Libya. They may as well called it ‘the march against any issue we consider rather unpleasant today’.

I personally went hoping to see people stand up against public service cuts and to defend threatened institutions like the NHS and other public services (the BBC being amongst them, as I still maintain that the license fee is better value for money than any other media package offered by any other broadcaster – Yes! Especially Sky!). That’s not saying that it didn’t happen, many of the families and workers marching were making themselves heard. It’s just a shame that those who got up to speak at the main rally were, in the most part, flimsy. The speakers in Hyde Park were atrocious and considering that the near-invisible Labour leader Ed 'Hide and Seek' Miliband was one of the most important to appear, who can say it was going to be anything else but mediocre.

In any case the government has already said that they won’t listen to those marching on Saturday, which makes you wonder if there are any practical forms of legitimate political expression left.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

The depressing TV files: Lily Allen: From Riches to Rags

Somehow, beyond all logical explanation, I found myself watching Lily Allen: From Riches to Rags last night. I don't normally punish myself in this way but somehow it just happened.

Now I will say before I begin that I was never a fan of Lily Allen’s music. Her mockney tones – put on despite a privileged upbringing in the well to do Chelsea and Kensington area - and whiney lyrics, which had all the wit and maturity of a group of eight year old girls discussing gender politics in a treehouse with a “no boys allowed” sign on the door, alienated me from her songs, even though a few had at least a half decent tune.

Anyway, Ms ‘Knees-up-mother braaan’ Allen has thrown in the towel with the music trade and has decided to become a fashion retail owner, with her Lucy in Disguise brand. The idea is to loan out vintage dresses to shoppers unable to afford such designs. Seems like a good idea – in a kind of Jamie Oliver class/disadvantage campaign way – although there are several downsides to her plan. One of which is that despite the idea of helping underprivileged people try out vintage fashion, the team decides to hire out the dresses for extortionately high amounts, which it is pointed out people can pay to actually buy the clothes.

Then there is Lily herself. She doesn’t seem to care very much about this project or about anything as a matter of fact. She seems to have got into music by accident (probably helped by her father’s contacts) and made a go of that only to get bored and to do something else she’s vaguely interested in. The only downside is that once again this achieved in an industry with a heart-breakingly high entry level that less well off/poorly connected people couldn’t even get a look at. You do get the impression that Lily will tire of this too (if it even works) only to give up and do something else that vaguely interests her. Given the focus of the series, it looks like the next aim is to start a family. Lord only knows how long she will stick at that for.

The second problem with the Lucy in Disguise idea is that she’s given her hopeless party-girl sister Sarah the task of looking after the money. To give a little background on her sister, she is the epitome of the ‘poor little rich girl’ label who lives a completely hedonistic lifestyle. She doesn’t have a clue about business whatsoever and you get the impression that one day the money invested could disappear completely only to be replaced mysteriously by empty champagne bottles and spent cigarettes.

Thirdly, the company’s other employee is an airheaded lady who at some point held some vague position in the fashion/ PR industry. She is the worst of the threesome as she is actually playing a part in leading the clueless Allens away from sound business ideas, towards a romantic flight of fancy that will never get off the ground. Instead of setting up in a prime retail location, selling older but popular fashions, she seems to inhabit a small world of her own where fashion boutiques need to be “fashion destinations” away from the high street that attract attention from some mysterious fashion industry buzz (presumably spoken entirely in backhanded compliments). In short she’s suffering from delusions of grandeur, not helped by well-meaning friends, stuck in the same over-moneyed little fashion bubble she lives in, saying that her ideas are good.

In short with business acumen like this it’s no surprise the idiots left retail expert Mary Portas open-mouthed as they described their plans and showed her a possible location for the shop which happened to be an office.

Watching a trio of air headed women who are completely out of touch with reality and have been granted great privilege and access to a world people would literally sell their souls to work in just made for a frustrating and utterly depressing hour of TV and sums up a lot of what is wrong with the media and entertainment industries in general. The show felt very similar in premise to Joachim Phoenix’s recent film I’m Still Here, albeit made for TV, as you do wonder if Lily Allen is purposely trying to wind us all up with this venture.

