Tuesday, May 31, 2005

On the subject of Big Brother again, remember Marco from last year? He's got his own column in Digital Spy and this article that he wrote gives a fascinating insight into the audition and editing processes that make the show what it is. Marco was one of the contestants I probably hated most last year. After reading his article though, it makes me wonder exactly what or who it was I hated.

This poster is in the sandwich bar downstairs from my office. It's so nice to see pubic sorry public information campaigns using oral sex so inventively.

Saturday, May 28, 2005

The (unlucky) 13 contestants in this year's Big Brother are rather more hard-faced than usual. The producers must have decided that this year's policy is "let's make it like last year, but moreso". So we have three very camp bitchy men (one whom is a cross-dressing Muslim, another is Jamie4U), several people with questionable and somewhat incompatible political beliefs (including a gay black Tory fox-hunter and a woman who is quarter Sri Lankan but doesn't like immigrants), a "white" witch with mad staring eyes who believes she has been abducted by aliens "about seven times" and a variety of confident show-offs (one of them calls himself Science The Great). Three of the contestants were actually booed by the rent-a-crowd as they entered the house. Ordinarily I don't like the booing and find Big Brother's rather cruel and childish machinations to be morally questionable while feeling sorry for the housemates. However, this year it seemed like a bunch of extremely unlikeable people had chosen to voluntarily incarcerate themselves for 10 weeks while undergoing a variety of humiliations and having to put up with each other. It's like they've been put in the house to be punished for having such awful personalities (although I'm sure even these "personalities" are manufactured and they're not as bad or annoying as they immediately seem).

In order to contrive immediate conflict, one of the housemates was chosen at random and told in secret that she would be up for eviction unless she acted horrible to everyone and got the most nominations from housemates. Every year as it strives to maintain originality, ratings and revenue from advertising and viewer's telephone votes the programme gets nastier and cruder. This is a one-way street - capitalism dictates it must be so. But where will it all end? Only when the show becomes so morally bankrupt that viewers are sickened and stop watching. But I suspect we have a long way to go before that.

Wednesday, May 25, 2005

If you are having trouble thinking of your next Halloween costume then can I suggest Fanny Craddock, a terrifying dragon lady tv cook of yesteryear, who treated her helpers (her tv "husband" Johnnie, her hapless assisant Sarah and random members of the public) with impatience and contempt, often appearing on the verge of a murderous rage that she would be unable to suppress the second the cameras stopped rolling.

Fanny was very posh and a terrible snob with it. She assumed her viewers were sad common women and talked down to them accordingly: "Here's a recipe for those lonely, old people who are living alone" or "This confectioners' custard only contains 3 egg yolks, so it won't break you." And "Prices are so terrible these days, but you have to be allowed ONE piece of decent cake a year." She despised feminism (why would she need such a thing - she already had TOTAL CONTROL) and in one programme complained about men who couldn't carve a turkey "I'm not such an clot as to support women's lib', but this really does drive me mad."

Two plays have been written about her (Fear of Fanny and Fanny Craddock - The Life and Loves of a Kitchen Devil". Oddly, before becoming famous, Fanny was a science fiction writer, perhaps she was an alien from Rocky Horror Show after all?

But it was her bizarre eye-popping face, Baby-Jane kabuki make-up, over-coiffered hair and glam outfits that made her the kitsch legend that she is today. I'm sure that there's a fledging drag queen out there, waiting to take on a Fanny persona, complete with a cookery show where the guests get beaten sensless by an out-of-control Fanny if they get anything wrong or dare to disagree with her.

Saturday, May 21, 2005

Maybe it's because of Kylie but I am having a bit of an Australia phase of late - also prompted by suddenly getting the opportunity to emigrate there last week (which I ended up not doing - something else happened instead, although it does sound like a great place to live in many ways). I often get nice emails from Australians who have an excellent sense of humour. I had been looking forward to becoming a professional "whingeing pom" too. Oh well - I think a holiday is at least in the offing, and I shall possibly have to retire there. And I've been revisiting some of my favourite Australian pop culture in no particular order:

Prisoner Cell Block H - first broadcast in the UK in the late 1980s at around 11pm - it quickly turned into an addiction. I never understood why people laughed at it for bad acting or wobbly sets. It had a raw kind of drama and kitchness that was missing from a lot of British stuff at the time.

