Monday, December 31, 2007

Bang Bang in Bangkok

I have escaped the miserable British weather to Bangkok, where the temperature is in the high 20s and I am wearing sunblock on New Years Eve. The city is massive and an odd mix of futuristic and traditional. Traffic jams are hideous, it's a lot noisier than most places I've been to, and everyone seems hysterically nationalistic. At the cinema (Alien vs. Predator 2 - the worst film ever made), we had to stand for the National Anthem. It was the King's 80th birthday on December 5th and as a result there are pictures of him everywhere. About 25% of the population are wearing yellow polo shirts, which is apparently the King's colour. I want to write that the stereotypes about sex tourism are not true, but yesterday we got a taxi to the Central World Plaza (a 7 floor shopping mall of western decadence) and as we got out, a couple of men approached us and offered us "Bang Bang...massage...." They made a little coupulating gesture with their hands. I had to have a Starbucks to recover. Still, I have been offered sex in exchange for money in Spain, Holland, Britain and Sri Lanka so it's not the only place where it goes on.

The airplane journey here had me hating on 90% of the world's international travellers as usual. More clapping as the plane landed. Some terribly behaved Russians at the immigration line - pushing in front of others, drinking from their bottles of Duty Free and worst of all, wearing leopard skin and sequined tops. At the exclusive Business class terminal in Doha airport, where we changed flights, I was shocked to see several women in their 50s who had had far too much plastic surgery and now resembled blonde cats. I know it's rude to stare but I couldn't help myself. They stared back but I think that was because they couldn't blink any more.

More later.

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Midnight Mass

Despite being a rabid atheist, I went to a midnight Mass on Christmas Eve. I live close by to the church, my mother wanted to go, I quite like Christmas carols, and I was interested in what it would be like as an experience.

It turned out to be one of those High Anglican affairs, all incense waving and people marching up and down in big hats holding candles. I enjoyed the sermon, which was about shopping in Sainsburys and the commericalisation of Christmas - the vicar didn't put too much God stuff in.

However, towards the end, everyone took communion. I didn't really fancy it having not been confirmed. Also, the hygienic aspect put me off. One of the priests kept wiping the cup with a cloth, but judging from all the coughing from the congregation, it just looked like a big cup of bird flu. So we didn't bother. I was falling asleep by the end though. I guess my career as a fake Christian isn't really going to take off.

I've seen two end-of-the-world films over the Christmas period, both which have religious elements. The first, "I am Legend" starring Will Smith is a remake of The Omega Man starring Charlton Heston, which is itself a remake of The Last Man of Earth starring Vincent Price (both which I've also seen). Emma Thompson is Dr Kripp who boasts that she has cured cancer in the first scene with a variant of the measles virus. Three years on, everyone is dead apart from Will Smith and some CGI zombies. There are some nice scenes of a tourist-free New York, with weeds growing in the roads and wild animals grazing between the cars, but the zombies are a bit too fast-moving, and there's also a very hokey religious message about the evils of science and how God has a plan for a cure if only you will LISTEN TO HIM. The end, which involves refuge in a little walled village where the church bells ring and the American flag is proudly hoisted is a bit of a Bible Belter - constrasting too crisply with the vision of evil New York, full of weirdos who only come out at night. Maybe I'm being too cruel, but all it was missing was someone talking about A Thief in the Night...

On the other hand, I finally got to see the film adapation of the Stephen King story The Mist, which is a superior film (and has nothing to do with the other Stephen King film, The Fog which I thought wasn't up to much). Here the end of the world is caused by "The Arrowhead Project" run by the military instillation on the edge of a small Maine town. A "window" to another dimension is opened, allowing Cthulu-esque monstrosities to come teeming through, along with a mist that envelopes a local supermarket. Before long, the resident religious nut Mrs Carmody is calling it the End of Days and shrieking for blood sacrifices. It's pretty faithful to the book - even after about 20 years I recognised a lot of the dialogue, although there are a few updates - Mrs Carmody blames stem cell research and abortion for the mist. Controversially, the film continues for another minutes after the book's ambiguous ending. It's one of the more successful translations of King to film, and the film's lead, Thomas Jane isn't too bad to look at for 90 minutes. Don't expect it to be out on UK release for months though :(

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Faggot 1, Political Correctness 0

In an about-turn, Radio 1 has unbanned "faggot" from Fairytale of New York, after an enormous outpouring of "it's PC gone mad" from fans of the song (and a few homophobes). 95% of people who responded to a BBC poll said they should not have banned the word. Even on a gay discussion board that I use, I was pretty much a lone voice, while others said they loved the song and were going to put on the jukebox that night and start up a petition to get the ban lifted.
Radio 1 now says that "listeners are smart enough to distinguish between maliciousness and creative freedom".