The programme itself and the fact I was watching it at all made for a thoroughly disheartening evening.

Friday, March 18, 2011

Japin' round the UK: Edinbuggery

Having lived in the UK for all of my 23 years I had never visited Scotland until last week. There was no reason for avoiding the country in particular, aside from just how far away it was. I know people (especially those from the US) will be quick to point out that the British Isles are tiny compared to most countries, but 400 miles is a long way to go for a weekend. As a result I flew.

It felt exciting yet strange to be travelling again, and despite the fact I wasn’t leaving the country and I was travelling using very dull familiar transport (aka the local bus and train) it was fun to be on the road again. It was stranger still to return to an airport nearly a year since I was last in one when I had flown home from Japan.

Being on a flight (albeit a short one) is quite similar to life itself I’ve discovered. You just want to ride it out as quietly and as effortlessly as possible, and you might set yourself little goals to achieve along the way to keep yourself active (like reading a book). Unfortunately, like life itself, you are constantly harassed by outside forces trying to pursued you to buy items you don’t want or to give you petty orders like keep “your seatbelt on at all times”, “turn off your electronic devices” and “pay attention to the emergency procedures presentation even if you’re a frequent flyer” (I personally continued reading my book as the stewardess demonstrated where the exits were and where the little whistle on the life jacket was).

On arrival I noticed that Scotland has a few odd little quirks – aside from the obvious and well documented presence of deep fried mars bars, kilts and bag pipes. I know that different regions of the UK have these quirks, such as Welsh road signs being duel language, or how Northern people using the term “mardy” but I still wasn’t expecting that Burger Kings in Scotland would sell kebabs. More surprising was the money.

For those who have never been there, Scotland has its own money. The money is legal tender across the UK but you can only get it in cash machines from Scotland. Whilst much of it was unremarkable I still smiled when I saw one note (I think it was for £20 printed by Clydesdale Bank) which featured Robert the Bruce and had a spider drawn in the corner and I couldn’t help but think of this.

Onto Edinburgh itself; the city has a very classical look about it. This is helped a lot by the university buildings and the numerous architectural monuments to classical philosophers and writers. I had been told before that the city was at the forefront of an entire wave of philosophy and literature during the centuries gone by, but I didn’t realize the extent that this was celebrated by the people of Edinburgh. It’s hard to walk far through the Royal Mile without finding a pub dedicated to one of the writers or great thinkers that once lived in the city.

The bar scene in general is very good too. It made a change to the soulless chain venues I’m used to in my local area. Strangely, unlike most international cities I’ve visited, I didn’t find an Irish bar, although I suspect there was good reason for that.

A weird pub however was the Greyfriars Bobby, a bar-shaped tribute to a Skye Terrier that never left his master’s grave in the fourteen years following his death. Outside there was also a statue dedicated to the pup. This seemed similar to Hachiko the Japanese dog that returned daily to Shibuya station in Tokyo to meet his master, even after his owner's death. Still, Hachiko didn’t get a bar did he!

The landscape around Edinburgh is very dramatic. You have the mount, where the castle and most of the gigantic ‘Kirks’ can be found, then on the other side you have the giant volcanic hillock of Arthur’s Seat and the failed-Parthenon-shaped National Monument adorned Calton Hill adjacent to that. Arthur’s seat is very strange to look at and it’s hard to view it without imagining the formation on a bottle of Highland Spring. Such is the sad truth that I can’t think of Scotland without associating it with Stereotypical imagery. I’ve become so American.

It was associations like this, and the fact I was wielding a camera that made me feel like a foreigner in my own land. I know Scotland is technically another country but we have the same money (in value and legality anyway), head of state and so on. Why should it feel so different?

The other side to this of course is I had become everything I have come to hate whilst being in London. Tourists here are a perennial problem. Whether they are clustering around in awkward little huddles, staring at you on the tube (staring at any person on the tube is a no-no, unless you are on first name terms), or are slowly walking in front of you gawping at Regent’s Street, they are a pain. The thing with Edinburgh however, is that it isn’t nearly as busy as central London so there is more room to amble lazily around.

