Thursday, February 19, 2004


Poor under-used Lisa Kudrow - the best thing about Friends, now in it's 10th and final series (they've been saying it's the final series since about year 5 - it reminds me of Allied Carpets who were forever having those "closing down sales"). I wish Lisa Kudrow was my best friend. I loved her in Romy and Michelle's High School Reunion, I loved her in The Opposite of Sex. I even love her in the anodyne, self-congratulatory Friends.

Apparently, Friends is so successful because in real life people don't have friends - or rather, society is now so fragmented and transitory that we rarely make groups of lifelong friends who live near us and all know each other and hang out with each other all the time. Friends fills a gap in our lives - many people watch it alone, which I love! It also explains the preponderance of advertising where groups of Friendsesque people gather together for fun activities - anyone for a Dorito or a Friendchip as they're known?


Speaking of Friends, very very occasionally it throws up a real gem. In about episode 6 of the new series, we see an advertisment for male lipstick that Joey has made for Japanese tv. It only lasts about 20 seconds - but oh what a 20 seconds they are! Everything you ever needed to know about Japanse culture, as well as a shocking diatribe against gender, camp performativity, globalisation, marketisation... it's all there. Ichiban! Lipstick for men! Sayiko!

Wednesday, February 18, 2004

Just back from a conference in Washington DC (being an academic is occasionally glamorous). I love going to America because they really know how to do trash. Here are some things I uncovered while there:

Survivor All-stars.

Previous "cast" members of cruealty-tv show Survivor return for another chance to win the million dollars. Nice to know that the winner from series 1, Richard Hatch has put all that weight back on.

The Butterfly Effect

Designed/destined to be a cult film in about 10 years time - man-of-the-moment Ashton Kutcher plays a confused young man who finds out he can go back in time at key points in his life to change his own history (as you do). Although, shock! Whenever he tries to make things better, they just end up worse than before. The first half hour is horribly horribly bleak - e.g. there's a paedophile daddy in the cellar with a video camera, and Ashton's dog gets put in a sack and thrown on the fire. However, all it gets interesting when he starts messing with the timeline. Who knew that choosing whether or not to make the odd confrontational speech as a child will determine your future social class, girlfriend and chioce of clothing? Kind of clever and dumb at the same time. Kind of like Donnie Darko for normal people.

Branded: The Buying and Selling of Teenagers

I read this on the plane and it was good. My favourite chapter in it was about teen movies. The author compares the movies of the 1980s, which she now views as a kind of "Golden Age" - where outsiders, rebels and dorks got to be the heroes (The Breakfast Club and Heathers represent a kind of apotheosis of this theory), whereas since the mid-1990s the stars of all movies have had to be what she calls "influencers" - ergo, popular smiley jocks with shiny hair, lots of money and fashion-sense. It's not only OK to be a cheerleader, it's essential. Think Bring It On and Clueless. I want to be an influencer!

The L Word

Los Angelesian new soap opera featuring a cast of thin, femme, middle-class, beautiful lesbians who are all super friends and support one another through the travails of coming out, artificial insemination and much more! It's actually not as annoying as it sounds - and it's a lot more subtle and interesting than Queer As Folk which I can't stand in either its British or American translations. I watched about 5 episodes of the L word back-to-back and fell asleep. Now I want to be a lesbian.

Other things about being in America.... American customs are now seriously out of control - I hadn't bothered to pack a suitcase as I was only going for 5 days and didn't need a load of shirts. That clearly marked me out as deviant and I was ushered to one side and questioned in an aggressive manner. "Where is your suitcase? Why don't you have one? Who are you? Show me your itinary! Show me a letter inviting you to this 'conference'!" I've never been made to feel like a cross between a terrorist and a scrounging economic asylum seeker who's intending to abscond the minute they set foot in the U.S. but that's how they made me feel - and me! A middle-class professional with a title and three books to his name. I know there are security alerts but a little bit of politeness at security goes a long way!

Everyone now seems to be obsessed with the issue of gay marriage in America. There were 3 conference sessions about it. It was everywhere in the papers, both mainstream and gay. At the same time, I counted more casual/clusmy homophobia in the American media than ever before. Also as it was Valentines Day, there were loads of cheesy adverts where the viewer was positioned as a heterosexual man and told to "buy her chocolates this Valentines Day. Women love chocolates." (The Atkins diet seems to be as all-pervasive in the U.S. as it is in the U.K. at the moment. Possibly moreso.) Also, there were lots of adverts that began "This President's Day make sure that you...." I love how American adverts do that.

I always find it weird and scary how many times I walk past people on the streets and they're mumbling or talking to themselves. One of these people asked me if I'd give him a hundred dollars. I declined politely and then ducked into the nearest shop just to escape him.

In terms of the "gay world" I think there are now 3 Americas - 1) the closeted backwards/woods one, full of self-loathing, tea-room cruising and repressed internalised homophobia, 2) the fun "gay" one - characterised by a total embracement of the commercial gay scenes, rainbow flags, a huge party circuit, drugs, clubs, pecs, sex, fashion and Carson Kressley. 3) a highly political "queer" one - with radical drag, demonstrations, piercings, subversion, superiority and rejection of "gay" values. Thinking back to myself, I don't think I fit in anywhere anymore.

