Monday, February 28, 2005

She's many things, but she's not a chav.

Julie Birchill's documentary on chavs last week (on Sky One - where else?) raised some interesting issues. Why do people hate chavs? Where did the term come from? What social conditions created chavs? (Margaret Thatcher apparently). Birchill defended chavs, saying it was just middle-class snobbery and envy. I'll grant her snobbery - but only partially agree on the envy - it's difficult to be envious of someone who has so few advantages or prospects in life. Middle-class people may be scared of chavs, and they may be scared of being seen as one, but they're not envious of them.

Julie also claimed to be a chav herself. Again, she's pushing it. Like myself, she is a product of a working-class family. But having working-class parents doesn't make you a chav. Nor does having the odd bag of fish and chips. She writes for a broadsheet and makes documentaries for goodness sakes.

So Julie just came across as a) wanting to be provocative for the sake of it - media blag in other words b) or (less likely) liberal guilt at leaving her working-class roots (how many people on council estates do you know who have their own swimming pool?) She didn't even dress like a chav, wearing "slimming black" for the whole programme (although granted she was sitting on a leopard skin sofa). The shots of her and friend Jackie Clune going around the market, admiring chav clothes looked more like ironic "appreciation" of naff attire, rather than the real thing. And irony is the opposite of chav.

Julie pointed out that it's better to be a chav because then you can be sure of your own success (rather than wondering if you got it all because of rich Daddy). A fair point. However, some types of success automatically stop you from being a chav - namely the ones that involve academia or working for broadsheets. She also (rather subjectively) pointed out that chav girls are very discerning when it comes to boyfriends, whereas rich girls are slags who will shag anyone. Far too generalising.

Here's how I understad chavs: Being a chav is about having an under-class outlook on life. It has less to do with how much money you have, although 99.9999% of chavs are poor, the ones who do make it rich, and manage to STAY chavs are very much in the popular, low-brow entertainment world - singers, sports people, models, actors, reality tv stars. Or lottery winners. They don't stop being underclass, they're just underclass made good. And this is where envy comes in - the middle-classes are angry and envious that a very small minority of poor people can earn much more money than them - and that when they do so, they don't act middle-class. However, the huge amount of media attention on the rich chav (Beckham etc) is simply another way that the vast majority of under-class people are kept down. Most of them will never win the lottery or get to go on a reality tv show. However, while there's the chance that they will, they can ignore the other traditional way out - education. This under-class now have a set of people to emulate - people like themselves who have made it good, but continue to be under-class in spirit. I think this is what annoys the middle-classes, because the older social structure used to be that you envied and tried to emulate your "social betters". Now the poor want to be like Daniella Westbrook rather than The Royal family.

And chav culture is part of the larger celebrity culture, which has rocketed in the UK in the last 5 years, since the start of Big Brother. Chav celebrities are much more interesting to write about - because they continue to act in ways that make them appear like soap characters. They get drunk and fight in public, have messy relationships, show their emotions, "tell all" to the papers, get it wrong and can be laughed at. They don't have reputations to worry about. They are completely accessible and appear to need attention - any attention - the desire to "be a celebrity" or "be famous" is the ultimate chav goal. The socially elite do the opposite - they want to disappear or be anonymously rich, because ultimately they understand that fame is a poisoned chalice - it may be exciting and glamorous but living under constant public and media scrutiny brings little chance of real happiness. The public's dual thirst for "glamour" and "reality" (two rather mutually exclusive terms) have helped to create the celebrity chav, who tries to embody both at the same time.

Unlike Julie, I don't see being a chav as an enviable state. But I don't see any reason to mock chavs either. They're just a consequence of our new social structure - our society's partial (but not total) move towards democracy and equality. For most people, we continue to have a social caste (not class) system - most people are born into a social caste and they die there. The fact that a few people can now appear to escape this, due to luck or an inborn non-academic talent simply helps to reinforce the status quo and ensures that education continues to be viewed as unattractive to the poor.

Saturday, February 26, 2005

"The other tenants can be a little nosy and the landlady's a real witch."

Melrose Place on Channel 5 is halfway through Season 3, just when it starts to get good/go mad: Traci Lords has just moved in as the member of a cult. BUt it all looks incredibly dated (odd seeing Marcia Cross and Doug Savant looking much younger and with different hair - now on Desperate Housewives). I miss Laura Leighton who played loopy Sydney so much. What is she doing these days? Why didn't she get her own series?