Overall I enjoyed my time up in Edinburgh. It’s a fine city which is only let down by the weather and general chilliness.

Monday, February 28, 2011

Miserable Mail readers

You know when you have an experience where you find that something really is as bad as you think it is, despite thinking “nah, it couldn’t possibly be as rotten as that”. Well, I had one of those today.

It involved reading a piece of news on the Daily Mail website, which is not something I do on a regular basis, although I decided to see what the vibe was on the home of hate. I decided to jump in at the deep end and read a story based on the recent case where a couple has been denied a foster child because they were "not willing to tell a small child that the practice of homosexuality was a good thing".

Now my opinion on this story is that I agree with the judgement, whilst the couple’s opinion doesn’t make them unfit parents or even bad people, we shouldn’t encourage children to be brought up with such a narrow interpretation of a complex issue. After all what happens if the child itself turns out to be gay?

Then however, I got round to reading some of the comments and interesting reading that made, especially when I looked at what got the best and worst reception from the general readership.

The top rated comment read: “Muslims can still get jobs in our public sector, including the BBC, despite holding the same anti-gay beliefs. Their anti-gay stance is more acceptable to the gay community - a discrepancy the gays have yet to explain to the rest of us.” 974 people liked this.

As far as Daily Mail comments stakes go this has got to win a prize, with bonus points awarded for xenophobia, BBC bashing and homophobia all in one short paragraph. The fact that someone managed to crowbar an attack on the Muslims into this debate about homophobia (although to be fair Christianity is heavily featured in this story) is one thing, but to then skew it into a counter attack on the gay community takes a special kind of bigotry. Also where and when have the Muslims ever had a clear preference? Is this based on fact or sheer speculation? This chap has single handedly created a perfect storm of Mail reader “right on” prejudice. All it was missing out on was an attack on ‘benefit scum’ or ‘gyppo’s’.

Unsurprisingly many of the other ‘liked’ comments centered on why the UK is a Christian country and that Muslims aren’t being so hard done by when they adopt.

Yeah of course, because the Muslim community gets such good treatment the rest of the time when they aren’t being blamed for taking our jobs, or getting mixed up with extreme sects or generally being looked upon with an air of suspicion. Of course they feel complacent in the UK right now But wait, no! What about the poor white man, the Christian, or the middle class family with their 3 bedroom semi. They’re the real victims because they have to incur the odd knock in life like a family of a different race moving in up the road.

The worst rated comment meanwhile, got 774 dislikes and simply read: “Bigots should not be allowed to foster children. Well done the high court.”

After all why would the readers of the Mail condone anti-bigotry when they themselves are mostly bigots it would seem according to this brief experiment? I was also saddened by the fact that many comments were disliked whilst making the valid argument that a homosexual child being brought up by a homophobic foster family could face mental health problems if it turned out to be gay and was chastised for this.

It’s sad really as I would like to think that the majority of Mail readers, whilst having questionable – in my mind anyway – taste in news reporting and commentary, were probably perfectly nice people and not as bigoted as their reading preference would make out. Unfortunately it's the idiots who chose to stand up and be counted.

Saturday, February 19, 2011

First Impressions: The King of Limbs

A lot has already been written about the new album from Radiohead, The King of Limbs.

The band’s eighth studio album has been released digitally a day earlier than planned and attention has already been turned to the first music video for the song Lotus Flower, which features lead singer Thom Yorke dancing as if he’s been possessed by the ghosts of Charlie Chaplain and Michael Jackson.

The King of Limbs, like other works by Radiohead, follows a new musical direction to the band’s last work, In Rainbows, resulting in a complex and haunting feel to the album – with the track Codex being a very poigniant example of this.

For many fans it will be an alienating experience as Radiohead once again askews the mainstream for an original sound. However, many will also celebrate the band’s shunning of the norms and will congratulate them on this brave new, weird-sounding direction.

