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