Popjustice present a good defence as to why the word should have remained banned, while Peter Tatchell points out how the affair highlights the inconsistency of the "anti-PC brigade".

The BBC handled the case hideously and have now offended just about everyone with an opinion about the song. The BBC's Newsbeat turned the case into the story which then prompted the backlash against the banning. One thing about British society that is very clear is that people don't like being told what they can hear and what they can't hear. The song has a lot of emotional resonance for people, particularly because its singer died so tragically.

I wonder if there would have been such a fuss at the banning if Kirsty McColl had sang "you cheap lousy nigger" though? Remember back in the summer when Emily Blunt, a contestant on Big Brother was kicked off the programme because she used the "n word" in a fairly tame and non-abusive context. I think there is a lot of acceptance that racism in language is wrong - however, when it comes to homophobia, the picture is a lot more complicated.

Hopefully the lesson that the BBC will take away from this is not "we can be as homophobic now as we jolly well like", but "if we decide to censor homophobia we should be a lot more subtle about how we present it to the public". I hope (and expect) that Fairytale of New York features a little less heavily in the Christmas playlists of 2008, 2009 and 2010 - until it's gradually assigned to the history books.

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Political Correctness 1, Faggot 0

The Kirsty McColl/Pogues song which seems to be playing in every shopping centre in the UK on constant loop at the moment has had the word "faggot" bleeped out on the BBC.

The Daily Mail, predictably, has forecast this as a sign of the imminent end of the world. Equally, Chris Moyles, who led a campaign to get the song to reach #1 in the charts is also furious. Moyles is well known for his tolerant views on homosexuality and has many gay friends (not).

He's so beautiful. I wish he was gay.

"It's political correctness gone mad"

Maybe it it. Still, I'm betting there are a few 10 year olds out there who might get called "faggot" in the playground just a little bit less than they used to. Who knows, they might grow up into better adjusted human beings as a result.

And basically, anything that upsets the Daily Mail and Chris Moyles is something I'm all for.

Personally, I'd ban the song altogether. It's irritating and I hate Christmas pop songs. Bring back carols - they're a lot more calming.

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Two men I like

I'm a bit disturbed that two men who I've been thinking about a lot lately aren't what you'd call, well... nice. One of them is a serial killer. The other is a foul-mouthed, grumpy old man.

The serial killer is Dexter, played by Michael C Hall (the gay brother from Six Feet Under) - currently closing on its second season on Showtime. Dexter is filmed in Miami, so every scene is bathed in orange light and people wear light clothes and look happy. Before you say I'm weird for liking a serial killer, I suppose I should try and mitigate myself by saying that he's nice to children, protective of his sister and girlfriend, is popular at work and only kills other serial killers who have escaped the law. Does that make it alright? Not really. It's a kind of vigilantism taken to an extreme, and Dexter's murders aren't really motivated by a higher moral sense - he witnessed his own mother chainsawed to death at an early age and it messed him up so now he has no emotions but enjoys killing people. I find the "no emotions" bit the most interesting part of Dexter - he fakes most of his social interactions because he has no empathy. I guess at times we've all put on an act if we're feeling low or whatever, but for Dexter, that's all he is - an empty box of donoughts as he describes himself in the first episode. Predictably, when Dexter's dead bodies turn up and the police realise that someone is killing off serial killers, many members of the public view him as a hero. I'm currently reading the book that the serial is based on, Darkly Dreaming Dexter - and the tv series follows the book pretty closely. There's a very likeable cast, good writing and some nice twists. I like Dexter, inspite of myself. He's my guilty pleasure #1.

Guilty pleasure #2 is angry Charlie Brooker - a British journalist and tv critic who has a Saturday column in the Guardian and a BBC4 series. BBC4 is the channel for intellectuals (remember decades ago when it used to be channel 4 - oh how that channel has sunk!) Brooker has a lot to say, and he's quite angry and cynical about lots of things. He swears a lot and often shouts, right up close in people's faces. Victor Lewis Smith used to have a similar style in the 1980s and early 1990s.