Priscilla Queen of the Desert - a very unique film (despite the fact that Hollywood tried to rip it off with an inferior remake called Goodbye Wong Foo). The Aborigine version of I Will Survive is fabulous.

Muriel's Wedding - one of those wonderful tales of the frumpy dowdy girl at school (ergo any gay man) who ends up leading a more exciting life than all the people who picked on her, and all to the tune of Abba.

Kath and Kim - from the bizarre sex-flute, James-Bond-like opening sequence (which features Kath bending over in a pair of cullottes and looking through her own legs) this sitcom pokes fun at bad taste in suburbia and introduced a whole new way of speaking into the Odana household. No way Joe-say!

Friday, May 20, 2005

I'm in the middle of a somewhat hectic time so here's the condensed version:

Celebrity Love Island - horrible, wrong and embarrassing to watch.

Playing it Straight - Ahhh, happy ending. All was revealed. Can we go home now?

Stalking Pete Doherty - so channel 4 - Max Carlish, an unglamorous, bipolar disorder Alan Partridgeseqe media studies college lecturer becomes obsessed with Pete Doherty (of the Libertines - a band I had fortunately never heard of before this which happily establishes my non-credentials thank goodness). Doherty represents everything that Max wants to be - cool, adored, sexy, boyfriend of Kate Moss etc. Doherty is also a heroin user - a walking rock cliche in other words. Desperate to gain access to Doherty, Carlish allows Doherty and his band to ridicule him, playing court jester for their amusement. (Doherty actually reveals himself to be a bit dull also - making fun of Carlish's weight with a joke about a speak-your-weight machine saying "one at a time please" which I think I last read in Whizzer and Chips comic circa 1982.) Eventually though, Doherty tires of Carlish and banishes him from his "inner circle". A spurned Carlish gets his revenge (and a wad of cash) by selling pictures of Doherty using heroin to a tabloid newspaper. An enusing meeting between the two ends with Carlish claiming to have been punched in the face by Doherty. That's only the briefest summary and goes nowhere near describing how bizarre, funny and awful this documentary about a documentary turned out to be. Best bit - Carlish, filming himself, with a tie wrapped round his head like a rock head-band chanting "Max Carlish on Pete Doherty in Kate Moss" over and over. Or him freaking out at a Libertines concert that gets a bit out of hand: "Thousands of pounds of damage could be caused here!" Or Carlish verbally attacking one of his own "entourage" when he fails to gain them access to Doherty. Knowing Channel 4 - they will probably decide to give Carlish a million pounds and his own show - called "Max Carlish Stalks..." where each week he could fall in love with a different fucked-up celebrity - Orville the Duck, a member of the IRA, Mr Gay UK, Rose West, Liza Minelli etc.

Tuesday, May 10, 2005

The Death of Celebrity?

Britain is a country which has been obsessed with the concept of "celebrity" for about a decade now. This is reflected in all sorts of ways - the popularity of magazines like Heat, OK and Hello, the many reality televisions which feature celebrities (I'm A Celebrity Get Me Out of Here, Celebrity Big Brother), and those which aim to turn ordinary people into celebrities (Big Brother, Pop Idol, Strictly Come Dancing), the newsless tabloid newspapers which focus on the changing fortunes, relationships, fashions and diets of a vapid and glamorous set of people. A lot of this is linked to the rise of so-called "chav" and "reality" culture. You only need look at the aspirations of young people "to be famous" - footballing, singing, "tv presenting" - never before has academic success been seen as uncool, geeky and unattractive. Why have A Levels when you can have blonde highlights put in and wear something from DKNY? We live in an age where "celebrity" is like a disease - it can be caught, in much the same way as VD, by having sex with someone who is already a celebrity - hence people like Rebecca Loos, Jeff Brazier and Alex Best have all found themselves in the public eye, simply because of their relationships.

