Monday, April 28, 2003

I read once that your personality is pretty much fixed by the time you're 30. I am 31 in three weeks time.

Three weeks to change. Doesn't give me much to play with, does it.

Mr Naked Blog seems to confirm this theory, writing recently that it helps to be young to blog, as it's a time of maximum change, internal and external. Hopefully though, as age increases, so does insight and writing skill.

I've been set in my ways since the age of 5, anyway.

Saturday, April 26, 2003

It is very easy to criticise gay businessman Mr Ivan Massow - people have sneered at his attempts to enter politics (he famously accompanied Mrs Thatcher on one occasion), before switching over to Labour. He resigned from the ICA before making a grandiloquent "All Modern Art is Crap and The Emporer isn't Wearing Any Clothes" speech. He said Tracy Emin couldn't think her way out of a paper bag. He has also been accused of being a shameless self-publicist, boring, inarticulate and lucky. These are probably from people who are jealous.

So this latest entry in the Massow canon is very fitting. The Guardian are showcasing a naked "diptych" of him - painted by Jonathan Yeo over a period of 18 months, inbetween which Massow lost three stone. The title of this piece is "Being Geri Halliwell".

How should it be viewed? A picture of an attractive middle-aged man (as wank/fantasy fodder), furthering Massow's reputation as a rich pretty-boy (and therefore the UK's ideal Alpha Gay Male - that makes me a Delta Male incidentally). As a wonderful work of "proper art" that required actual talent to create, and a testament to Massow's ICA attack? An "ironic" statement about our celebrity-obsessed, show-and-tell society? Or another attempt to raise his er... profile?

The answer is probably all of the above. And while a) I admit to fancying Ivan Massow inspite of his connections with the hunting set and b) the picture is quite artistic, the multiple postmodern interpretations and use of the self as art/commodity make the whole excercise something that Tracy Emin should be quite proud of herself.

My friend Lawrence's pictures of Ivan were almost included in The Guardian article, but were pulled at the last minute. They're here in case you're interested.

Thursday, April 24, 2003

The Sims, which I've recently become addicted to all over again after buying Hot Date (the girl who served me in HMV smiled knowingly), is about to get yet another add-on. This one is called Sims Superstar and is an appropriate addition in our silly fame-obsessed culture. According to the blurb "Players can now realize their fantasies of fame and fortune as they pursue the dream of being a Rock Star, Movie Star or a Supermodel and live the lifestyle of a celebrity." With new objects, like the movie set, the catwalk and the obsessed fan, it all looks very hyper-real. My PC can only just about cope with the Hot Date add-on, so can only imagine what Superstar will be like. I hope there'll be the option to let you Sim become a bulimic binger, a reculsive alcoholic in a blonde wig, a child-abusing bitch from hell and a closeted gay man with a porn-star past and a string of aspiring actress "beards".

In fact, if the nice people at Maxis ever run out of ideas for Sims add-ons, here's my own, admittedly twisted list of possibilities:

Sims Cat-House: Build and maintain your own brothel. There's a host of new characters for your Sims to interact with, including Molly, the obliging madam, or Tina, Gina and Rina - the professional girls. With a whole new series of wallpapers and floors in leopard-print and fake gold, you can decorate your brothel to give it that gaudy, tawdry look that will have the punters coming back for more. And there's a new range of social activities that includes "spank", "lap-dance" and "strip-tease".

Sims Gay Bath-House: Spend time cruising the 10-man jacuzzi, check out the talent in the steam-room or get lost in the dark-room - now you can have all the fun of gay sex without having to worry about exchanging bodily fluids or being arrested (if you live in one of those funny backward countries which still have homophobic laws). Will your Sim be attractive enough to entice the "Hot Stud" into a private booth, or will he have to make do with the Fat Ugly Old Man Who No-one Else Wants? Will it all end in tears or an exchange of phone numbers?

Sims Ghetto: With an array of amusing new characters including the pimp, the crack-whore, the pregnant teenage mother, the street people and the drug cartel, you can engage in all of the fun of under-class voyerism with none of the risk to yourself! Recreate the "feel" of a rough neighbourhood, with drive-by shootings, syringes on the pavement and homeless people shouting abuse at random. Have a public slanging-match with the crazy old lady who has 18 cats or have sex in a back alley. New activities include "spit", "shoot-up" and "collapse from malnutrition" and "hold up a supermarket".