Unfortunately, what he says is often witheringly, frighteningly accurate - he's a lone ranting voice in the wilderness of crap, lazy, manipulating tv programming. Reality tv editing, aspirational advertising, media smugness - Brooker exposes it all, often while mocking himself and getting himself trapped in a confusing postmodern spiral. I love his piss-take of an ego-bloated media star taking it out on poor interns: "Where's my coffee? You're fired from London!!"

The more I watch Brooker, the more interesting I find him (despite the fact that he says he looks like a "paedophile walrus"). He may be loud and insulting - but he doesn't insult my intelligence. He should be compulsory watching.

Sunday, December 09, 2007

Blog off

Just read Ben Elton's new book Blind Faith. It feels like the culmination of a manifesto which he has been working through with his earlier books like Dead Famous and Chart Throb. Set in a dystopic, contradictory London, a bizarre version of fundamentalist christianity has mingled with numerology other forms of hokey spiritualism, capitalism, pornography and confessional reality tv culture to create a nation of obese idiots who live off donoughts and burgers, wear next to nothing and blog their entire lives on the internet. In a celebration of conspicuous capitalism, children are named after food products or cars.

Like all good dystopic novels, it takes today's trends and turns up the volume, just a little bit. Although America is not blamed, a great deal of what Elton is predicting seems to stem directly from the religious conservatives who have dominated the political landscape in the US for the last decade.

In this future society, privacy is seen as heresy - people are encouraged to "share" everything, and to celebrate their individuality, whereas in fact everyone is identically mundane. Worse still, the floods are not blamed on global warming, but on God's wrath for people believing in evolution and daring to have imaginations (only God is allowed to create ideas). As a result, all fiction is banned and evolutionists are burned at the stake. "Empowered" women are forced to get breast enlargements and shave their pubic hair off, while homosexuality is punishable by death and marriages are only expected to last 2 years. And worst of all, modern medicine is viewed as witchcraft, so the infant mortality rate is 50%. As usual in his books, Elton pokes fun at annoying teen-speak, religious-speak and "I'm OK, you're OK" self-help speak.

It's a bit of 1984, a bit of Farenheit 451 and a bit of Brave New World thrown in. I read those three books in my teens and they all had profound impacts on me. Elton's book is a bit too much of a rip-roaring, large-print read to have the same effect - but I appreciate where he is coming from. And it's good to see someone who shares my old-man frustration with a lot of society's current foolishnesses. So get it for Christmas - before they come and get you!

Saturday, December 01, 2007

Gone Loco

I am addicted to PS3's Loco Roco Cocoreccho, an annoyingly cute Japanese game where you have to guide dozens of little coloured blobs (loco rocos) around a bizarre environment. The loco rocos all sing the same tune, although they have different voices depending on what colour they are, so depending on who is onscreen at any one time you can have the girly sopranos (yellow and pink) or the rich baritones (blues and blacks). Most of the time I have no idea what is going on, and eventually the tune sticks in your head. It usually ends with all the loco rocos getting eaten by another big black blob. Even this is depicted as being unfailingly cute - what is it with cute and Japan? Even in Battle Royale (one of my favourite films), where school children are, drugged, dumped on an island, kitted out in collar-bombs and told to kill each other until the last one standing is the winner, it is all explained by a cutesy Japanese girl who makes it sound like she is narrating a Hello Kitty story to a bunch of 4 year olds.

My fella, on the other hand, is addicted to the more straightforwardly bloody Resistance: Fall of Man - that game what sparked a controversy because it features a battle in Manchester Cathedral. There is lots of running around and shooting things, against a backdrop of 1950s Britain (I recognised the Clifton suspension bridge which was close to my home in Bristol, among other landmarks). I am hopeless at it, but sit and watch, offering useful bits of route information.

Speaking of Bristol, we had a visitor up on Thursday - an impeccably glamorous and arch lady who worked with my fella and I was a bit in love with. We took her round Lancaster town centre for a meal. "I've never seen so many women with straightened hair in one place!" was her verdict. I must say, people in Lancaster tend to fall into two categories - sensible, dowdy middle-class types who dress for comfort, or sun-bedded working-class blingers. My memories of Bristol are fading fast (one of my strongest attributes is that I have a hopeless memory), so now it consists of just a vision of beautiful, beautifully dressed people walking around the Triangle and generally being fabulous. Even with my careful "editing" of Lancaster, it can still be pretty grim up north.