However, in the last few weeks, there are signs, hints, tidings that we are witnessing the first stages of the Death of Celebrity. A genre that has been so uncool to British culture that almost NO programs have been made in it for a decade (science fiction) has suddenly revived, in the form of Dr Who (a programme that previously conjured up associations with slightly autistic teenage boys of all ages and genders, geekily hanging on to a programme that few young people had even heard of. A one-off special, Cruise of the Gods, starring Steve Coogan satarised the essential naffness of the British sci-fi "fan" perfectly).

Science-fiction is everything that Celebrity is not. They are diametrically opposite. Science-fiction is imaginative, story-driven, hopeful, forward-looking, often politically motivated (the best sci-fi reflects back on our own current culture, offering warnings and insight). Sci-fi fans aren't interested in glamour. The kind name for them is "anoraks". Sci-fi is often an incredibly moral form of story-telling - consider the films of the 70s - Soylent Green, Planet of the Apes, The Stepford Wives - they all had something worth saying - whether it was about over-population, racism or feminism. Look at a series like Star Trek Deep Space 9 - which reflected on issues of identity, religion, politics in all sorts of fascinating ways. Even a more action-driven show like Voyager had plenty to say about the nature of humanity and its intersection with technology. Celebrity on the other hand is based on somewhat baser motivations, particularly schadenfraude and advertising. The British public are notoriously fickle about their celebrities - bullying them one minute, lauding them the next. Celebrity is also about surfaces - it's how you look, not what you say. Impermenancy is also key - celebrities themselves come and go - there can be no stability in their lives, like their hairstyles, their relationships must be continually changing - endlessly recycled - a modern La Ronde. The personal lives of many soap opera actors are actually far more interesting to follow than the soap operas themselves.

And now - Dr Who, which was banished to tv wilderness for years, has made a triumphant return. The BBC, who are showing the series on Saturday nights must be kicking themselves for not recommisioning it sooner. ITV, have taken the opposite stance by showing a programme called Celebrity Wrestling - which is pushing the celebrity ticket about as low as it can possibly go. And they got it wrong. Ratings fell to an all-time low of 2.6 million on Saturday, and the show has been axed. This may just be a blip in the health of Celebrity Culture. It may reflect the fact that audiences eventually tire of anything. But all the same, it is a promising turn of events. ITV have already commissioned their own sci-fi programme (with Patrick Stewart). My partner, who for the past decade had sadly noted that the British don't make sci-fi anymore because we can't imagine ourselves in the future (the future is American), may have to rethink his position.

Monday, May 09, 2005

Meet Shampayne

"hi my name is Shampayne and im 17 and live in Milton kenes.My mom named me after the drink but she spellt it different because she wanted ME to be diffrent."

It seems like Shampayne's mom got her wish. If Jamie4U ever needs a new fag-hag, then Shampayne's his girl. She's already discovered her best friend is gay, and is trying everso hard to counter her own "homeofobia" ("I love the gays"). But it's not all Hollyoakes-watching marathons and nights out at the Pink Pony Bar. Shampayne is very political, urging her readers to vote Labia and gloating when her evil rival's Tory Dad loses his seat in parliament. I'm curious though about the many photographs at this site. Are they really the friends of the writer? Or are they random pics from the web?

Sunday, May 08, 2005

When I was about 8, my grandfather was unexpectedly knocked down and instantly killed while crossing the road. Just before his funeral, my grandmother, who wasn't really thinking straight, took me to see his body, laid out in his coffin. Two particular aspects of this freaked me out - first it was surrounded by elderly people, crying and it was the first time I had seen grown-ups cry. And second, I barely recognised my grandfather - he looked so different and grey when dead. Needless to say I had some sort of hysterical attack and had to be taken home.

My grandmother moved into a flat to be closer to my parents, and occasionally, at weekends I was allowed to stay overnight, as my parents also had a 3 year old toddler to contend with, who was a bit of a handful. I used to like staying overnight because my grandmother doted on me and spoilt me, cooking me porridge with sugar and jam in for breakfast, warming my clothes on the radiator before I put them on in the morning, and best of all letting me stay up late to watch tv, way past my usual bedtime (which was about 7.30 pm)