Wednesday, April 23, 2003

I'm getting fed up of Star Trek Enterprise. While all of the Star Trek series have taken a while to get going, Enterprise is well into its second series now and my interest is flagging. The premise - going back in time - never really held for me, but what makes it worse is that the ideology of the programme also appears to be taking a retrograde step. To give an example - in Monday's episode "The Crossing", the crew encountered a group of aliens whose ship had been damaged. These aliens looked like bits of blue light, and in order to survive, they occupied the bodies of the crew, so they could get home. This "alien possession" storyline has been used many times on Star Trek before. So far, so good. In the past, say in a Picard, Sisko or Janeway episode, the crew would probably have figured out what was going on, gained control and then helped the aliens to repair their ship or find their way home. But in this episode, they simply gained control. The episode ends with the alien ship being blow up and all the aliens being killed. And that was it. No "what a shame they had to die". No "what a shame we couldn't have negotiated with them or helped them." It was like - "Hurrah - we're Americans and you'd better not mess with us, you motherfuckers! And you Axis of Evil countries had better be watching this, because that's how we do things from now on!!!" Perhaps recent world events have made the tv network and script writers more aggressive. But I didn't like it.

All historical drama (whether set in the past or the future for that matter) can be viewed through three lenses of "reality" or interpretation. First - by the time period that it's supposed to be set in. Second, by the time period that it's made in. Third - by the current time period that the audience is watching it in. So for example, when watching I Claudius - about Ancient Rome, I always note the weird 1970s hairstyles of the Roman characters and the cautious attempts at sexual decadence, which by the standards of 2003 seem tame. I'll probably have a compeltely different take on the show if I was to watch it in 10 years time (guessing that tv will be even more liberal by then). And I think this 3-levels interpretation can be applied to Star Trek. The 1960s Original Series told us an awful lot about the 1960s, as well as imagining what the future would be like. The Klingons could be said to represent the Russians for example. By the late 1980s/1990s, the newer series were more based around the concept of identity - could people of different species learn to live together in harmony? Storylines tended to have a liberal, humanitarian bias to them. They often explored complex issues, where there were shades of grey.

And now what do we have? George Bush in space! Shoot first, ask questions later. The central premise of Star Trek is no longer about who people are, but what they do. The emphasis and storylines are now on action rather than identity. It's about doing stuff rather than character development. After two series I hardly know anything about the characters on Enterprise - except that they're two dimensional and uninteresting (although I do know what most of them look like in their underwear).

To use a phrase that's no longer particularly popular any more, Star Trek has dumbed down. And I don't like it.

Friday, April 18, 2003

Morecambe at night

We gotta get out of this place
If it's the last thing we ever do,
We gotta get out of this place,
Girl, there's a better life for me and you

There's something very sultry about Morecambe after dark. As I walked along the seafront - looking across the bay, I could hear a drunk lad karaoke-singing from inside a pub. As the cafe owners swept up and people walking their dogs hurried past, I was aware of all of the possibilities of this place, and how much I liked it, inspite of the fact that everyone I know slags it off, or perhaps just because of that.

On another note, pot bellies are now "in" according to The Guardian. Stop the fashion cycle, I want to get off.

Wednesday, April 16, 2003

Saddam bashing is now in full-swing. Now that the statues have toppled in front of the whole world - and ordinary Iraqis have taken to performing lewd acts in the streets with pictures of him (not to mention hitting his iconography with their shoes - I'm sure it has very important cultural significance but it just looks silly so please stop doing it - thanks XXX), the latest piece of scandal is that Saddam was a gay porn star all along (thanks to Comatose for the link). It's almost like an episode of South Park come to life.

Even The Guardian can't resist twisting the knife - although in true Guardian snotty, middle-class "House Doctor" style, it decides to make fun of Saddam's taste. After a week of sniffy articles about gold taps in the Palace bathroom, the latest "What sort of insane fascist dictator would live in a House Like This?" expose decides to have a laugh at some of the bad art that adorns the walls of the palace. "The iconography of psychotic porn," giggles art correspondent Jonathan Jones. And it seems that Saddam had the taste of a 14 year old boy whose teachers would describe as being "a bit slow", who has just discoverd masturbation and is probably going to grow up with inarticulated sexual desires for men AND women. It's all about blonde women with their breasts hanging out, being rescued by blonde men (also with their breasts hanging out), from being attacked by dragons etc. Lots of phallic missiles and a cartoonish style that reminds me of Dungeons and Dragons.

Taking a look at the blonde guy in that picture, maybe the gay porn star story has some credence after all.