Here's a reason to watch the new series of Survivor Palau

His name's Jeff, he's a 21 year old personal trainer and he describes himself as "unpredictable, responsible and fun". For some reason the camera can't seem to drag itself away from his pectoral muscles. Funny that.

But despite Jeff's rather-obvious charms, I'm rooting for Angie to win - she's covered in tattoos, wears glasses, doesn't have a sun-tan and almost got kicked off the game several times in episode 1. She was befriended by the queenly gay guy who then promptly dumped her after about an hour (why are all the gay characters in Survivor complete bitches! It's not right. I'm sure they pick them to confirm stereotypes). But Angie wiped away her tears and made a kick-ass comeback in episode 2. No matter that the newsgroups are making fun of her "fat thighs" (they're not - she's normal!) and calling her "She-Lex" (a reference to a similarly tattooed male contestant from series 3), she MUST WIN!

Tuesday, February 22, 2005

Nathan Barley, the new Zietgeist Channel 4 sitcom is one reason why I'm pleased I live in the UK. Written by Charlie "screen burn" Booker and Chris "Brass Eye" Morris, it is set in the shallow, stupid world of dotcom meedja London, where blag has replaced talent, irony has devolved into a meaningless form of communication: "wotcha ma nigger" etc. and people ride around on tiny tricycles. The anti-hero is Dan Ashcroft, a world-weary writer who is considered cool and insightful, although he hates everyone around him. The eponymous Barley is the programme's anti-anti-hero - a "self-faciliating media node" he represents the most ridiculous excesses of the media set. He has a website which advertises his new mobile phone, the Wasp 12 Speechtool (it's sharkproof) "where's yours?" He bullies his employee Pingu mercilessly and is constantly handing out flyers and badges for his latest party/happening.

Nathan Barley is somewhat self-referential and it's filmed in a disorienting style - quick camera jerks, loud music played over dialogue etc that makes it hard to watch yet also accurately sums up the collective Attention Deficit Disorder that characterises the culture. Having worked in the London media (for a dotcom) some of it is all-too familiar, although, unlike Dan Ashcroft I did the sensible thing and went back to academia.

I'm also looking forward to High Spirits with Shirley Ghostman, a sitcom on BBC3 (March 1) which pokes fun at psychics ("The dead talk to him. But do they say anything worth hearing?"). I absolutely hate psychics so anything which aims to burst their bubble is fine by me. I also love Marc Wootton who plays Shirley (last seen as a variety of irritating freaks in Channel 4's My New Best Friend), so this looks like it should be good.

Monday, February 21, 2005

X... The Musical

Acorn Antiques is a parody of the soap opera Crossroads. It had shaky sets, shakier dialogue and featured lines such as "twin cousins" and a mythical place called Manchesterford. Its heroine was Mrs Overall, marvellously played by Julie Walters. It was written by Victoria Wood who was incredibly funny in the 1980s and early 1990s. In fact, she once wrote a sketch about the fictional making of a musical of "Bessie Bunter" (sister of Billy Bunter, a fat school-boy who was the subject of many children's novels) - the sketch centred on how ridiculous the whole idea was. Unfortunately, it all now seems to have come full circle and she has written the musical of Acorn Antiques. Welcome to 2005.

It seems that London has latched onto a sure-fire winner to get tourists to go and see musical theatre all over again. Musical writers have ran out of ideas - and their producers are refusing to take risks on something that may well turn out to be a flop. So how to resolve these two problems? How about making a musical based on a tv show that everyone likes? It's a variation on the sequel format - "audiences loved Meet the Parents, so they'll love Meet the Fockers." Now we can wring a bit more out of an idea, by setting it to music. So we've had Prisoner Cell Block H: the Musical. And Bad Girls: the Musical. And now... Acorn Antiques: the Musical. Unfortunately, these musicals all appear rather derivative - having seen clips of all three, it's hard to tell them apart. I guess musicals are pretty low-brow at the best of times, but there's something just basically so WRONG about making them about tv programmes that even Trash Addict feels dirty writing about them. Oh well, onto better things.