During one of those late night bouts of tv I watched The Hammer House of Horror on ITV (the one where Diana Dors is matriarch to a family of werewolves). And during another, I saw a short Spanish film called La Cabina on BBC2. Everyone I know who saw it was really affected by it, for years and years afterwards. It is probably the most disturbing thing I've ever watched. It's very simple to explain the story. A man enters a telephone box which doesn't work. The door quietly closes behind him, and he realises he is trapped. A crowd of people gather to watch, laughing at him and enjoying his predicament. Various people try to break down the door but none of them succeed. Eventually some men from the telephone company come, load the box onto the back of a truck and drive off with him. They drive through the town and into the countryside. On the way he witnesses various incidents - a funeral with a glass coffin, some sad clowns holding a ship in a bottle, another man trapped in a telephone box, on top of another van. Eventually he is taken into a huge underground factory, the box goes along a conveyor belt and is left in a room - full of other telephone boxes, all containing dead bodies. The man sinks to the ground in despair. The film ends with another telephone box being set up in the same place.

This film and seeing my dead grandfather are both linked in my mind as two of the most horrible things that happened to me as a child. Of course, now as an adult I can appreciate all the subtleties and metaphors in the film - how it has a lot to say about the human condition, communcation, isolation etc. But with that said, it still disturbs and upsets me to watch.

Saturday, May 07, 2005

Hollywood is in the process of remaking the 1975 cult (in both senses of the world) film Race with the Devil, so I thought I'd check out the original once again (I last saw it in the early 1980s) to remind myself of how great it was. It's supposed to be having a DVD release later this year too.

This is one of those '70s films with unhappy endings. Two very straight couples go on vacation in Texas in their brand-new absolutely massive motorhome - it's got the latest mod cons - stereo, colour tv, minibar, even a microwave! However, while parked up in the countryside they witness a group of Satanists murder a woman (at first they think it's a sex party).

. From that point on, they're racing for their lives across the backwoods of America, with a mounting sense of paranoia as gradually they realise that EVERYONE who they meet is an evil Satanist, out to get them.

The stakes are gradually upped as the Satanists first leave them a threatening note and then kill their dog. To be fair, they do try to offer them an alternative pet by planting rattle-snakes in the motorhome.

Satanists were quite the thing in American cinema during that period - after the success of Rosemary's Baby (1968), this film is part of the Cult Canon (see also The Devil's Rain and The Omen). Looking at it now, I'd like to think that it's making a commentary on American consumer culture - there's even a song halfway through about getting deep in debt to live the high life (but it probably isn't). It also plays heavily on the paranoia that urban(e) city folk feel about rural parts of the country - films like Texas Chainsaw Massacre, Deliverance and more recently The Blair Witch Project and Wrong Turn have continued to capitalise on this fear - that people who don't live in the City are essentially evil, backwardly religious and stupid (although they do have low "peasant" cunning). And guns are definitely "the answer" in this film, as the poster so tellingly suggests. Interestingly, over at the IMDB bulletin board for the film, talk drifts into a rather heated debate over whether America was right to elect Bush (accusations of "limp-ass liberals" abound).

On a lighter note, it also features Peter Fonda (the male lead) in various kitsch shirts and sunglasses combinations - clothing that has actually come back into fashion several times since.

Friday, May 06, 2005

The bun-fight's over

Hurrah that Tony Blair won and that the majority of the country didn't show itself to be selfish (conservative) or foolishly idealistic (liberal). I can't say enough how thrilled I am with this result - I'll be partying tonight and for most of the weekend. The Liberals got 62 seats (out of almost 650) - I guess congratulations are in order - inasmuch the same way as I would applaud a mentally retarded child for mangaging to dress itself. Although I wouldn't advise them to prepare for government for a few centuries though. Poor old Liberals, bless them - last place as usual and another 4-5 years of Labour to face down. Still, it'll give them what they love doing most - moaning on in the background ineffectively. I just hope they don't get even more haggard with all that worry than so many of them currently look. Being miserable constantly mustn't do much for their looks.

In my own (very marginal) constituency, as I predicted, the conservatives got in - although they only got 0.6% more of the vote than last time, Labour lost 8.3% of their vote - guess where it went? An extra 5.9% to the Liberals and 1.4% to the Greens. Those idiots really got the MP that they deserve. I hope they're celebrating - Ben Wallace (the Tory candidate who got in) should really send a bunch of flowers to Charles Kennedy - who has proved to be a much better campaigner for him than anyone else. Interestingly, across the river in Morecambe, Labour held their majority. The main difference being that Morecambe has a higher concentration of working-class voters and much fewer students and "intellectuals" who are attached to the university in Lancaster and Wyre.