Coming back to the UK, I was lucky enough to see the first episode of Season 3 of Footballers Wives (thanks to Tivo). And this time they have got it exactly right. The boring characters have all been written out, new louche characters have been written in and this episode was possibly the most perfect 90 minutes of television ever made. A kind of trash high. There were so many moments in it that I simply can't list them all - but they included: new character Conrad excited at being fucked with a strap-on by his wife Amber - Amber's dog getting eaten at her swanky party as part of the Triad's revenge. Ultra-bitch Tanya attending a funeral and her own wedding in the same clothes - and reciting Robbie Williams as part of the eulogy. Poor Chardonnay has died of anorexia, off-screen and between seasons, without warning. Her coffin had her name written in huge letters - in the same font that Cadburys use. This is almost too much irony for me to bear. There's a lot of commentary on social class going on in Footballers Wives, but that'll have to wait for another time.

Thursday, February 05, 2004

I decided I want an orange shirt and went out in the rain to find one.

A weekend later, I've realised that it doesn't work that way. I
looked in two cities - one reasonbly large, the other average sized. And
although I went into dozens of shops, it was like going into the same shop
over and over again. There only seem to be about five types of shirts available
at the moment - someone has decreed it and that becomes your limited choice. Orange is not
on the list of permissable colours at the moment, so don't try and step outside the boundaries. They won't let you.

Three reasons why I love love has many faces

At least my copy of Love Has Many Faces finally arrived (ex rental from the US - not very good quality but trash connoisseurs can't be too choosy. Love Has Many Faces is good for three reasons - first it has the hirsute and muscular Hugh O'Brien running around in a pair of painted on swimming trunks for most of the film - he plays a "beach boy" (although he's in his 40s) who seduces and then blackmails wealthy women.

Second, Ruth Roman (star of The Baby) is one of these women - and in the film's most memorable scene tells him that she's blackmail proof and has no reputation left anyway. "You could have had it all," she says ruefully, after writing him a stud-services cheque for a thousand dollars.

Third, in another scene, O'brien strips to his waist and lies face down on the bed. His buddy - another hustler unbuttons his own shirt and asks him "Is there anything you wouldn't do for a dollar?" As homoerotic subtexts go, it doesn't get much better.

Tuesday, February 03, 2004

Continuing my latterly obsession with Nigel Kneale (Quatermass, Stone Tape etc) I finished watching The Year of the Sex Olympics last night. This was a play, filmed in 1968 for the BBC and set in the future (owing a lot to Huxley's Brave New World, Bradbury's Farenheit 451 and Orwell's 1984).

Society is divided into the glamorous educated high-drives who do all the work and the zombieesque low-drives who are kept in control by banal tv programmes such as "The Hungry Angry Show" (cue lots of clowns pelting each other with custard pies) and the Sex Olympics - where couples fuck onscreen. All the high-drives care about is ratings, ratings, ratings, but the low-drives are all getting a bit bored lately. Excitingly, someone dies by accident on-screen and the low-drives are loving it! So the "Life-Live" show is invented - a 24/7 programme which casts a couple of volunteer high-drives and their slow-witted daughter onto a barren island, where hidden cameras watch their every move. Of course, the high-drives don't know how to boil water, let alone feed, clothe and look after themselves - the resulting misery, anger, frustration, pain and grief cause the ratings to shoot ever upwards - and when a couple of psychopaths are added into the mix, the murder and mayhem results in the best ever programme! Only Leonard Rossiter is oddly disturbed.

And well, let's face it - Nigel Kneale didn't have to wait that long for it all to come true? Instead of the SportSex and ArtSex channels we have Friendly TV and Spice TV. Instead of the Life-Live show we have Survivor and Big Brother. Instead of the Hungry Angry Show we have the Chuckle Brothers.

In fact, after watching a particularly horrible episode of "I'm A Celebrity Look at Me" (as my aged in-laws mistakenly although correctly call it) I'm beginning to think that Kneale's vision of the future was somewhat understated and didn't go far enough.

Remember in the 1980s when we saw celebrities being "gunged" or "gunked" with green sticky liquid on children's tv? Wasn't it hilarious? Well now, the "gunk tank" has made it to prime-time, although we aren't satisifed with anonymous goo - our gunk has to involve spiders, maggots, worms, snakes, eels - anything that's alive. Seeing Alex Best or Jordan (real name Katie Price) or Peter Andre getting covered in or eating living things is an insult to nature. "I'm a Celebrity..." is set in the jungle but the programme is utterly contrived in every way - the celebrities don't have to "survive" as such - the "scary" animals that they encounter are all given to them in controlled, pre-packaged bursts - ensuring that silly squeamish reactions will be perpetuated. Such creatures deserve respect - rather than being squashed to death by Peter Andre, as Germaine Greer argues in today's Guardian.

Last year the show had 50 complaints to the ITC about its cruelty to animals. This year, it'll be getting 51. Since December it's now part of OfCom. The world we live in may be new, but it ain't so brave.