A Staunch Character

Thanks to Andrew who tipped me off about the documentary film Grey Gardens, which has recently been released by Criterion. Two relatives of Jackie Onassis. Edith Bouvier Beale and her daughter (also called Edith) - they are referred to as Big Edie and Little Edie. They live mad reclusive lives together in a rambling East Hampton mansion called Grey Gardens, which is over-run with cats and fleas. Before the film starts they were almost evicted from their home for being filthy (in a way that only the really upper-class can be).

Big Edie has huge bat-wing arms, spends most of the time in bed and insists on being naked a lot of the time. Little Edie never reveals her head to the camera, instead wearing a series of turbans (Did she pull out her own hair? Does she suffer from alopecia?) She reads astrology books with a magnifying glass and is obsessed with finding a "Libra Man". She describes herself as a "staunch character - S. T. A. U. N. C. H.". The two women bicker, sing and dance, and look at photos of themselves when they were both younger and beautiful. The film is full of weird philosophy, humour and pathos. Get it. There's a great montage of the best bits over at Danorama.

Friday, February 18, 2005

What you want, when you want it?

Gaydar can probably be best thought of as an online marketplace rather than an online community. Despite its public chatrooms (many of the non-sex ones tend to stay empty - funny that), most people who use gaydar are looking for sex. In some ways, Gaydar is to be applauded for taking cruising out of the streets, parks and public toilets and allowing men to find sex from the safety of their own homes. The chances of being arrested and/or beaten up are severely restricted. And we can't stop men from cruising for sex, so we may as well faciliate a safe online space for them.

However, Gaydar brings with it a new set of problems and amplifies many of the old ones associated with cruising. One term that most Gaydar users will be all-too familiar with is "timewaster" - one of the cruellest epithets you can call another user. And there appear to be lots of timewasters out there - people who arrange to meet and then don't show up. People who appear interested for 10 minutes and then the chat you're having with them suddenly dries up (most likely they've got a better offer), people who always ask to see your photo first and then they won't send theirs if they don't like the look of you. Yes, Gaydar is a perfect case study of commercial, advanced capitalism in motion - market forces at its most brutal and everyone has their price-tag. Rejection has never been so readily available to so many at once. And because of the nature of Gaydar, where chats and contacts are made on a 1-2-1 basis, rejection is much more explicit than it would be in a cruising ground or sauna, whereby men can select and dismiss each other in dozens of much more subtle non-verbal ways designed to ameliorate the loss of self-esteem. If you send someone your photo on Gaydar and they don't respond it can be a lot more hurtful than if they simply pass you by in a corridor or path and choose not to make eye contact or smile. And unfortunately, all Gaydar users are caught up in a chain of rejecting and being rejected - do unto others as you would have done.

The issue of rejection leads to another problem - that of lying. Here's something - what's your gaydar age? Answer - it's your real age minus 10-20% of your age (depending on how haggard you look these days). So if you're 20, say you're between 16-18. If you're 30 you're now 24-27. Forty-year olds can get away with being 32-36 and so on. The older you are, the more years you should feel free to take off. How about photos? Well don't pick a recent one that's for sure. Or take one where you're a speck in the distance. Or use Photoshop to take out the wrinkles and bags under your eyes. Or simply cut out a picture of some hunk from a magazine and use their picture. If you've got grey hair, say it's "light-coloured". If you're fat, say you have a rugby-build etc. And because so many people do lie, there's little point in telling the truth. Say you're 36 because that really is your age, and people will assume you're really 42. With real-life face-to-face cruising, this sort of deception is harder to get away with - because you see the goods that are on offer. But if you've already invested in driving 5 miles to meet someone and they don't look like their picture, but you're horny, there's a good chance you'll go through with it anyway. Which is what the liars rely on - the difficulty of an explicit face-to-face rejection.

A good (and bad) aspect of gaydar is that it has made finding sex much easier for closetted gay men (and unfortunately there are still far too many of them around). In the past, a closetted gay man might have stayed away from a public toilet or cruising ground, through fear of being arrested. But the advent of online gay porn, instant access to horny guys and the creation of anonymous identities has meant that a whole generation of closet-cases are now semi-closetted. Yet this brings its own problems. Closetted gaydar users will not find the support systems that are designed to help them come out safely. They will simply find easier ways to lead a double life - getting the sex they want, without having to make any further move to be honest. The impermenance and abruptness that encapsulate so much gaydar interaction will simply reinforce their view that to be gay is something to be ashamed of. Gaydar is the closet's halfway house - offering all of the trappings of gay behaviour with no sense of community, political awareness or pride.