Personally, after listening to the album for the first time, I’d say it is a challenging work to listen to. In comparison to In Rainbows – which now sounds comparatively conservative – it is an even greater step into the alternative echelons of music. Its very hard to attack the band for that, as that was has been expected from them for some time and over all the King of Limbs is a satisfying experience.

My only feeling is that it will end up making good background music for dinner parties, which is really at odds with the ethos of the band’s music.

Still, The King of Limbs at the very least shows what good can come from music if allowed creative freedom, rather than being lumped with a generic sounding, packaged theme as demanded by the money men.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

The half-baked return of Masterchef

Masterchef, the food porn inspiration-fest, is back with a new series on BBC One this week.

Despite previously complaining on this blog about the over-saturation of cooking themed shows on TV at the moment, I still have a soft spot for Masterchef.

Since its resurrection six years ago, the programme has gone from strength to strength, but now the BBC has decided that the format needs a further upgrade.

The result of this is a bigger, flasher new studio with all sorts of bells and nobs on. This looks a bit like a giant, cold kitchen-themed night club – which is quite fitting considering the heavy use of dance-style music over the credits and some of the cooking segments – although lacks a lot of the charm and familiarity of the old set, despite the fact that that too looked like a giant cold kitchen-themed night club.

Now instead of a claustrophobic backroom scene where judges John Torode and Gregg Wallace shovel ready-made food into their slobbering jaws, the contestants are now forced to plate up and prepare their dishes in front of the waiting judges as if they are on the bloody X-Factor (or ‘Eggs-Factor’ in this case). This results in the poor sod contestant putting together his/her disassembled bangers and mash, or whatever it is he/she’s cooking, whilst Torode and Wallace sit awkwardly on bar-stool-like seats, pulling odd contorted faces, before shoveling obnoxiously large mouthfuls of food into their mouths and making their judgement.

What I dislike about the new format in this sense – and that isn’t to say it didn’t happen before – is the mock tension that’s inserted into the cooking scenes. Sure, before Gregg and John would hover awkwardly around watching people cook, which is undoubtably stressful, but now the series is treading into the realms of nightmares as the contestants are forced to effectively cook whilst on stage, like some kind of hideous Cirque-de-SoufflĂ©. It’s no surprise that one contestant admitted that she had had nightmares about Gregg and John judging her food. Furthermore the hosts have also started delivering Chris Tarrant-grade tension fillers, like saying "wait a minute. I still need to say yes" after one of the judges has approved the food.

Despite the complaints, Gregg Wallace as ever is a joy. Love him or hate him he is an indispensible part of the show. Whether he is bumbling around pulling faces as the contestants whip up delicious treats that he can later shovel into his oddly large mouth, or heaping huge portions of custard soaked sponge cake into his gob; this smiling, bespectacled, bald headed judge is a delight to watch.

He isn’t even a real chef; instead he is just a wholesale food seller – or ‘ingredients experts’ as the branding experts at the BBC have named him - with a large appetite and a childish love of desserts but it is now impossible to imagine Masterchef without him.

Unfortunately, despite the attempts to breathe life into the series whilst maintaining the best of the status quo of keeping “a bald bloke and an Aussie chef and fantastic food”, the series feels like it has lost that magic it once had; much like an element of it’s personality and simplicity has been lost. Yes, I know those words sound mighty pretentious, when really we’re talking about what is simply another reality show. However, in the words of His Greggness who wonderfully burbled “let’s get fatter” in the first episode, seems to sum up the new ethos for the change in format and in turn the biggest problem with the new Masterchef.

The programme has become bloated, and perhaps the best thing would be to put the show on a diet and slim it down to its former glory. Then again maybe it’s just time catching up with the show. After all, nothing lasts forever.

Personally I’m all for seeing a form of Masterchef that incorporates gladiatorial combat into the cooking process, whilst Gregg and John pull idiotic faces and criticize the contestants on the lack of seasoning on their upside down shepherd’s pie and their poor technique with a scimitar.

Still, we’re one episode in and the new format may yet come into its own.