Tuesday, April 15, 2003

Does anyone remember Dolly Masters, a blonde British D-movie actress who made a series of low-budget exploitation flops in the 50s and 60s - along the lines of Invasion of the Go-Go Girls and Hot Pants Harlot? I caught her on TCM the other night in the last film she ever made in the early 1970s - Love Has Not Yet Saved Us. Bloated and stoned, she tonelessly forgot her lines and had to be metaphorically "carried" by the other actors who were clearly prompting her. It was wonderful and I was instantly besotted.

I had guessed that Dolly had probably died shortly after making that film, but after a bit of research, it turns out that she's ALIVE! And just like Wil Wheaton, she has her own web site. Dolly has a new fan. I suspect I may be her only fan, but I don't care. The woman needs a comeback and all publicity is good publicity...

Monday, April 14, 2003

I am addicted to BBC3's The Bachelor - a show that is so wrong and bad, it's oddly addictive. The Bachelor is one of those "perfect" men everyone hates - he's in his late 30s, yet he has a six-pack and used to model underwear for Next. He also has his own business, likes wind-surfing and comes across as genuinely nice and not at all arrogant. From a pool of 25 women, each week he gradually whittles them down, during a humiliating and face-threatening "rose ceremony" where only about half the contestants get picked and the rest are ceremonially dumped. There is inevitable bitchiness and tears. And it all happens in a posh villa in Barbados. I wonder what Jane Austen would make of it all?

You get the feeling that for some of the women, their victorious yelps on being asked to "accept this rose" are more about getting to stay on the tv show and being perceived as attractive, and NOT really about actually fancying the bachelor. Those who know they ain't gonna get picked make sure they let everyone know how much they hate him long in advance of the ceremony. Sassy "high maintenance" Monique threatened not to attend, then spent the morning in bed until she got some much-sought-after personal time with The Bachelor. A smitten Bridget-Jones-a-like with a pierced tongue confessed on a video message that she "fancied him" and was then ecstatic when she got picked. However, my money's on the over-confident New Zealander or the quiet Geordie psychologist with the probing questions - an Elizabeth Bennett for the 21st century.

On another note - I am off to Greece next month, and have been wanting to do something about my pale skin in advance of the holiday. Recent warnings about sun beds have scared me off ever using them, so I was intrigued by a "revolutionary" new tanning system which has been advertised in a number of magazines I've seen lately. It involves going into a booth and being sprayed all over for 6 seconds. So for the sake of scientific discovery, I decided to give it a go (so that you don't have to).

It was a strange experience. I entered a room, undressed, put on a shower cap and went into a booth. I was told to press a button, close my eyes and breath out for 6 seconds. "It won't do you any harm if you breath it in, but it's best to breath out..." said the woman who ran the place. There was a sudden whoosh and I was bombarded with air. Afterwards, I stepped out - to my horror I had turned an incredibly deep brown colour - much browner than I had imagined or wanted. I look like an Iraqi porn star. It lasts about a week, so I suppose I will have to go into hiding until the dead skin cells fall off.

Saturday, April 12, 2003

Good luck to Matt Lippiatt whose short film G.R.U.N.T.S about homophobia in the armed forces (performed with Action Men) is showing tonight in Duckie. I met Matt recently, and we had an interesting conversation about gay cinema, his fear of watching Beautiful Thing (I suggest it's remade as Ugly Thing), and how films with bad actors are somehow better. I kept forgetting that he's 22 and as a result I made a number of cultural references that showed my advancing age. Oh dear.

I have a new favourite movie, which is annoying because it's unlikely to come out on general release. Some of My Best Friends Are... is set in the Blue Jar bar in New York, in the early 1970s. It features a bizarre cast - Rue McClachlan (slutty Blanche from the Golden Girls) plays a vicious fag hag. There's also Candy Darling (of the Warhol/Morrissey films), playing a drag queen who gets assaulted by a spaced-out male hustler. But best of all is Gil Gerad (who went on to find mainstream success as Buck Rogers in the 25th century). Here Gil's a butch airplane pilot who everyone wants a piece of. The film's got lots of quick one-liners - one character has a Bloody Mary spilt all over his lap. Shrieking with laughter he cries "Oh good! I'm not pregnant." But the best line goes to Candy Darling - after the attack on her, she creeps out of the men's room, while the cast await in horror to see what sort of state she's going to be in. Quickly gathering her composure she asks "Has anyone seen a contact lens?" and makes for her seat like nothing happened. Good old Candy.