In addition, gaydar profiles can actively erode the notion of community even among "out" gay men, by providing the appearance of something "real" which means that all the time you're using it, you're not actually making friendships. If you just meet people for sex, it gets harder to make friends with them afterwards. Sexual networks are incredibly transient and unstable. And what if your non-sexual friends are gaydar users? Do you really want to find their profile by accident or have them mistakenly send you explicit photos of themselves? Do you want to know a tick-list of their sexual fetishes? Sometimes Too Much Information isn't a good idea.

So what's the answer? Gaydar is hugely popular and is unlikely to go away any time soon. If anything, it is gaining more power - a recent development on the site are its lists of "Top 10" profiles, voted by users - which have the effect of validating and creating hierarchies of attractiveness - simply another way in which the "arms race" in terms of biceps size continues. Gaydar is a game, very similar to a casino. And eventually - the House always wins. The longer you play Gaydar, the lower your market value is going to be - and as you a) get older and b) exhaust your local supply of men it will be a game of diminishing returns. Perhaps the only way to win is this - take the chips you have and walk away from the table while you still can.

Tuesday, February 15, 2005

Where/Why have all the bloggers gone? First, Billy of Wet Dreaming (modus operendi: posting pictures of himself with nothing on and giving details of his sex life) has bowed out, and now HoneyTom (gay political issues and pictures of cute men) was also signed off.

I was always rather envious of Billy because he'd only have to post about two sentences of mundanosity and he'd then get 82 comments within 2 hours. However, now he's gone - it looks like there is a gap in the market. Perhaps I should change the name of my blog to "Man Addict", post up shots of myself shirtless and give too much information about my private life. However, as Dan points out here, there are concerns about blabbing too much about yourself on a blog. Reading the details of someone's shag the night before might be interesting on one level, but you do tend to wonder a) don't they have friends they can tell this stuff to? and b) don't they have friends/colleagues/family they'd not want to ever read this stuff?

Monday, February 14, 2005

A trip to Newcastle to visit my oldest friend (in terms of how long we've been friends - 25 years). I'd booked into a (rather rough) hotel nearby which was fairly grotty. Is it just me, or am I the only person in the world who gets woken up by a drunken "wrong number" phone call at 4am every single time I stay in a hotel? I'm going to start unplugging the phone. Also, the bed was one of those tired old beds that too many people had had sex on. As a result, you kind of sank into the ground when you tried to lie in it. The woman on reception was only a handful of notes away from being a drag queen. "Was it you...." she asked me pointedly. Long pause... "who went to see that opera singer last night?" I could see how I'd have been her best bet, but I had to say no.

I don't normally watch any tv shows that are about the police, hospitals, fire departments or schools (I can't relate to any of the characters usually). But my friend is addicted to something called CSI so we had to watch an episode of it, plus some other copycat show that was on right after it. I was shocked! Both programmes featured people examining other people's "panties" for semen stains. I had thought that nobody used the word panties outside of lesbian porn written by straight men. I was WRONG! And...and Margot Kidder played a woman who was having sex with her own son! There was a "comedy" storyline involving rats. And there was a rape in Central Park. I wonder what Chandler and co or The Sex and the City ladies, or my friend Dan at Ultrasparky would have made of this much bleaker New York?

My friend took me to Tynemouth on Sunday morning and we went to a market in a train station. It was full of great stuff - I got a Diana Dors autobiography from the 1970s (she talks about watching people having sex behind a two-way mirror). I also got a cheap DVD of Solyent Green which proabably has my favourite opening sequence of a film of all time.

I am toying with making a new doll soup. This one won't feature dolls though. But it'll be about my two favourite subjects - social class and mental illness. Stay tuned.

Tuesday, February 08, 2005

I can't believe it's 2005. I still feel like it's the 1990s. I keep remembering things that happened to me and then realise that it occurred in 1995 and was a decade ago - but it seems like yesterday. When did time speed up, and is it just happening to me, and can I get it to slow down again (without resorting to medication?)