My favourite part of the night was the screaming match on the BBC News between Ian Hislop, Shirley Williams and Boris Johnson which was presided over (and encouraged) by Paxman. Afterwards he called it a bun-fight. Indeed.

Wednesday, May 04, 2005

I think I am getting too old for popular culture. I watched Nip/Tuck last night (I am a victim of all those adverts that show Julian Macmanhorny's hairy/chest and perfect/jawline) and found most of it sick/vile. It ended with a fucked/up mother/son incest/storyline (OK, I'll stop using the / key now because that got real old real fast didn't it).

And now Dr Tatiana's Guide to Sex on Channel 4 - is it a musical? is it porn? is it a science programme? Why can't postmodernism hurry up and die already? I'm so sick of all of this mixing and matching. The same goes for nostaglia - Bring Back Grange Hill? Why?

I am going to rename this blog "Now I'm Past It" or "It's All Downhill" or "No Longer A Sought-After Demographic".

Can you tell I have a birthday coming?

Anyway, here's a fun link via Tom at Plasticbag (who most of my regular readers - all 4 of you (actually 2 since I recently came out as a mad Blair-loving warmonger) - probably don't read because he's too clever). It's called threadbared.com and has pictures of old knitting patterns with funny captions etc. I was doing that sort of thing in 1997 but I believe you can never poke fun at knitting patterns enough.

Tuesday, May 03, 2005

Once more, with feeling

Even the Guardian, who were so staunchly anti-war right from the beginning, are urging its readers to look at the bigger picture and vote Labour.

I cast my postal vote for Labour last week. My constituency, Lancaster and Wyre has a Labour majority of only 481. It has only ever not been Conservative three times. (One of those was in the 1960s when the Conservative candidate was gay and Tory voters refused to vote for him - how charming that their own homophobia backfired on them). There are Tory posters up around town everywhere - all the farmers have them in their fields around town - it's impossible not to see them (although many have been vandalised with phrases like "Nasty" and "never again!".)

Many of my friends are voting Liberal, which indicates that the Tories will possibly get in where I live. I'm afraid I just don't get why Liberal voters feel the need to cut off their nose to spite their face. The Tories won't help the poor locally - they'll do the opposite - they'll be a 100 times worse than Blair's posse ever could be. You think you have a right-wing government now? You ain't seen nothing yet!

If the Liberals stood a chance of winning then it would be super to have the choice to vote for them or Labour. But unfortunately it's just not going to happen. The only choice is Labour or Conservative. Why can't people accept that and deal with the reality of it? Why can't they face this fundamental fact of life? Why so delusional? What's the point of making such a futile, contrary and essentially selfish protest? Most of my Liberal voting friends are quite young - too young to really remember what the Tories were like, still very idealistic about life, and ultimately, many of them have few actual responsibilities. I think many of them will be initially triumphant if the Tories actually get in - because they will have defeated the villainous warmongering Blair. But what a hollow victory it will be - and what enormous long-term consequences such a protest will have. How ultimately foolish and dangerous.

If you want to make some form of protest about the war - then how about wearing a clothes-peg on your nose as Polly Toynbee has suggested when you go into the polling booth to vote Labour? How about starting an anti-war blog? Or going on a march? You may not like Labour - but they are the best we're going to get. Get over it. And vote for them. Because the old saying "Better the Devil you know" has never been more real at this moment.

Monday, May 02, 2005

I saw Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy at the weekend. It was a rather meh experience for several reasons - some of the audience had body odour issues for one. And for two - the film was nowhere as near as good as the book, play or tv series. It had been all Hollywoodified - in place of Adam's somewhat undergraduate philosphy there were special effects. In place of his dry sense of humour were prat-falls - people getting hilariously slapped in the face. I know Adams was supposed to have worked on the script himself, but really! This was another film aimed at thick 13 year old American boys with attention deficit disorder. Oh well. If you haven't read the book, I recommend it.