Another good film I've seen recently is Girls Will Be Girls - starring a trio of drag queens - Miss Coco Peru, Jack Plotnick and Dana Gould. It's a kind of parody of Valley of the Dolls, Sunset Boulevard and Whatever Happened to Baby Jane all rolled into one film. I have been obsessed with Miss Coco since she appeared in Trick - "have you ever had someone come in your eye?" she asks. "It BURNS!" She's on top form in this film too. In one flashback scene Coco explains that when she had an abortion she fell in love with the doctor who performed it. "Our souls touched!" Later she tries to find out his address but the hospital won't give it to her. Undefeated, Coco resolves to get pregnant so she can have an abortion all over again, just so she can get close to the hunky doctor. However, weighed down with guilt, the aborted fetus pays her a visit in the middle of the night, during a dream sequence. It's the kind of humour that only drag queens can get away with, just. I think.

Wednesday, April 09, 2003

At last! You've enjoyed the tv series, memorised lines like "We're not going to be needing these in the council flat where we're going, now you've thrown your career down the bog pan" and thrilled to a cast of inarticulate, homosexually repressed, thick as custard male characters and scheming, dog-rough, slutty females. Now play the Top Trumps game of Footballers Wives. Simply print out these cards (several times if necessary), make your own pack, and play with your friends. Fantastic!

Feeling a bit guilty about my slagging off of London earlier this week, so here's my favourite things about the city:

1. Camden Market. Like no other market. While London can still trade on its swinging 60s image, it's only really at Camden where anything approaching this can be found. It's a bizarre hotchpotch of retro clothing stores, ethnic food, punk S/M gear, hemp lollypops, cool music blaring out from every shop, almost every over-the-top fashion on display and a disjointed sense that anything is possible. It's much, much bigger than it first appears, and it's possible to get totally lost in a network of alternative consumer heaven. With stalls by the names of Dolly Rockers and Cyber Dog, it's a place that Austin Powers could host his next song-and-dance extravaganza at.

2. Old Compton Street. Unofficially, I don't like it very much, but any place where same-sex couples can walk around hand-in-hand and be greeted with boredom rather than giggles or outrage can't be that bad.

3. The Kings Road, Chelsea - Sloane Square. It's all posh birds with blonde hair and shopping bags. Poor people are simply not allowed to walk down this street. Also contains the site of Monsoon - which I like to think inspired the Edina Monsoon character in Absolutely Fabulous. Try one of the restaurants and be intimidated by the weird food and prices...

4. The Vauxhall Tavern. Home of Duckie on Saturday Nights, which is run by the very fabulous Amy Lamé. Duckie is a gay nightclub of performance art, where it's OK to wear glasses and be skinny. It specialises in themed evenings and audience participation and it's a welcome respite from everywhere else.

5. The National Portrait Gallery. Big enough to get around without wearing you out. There's usually something good on, and if not, you can always gasp in horror at the weird head statue of Zandra Rhodes.

6. The Ironmonger Row Baths. Old Street tube. One of the few existing Turkish baths left in the country, and you're far less likely to be hassled by people wanting to look at your bits and bobs.

7. The River Thames. Big Ben, the Houses of Parliament, that big Ferris Wheel, The National Theatre. London actually looks quite pretty from there.

8. The Ministry of Truth Building. Bloomsbury. It's actually called Senate House and was used as the Ministry of Information in WWII and was George Orwell's insipiration for the Ministry of Truth in 1984. It also appeared in the film. It's very imposing, cream coloured and grand - and I always like to think that somewhere inside, Winston Smith is still plotting against Big Brother.

Tuesday, April 08, 2003

Guess what phrase I typed into Google in order to get the following results:

Sunday, April 06, 2003

A weekend in London (which I no longer recognise as having very much to do with the rest of the UK) to the London Lesbian and Gay Film Festival. As it happens during the Easter break, it's become a kind of tradition to take a few days off work, book into a nearby hotel, and watch 3-4 films a day. By the end, having seen 7 films in 2 days, I was jaded and uncomfortable. Experimental shorts were contrasted with bigger budget (usually over-seas) films. Several themes emerged: unattainable gorgeous straight men, hilarious female friends, sassy drag queens, closet-cases and men with big muscles. It all became a kind of queer milkshake swirl and I can no longer name any film I saw or distinguish one from the other.

London was as usual, a place of extremes, over-priced bad food, beautiful streets containing grand old houses - the pavements and roads full of rubbish and vomit after last night's partying, keeping my hand on my wallet most of the time, people being louder, brasher, scarier and more confident than I'm used to. I was cruised by more gay men over the weekend than I have been in the last few months. I have always had an uneasy relationship with London. I worked there one summer a few years ago, living in Camden, with a silly media-related job that meant I mixed with vaguely well-known people. I have friends who live there and I'm very aware that to them I am a weird oddity - someone who they think should live in London but stubbornly doesn't and is therefore always going to be culturally backward, unfashionable and out-of-it. And while London is exciting, I recall that when I worked there, I rarely had the money or the time to do the things I wanted to do. Instead, I prefer to visit for a couple of days, with money in my wallet and then leave before it gets too real or I adjust to the ugliness and the noise.