Speaking of medication, I have had a cold since the end of December, which has now settled down into a painful sore throat. I work with a lot of international students and Lancaster is basically a giant petri dish where you have a 68% chance of catching some new strain of bird flu or pig flu every time you step outside. I had my defective tonsils taken out a few years ago (which was a lot of fun), and this seems to make colds last a lot longer than they used to. I think this year I will get the "flu jab". I phoned my doctor about it over lunch, to be told that as I'm not eligible as I don't have a heart condition etc. "But I MUST have that flu jab!" I told the receptionist. "Well, Boots might do it for a fee" she said conspiratorially. As usual, Boots end up being my drug pushers. At least I have a store card.

My fella has given away/sold loads of his Dr Who VHS tapes so there is space again on the shelves and I have been having an ebay order orgy as a result: a best of Deelite cd (I listened to them in various dingy student flats in Preston and Newcastle in the early 1990s), Scream 3 (only for Parker Posey and Heather Matarazzo), The Art of Cruising Men (weird gay oddity), Broken Hearts Club (awful film, but Dean Cain I'm afraid - what can I say?) and Sunday Bloody Sunday (one of those films I never got round to watching).

Everyone seems really excited about Ellen MacCarther and her boat journey at the moment. Well done to her - but I don't think she's the sort of person I'd like to end up sitting next to at a dinner party. Unless she grew her hair out and could recite whole sequences of "Oranges are Not the Only Fruit".

Finally, oh hurrah, there is a new STD in town, which goes by the name of lymphogranuloma venereum (what a mouthful - I think it needs a snappy street name). Apparently it's been found in gay men and symptoms include swollen lymph glands, groin ulcers, and blood and pus in your poo. *Looks up to the sky* - Thankyou! Because that's ALL we need.

Sunday, February 06, 2005

In the last two months five televisions have graced in and out of my living room - I feel like Monica from Friends in that episode where none of her hotel rooms are good enough. My long-suffering fella has told me that he's going to make it his mission in life to ensure I never have any spare cash again. I have rejected DLP (rainbow effect - look it up), plasma (screen burn) and now have a Sony CRT which has something called "Advanced digital motion" - this means that the picture is so sharp that films lose that sexy slightly grainy quality and instead look as if they were filmed on video - like most British sitcoms. It's incredibly un-nerving - too real. Fortunately you can turn the option off (otherwise I'd be auditioning tv number 6).

Channel 4 showed a fascinating series called "Sex in the 70s" last week. My favourite programme was the one on the British 70s sex-comedy films, which although had nudity and simulated humping, were actually rather innocent. They also featured lots of "serious" actors, who needed the work. I remember one that had Jon Pertwee AND Willy Rushton in it. This meant that in the 1980s, the right-wing tabloids could expose them as being in "blue movies". I am currently watching Confessions of a Pop Performer (which has Tony Booth in it), it's not the sort of film that you have to pay a lot of attention to fortunately. Although these films are extremely sexist and heteronormative (it's dollybirds galore and there is a pop group called The Climax Sisters), the camera does seem to love the sight of Robin Asquith's bare bottom. I think the British response to sex is supremely unique and no matter how "cool" the UK tries to be, underneath we're still all giggling at "ooer missus" jokes and getting sex totally wrong.

Wednesday, February 02, 2005

Bought two new DVDs that are just out on UK release today - The Village (in which I was shocked at every plot twist) and Heathers (which was one of those key films that helped me survive my teenage years - apart from the monocle-wearing, I identified with Winonan Ryder).

However, a trend in DVDs at the moment seems to be in over-packaging - which surely defeats the purpose of making them take up less space than VHS tapes. Both DVDs I bought today come with additional boxes within boxes making them almost the size of a VHS case. The Village is particularly bad - coming in no less than three layers of packaging - trying to con you into thinking you're getting something bigger than you actually are. And it really is all style and no substance (a print-out of the film's menu would have been more useful).

With property so expensive in the UK, people are living in increasingly smaller homes - hence the trend for those Japanese style beds that are about 3cms off the floor - they give the illusion of space when the ceiling is barely 6ft high. So over-packaging is unwelcome, and also something of a con, allowing the makers of DVDs to justify the high prices because people feel they're getting something more substantial than what they really are. And to get all green on your ass, in terms of the environment it's not good!

I also hate DVD "extras", which rarely live up their promise and seem to be there just so another £5 can be added to the price of the DVD. If you watch all the DVD extras then you probably have OCD and should spend all that wasted time making friends or having sex instead.