On the train home I read Polly Toynbee's Hard Work, about life in low-pay Britain. It's a well-written, compelling book - a natural successor to George Orwell's Down and Out in Paris and London. Toynbee is a journalist and comfortably middle class. In the book she takes a number of low-paid jobs - telesales, care assistant, dinner lady, cleaner etc., while living in a rough tower block, 15 minutes walk from her own home in a fashionable part of Clapham. She concludes that she found it impossible to live on such wages without having to "cheat". In my favourite part of the book, while working as a nanny, she passes Peter Mandleson - he doesn't recognise her. It says a lot about how low-paid jobs make you invisible. And a lot of it resonated - I've had a few crap jobs in my time and can sympathise with anyone who's had to wipe old lady's bottoms for less than the minimum wage. Ms Toynbee is my new heroine.

Wednesday, April 02, 2003

I have found Low Culture and am suddenly wondering if this site is even necessary. However, I feel I can justify its existence. While Low Culture is like a big vacuum cleaner, hoovering up whatever's "popular" almost indiscriminately, over at Trash Addict, I like to think that I'm a bit more discerning - I'm a trash connoisseur, picking carefully over nuggets of the obscure and the sublime... Only those with a very special tarnish will make it onto this site. Also, Low Culture is like Heat Magazine's slutty younger sister (Heat magazine is itself, the slutty younger sister of Hello! and OK!) So with Low Culture it's all about what's hot right now. There's no time for yesterday. They won't even have anything more than 2 days old on their front page, such is the frenetic pace! Whereas Trash Addict is more leisurely, attempting (usually unsuccessfully but what the hell) to revive the forgotten gems of shunned decades. Finally, Low Culture is actually quite well-designed, with tasteful use of cyan and white, to create a pleasing-to-the-eye effect. Trash Addict on the other hand, is proud to be loud orange, use an ugly font, and pay little attention to matters of design. This is trash after all!

Tuesday, April 01, 2003

Do you remember a Scottish variety act called The Krankies? Jeanette and Ian Krankie were a husband-and-wife double act. Their comedy routine involved Jeanette cross-dressing as a naughty school-boy called Jimmy, who would get up to all sorts of trouble. They were staples on children's shows like Crackerjack in the 1980s, and had their own programme at one point. Jimmy's catchphrase "Fandabbidozy!" was in vogue for a few months.

But time hasn't been kind to The Krankies. By the mid 1990s their careers had taken a down turn. Mainstream comedy was out and alternative was in. The Krankies were forced to reinvent themselves. Trading on their naffness, they appeared in several episodes of the sketch show French and Saunders, notably playing comedy villains in parodies of Silence of the Lambs and Batman. In the Silence of the Lambs parody, Jennifer Saunders, playing Clarice Starling walks down the long prison corridor and is taunted by The Krankies, locked in a prison cell. "What did The Krankies say to you Clarice?" asks Dawn French, playing Dr Lecter. "Fandabbidozy!" says a horrified Jennifer. "I'm sorry," says Dawn. It was funny, and showed that The Krankies were good sports.

But a few nights ago, with the new series of Japanese betting gameshow Banzai, I got the impression that self-parody had been taken a step too far. Almost a decade along again from French and Saunders, the Krankies have had to resort to an even more attention-getting device. This time, a voice-over tells us that Jimmy was a girl all along. Dressed in school uniform, Jeanette Krankie appears onscreen. Close-ups reveal that she's now old. Very old. We are then asked to guess her bra size from a number of options. Once a time limit has passed, Jimmy unbuttons his school uniform to reveal his/her bra.

It makes me wonder what The Krankies will be doing on tv in another ten years time. At this rate, they'll be having bukkake sex.

Despite the rather Daily Mail-ish tone of this, I like Banzai. But I am a bit concerned about a current trend with celebrities. It appears that they're prepared to undergo more and more extreme forms of humiliation in order to get on our screens. Celebrity Big Brother, I'm A Celebrity Get Me Out of Here, Reborn in the USA, Banzai. Once upon a time, celebrities had the choice of uttering the magical words "I want to be alone" and lapsing into respectable obscurity in their hill-top mansions. Now it seems that Baby Jane has a twisted currency of her very own. That's not a very encouraging message for starting out actors and pop stars of today. In ten years time they'll be enacting out Salo 100 Days of Sodom in front of a live studio audience. And they'll be so grateful.