Monday, January 24, 2011

Scream if you're losing

When civil partners, Steven Preddy and Martin Hall tried to check into a rather dreary looking b+b called the Chymorvah Private Hotel in Cornwall in 2008, they were not expecting to get involved in a ground-breaking legal case regarding gay rights. But the owners, Peter and Hazelmary Bull refused to let them share a double bed, pointing out that only married couples were allowed to do this.

Because sex before marriage is a sin isn't it. And the Baby Jesus told them to hate gay people. Or something.

Unfortunately, the law didn't see it that way, and the Bulls lost the case.

Actually, I keep having visions of the Baby Jesus at the moment. He keeps appearing to me, just when I'm on the loo. "Lubin!" he snaps. "I want you to hate Peter and Hazelmary Bull. Those fuckers have completely misinterpreted My Message and have twisted it round for their own evil ends. Honestly, send them hate mail. Make an effigy of their faces and burn it. Devote your life to hating them. It'll please me. Go on. Do it. Do it!"

I wouldn't be surprised if you said "You're crazy" but actually, you MUST accept this admittedly bizarre account because I say it's true, and the Baby Jesus wants you to have faith, not ask difficult questions or look for proof. However, actually, what's more surprising is my response to the Baby Jesus. I always say "Look Baby Jesus, you can try and get me to hate people all you want, but it's not going to happen, because I know it's wrong, and frankly, I don't want anything to do with you, if that's your game. So go away, even if you ARE real, I'd rather not bother thanks. Oh and close the door on your way out."

Sadly, the writers of several of Britain's most spiteful newspapers must have their own hate-mongering version of Baby Jesus visiting them, as there has been a sudden surge of putrefaction in the past week. First The Mail published this cartoon:

I've had to shrink the cartoon down to fit the page but one of those scary gay skinheads has a SWASTIKA tattooed on his arm. That's particularly low seeing that so many gay people were murdered in Nazi concentration camps. If the Daily Mail had a record of writing about gay people which was more balanced, instead of consistently painting them as violent, scary, flamboyant, liars, child prosyletisers/molestors, strident, shameless and promiscuous, then this cartoon might not be so bad. But it's just more of the same. You'd think they'd learnt their lesson after Jan Moir's tasteless and judgemental attack on dead Stephen Gatley and all gay people everywhere. But no, they're now claiming gay people are Nazis.

Then James Delingpole, writes in Telegraph Why on earth shouldn't hotel owners be free to turn away gay couples? This piece is illustrated with a picture from Tom of Finland (just the one on the right of course).

I can freely admit that I've probably met more than my fair share of gay men over the last 20 years. And the number of them who look like the swastika skinheads, or even Tom's leather-man, I can count on one hand. Instead, when I think of all of the gay men I've met, all I see are normal-looking men, maybe a fraction skinnier or beefier than straight men, maybe with a bit more hair product, maybe slightly more fashionably dressed, maybe smiling a bit more than straight men. But no leather. No swastika tattoos. No caps. No mohawks. Boring actually.

Just to throw a bit of balance on the debate, I'm going to write the word "Christian" in a minute, and then illustrate it with a picture. Not of a nice Christian like Thora Hird in Songs of Praise, but this one..

Here's a picture of any old Christian

There you go. Now I've brainwashed you a little bit into thinking that all Christians have hideous split ends, witchy hair, giant foreheads, insane leering eyes and a hunch.

See - we can all resort to nasty unrepresentative stereotypes to put a cruel point across.

Here's nice Thora instead, enjoying a glass of wine while she listens to "All Things Bright and Beautiful". Not all Christians are horrible.

The bed and breakfast ruling isn't going away though. Today there's an article by uber-hater Melanie Philips (again in The Mail), grudingly titled Yes, gays have often been the victims of prejudice. But they now risk becoming the new McCarthyites. Philips seems to have gotten her knickers in a twist because "schoolchildren are to be bombarded with homosexual references in maths, geography and ­science lessons as part of a Government-backed drive to promote the gay agenda."

Note the casual ticking off of The Daily Mail's own homophobic, bullying agenda. Use of the word "homosexual" rather than "gay" - tick. Reference to children - tick. Reference to the "gay agenda" - tick tick tick. (Honey, we do have an agenda, and it's to get you to do something with your hair.)

I gave a talk about the Daily Mail's homophobia at a conference last year, and bizarrely, in the audience was a woman who admitted (rather ruefully) that her husband worked for The Mail. She claimed that they weren't all raging homophobes, but quite nice people really. I wobble from thinking that Melanie Philips doesn't believe a word of what she writes, but she's just doing it because she knows that a particularly ignorant and glum sort of person laps up that sort of tripe, and she wants to keep her job, and thinking that she's a Tool of Satan.

Whatever her motivations, it mustn't be much fun being Melanie.

"I can see your dirty pillows!"

I often suspect that other people are having more fun than me. But Melanie's the one person I know who isn't. Instead, she's sitting at home, slapping herself and pulling her hair, like Carrie's Mother, furious that somebody, somewhere, might be enoying themselves "All that dirty touching!.. The cheap roadhouse whiskey on his breath! First comes the blood, then comes the boys! No Mama!" Slap!

So, even though the Baby Jesus wants me to hate Melanie Philips, and people like her. I know that hate is wrong. So I'm just going to feel sorry for them instead. Sorry because they're losing. And it's not kind to gloat. Sorry because life is so much nicer for people whose main drive is based on love rather than hate. Sorry because I suspect that something went very wrong in her life, and it's too late to fix it. Sorry Melanie. I'd say better luck next time. But this is the only go you get. Sorry.

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Generation Bod

I sometimes feel sorry for the children in my extended family who will never experience the freedom that I had. When I was a child, I used to vanish for hours on my bicycle, a Commando which looked exactly like this.

I used to save the coloured plastic tags that kept bags of (white) bread fastened up, and put them on the wires that led down to the break pads. There was a small tear in the seat of the bike, and as I got older and bigger, the tear responded by growing in equal measures, until eventually one day half of the seat fell off, and no amount of superglue would ever put it right again. After then I graduated to a Chopper.

I would cycle through several streets (Cotswold, Furness, Quantock, Hambledon, Polden, Snowden, Pentland), alone or with friends, to the local "Minimart", to buy ten pence mix ups and abridged children's versions of classic books like Little Women and Robinson Crusoe (50p each), sometimes going the long way through a wooded area which had a particularly perilous ridge to ride your bike off, whilst pretending to be Eval Kineval. On one occasion, I timed the jump wrong and ended up flying over the handlebars, and landing on the ground, face first. My parents knew nothing of this, nor did they know about the time me and other boys in Class T2A sneaked out of school one wintery lunch time and went skating on "Jack's Pond", stopping only when we heard and saw the ice start cracking onimously beneath our feet. They did not know that I used to run across the A19, a dual carriage way on the edge of town, which bordered Castle Eden Dene, a densely isolated woodland where I used to play. I guess it was the 70s/80s and all children had more freedom in those days. We did not know what a "child-seat" for a car was, and I never wore a rear seat-belt. Once, I sat in the back of my Dad's flat top truck as he drove home (immense fun and horribly dangerous), while I also got to ride on the back of his motorbike on a number of occasions (until my mother said she would smash it up with a hammer unless he got rid of it).

Except for the fall off the bicycle, I didn't come to any harm, but in spite of this, if I had a child, he or she would never be allowed to do most of the things I did, and would spend almost all of his/her time watching tv (supervised). There wasn't much kids tv in the 1970s, so this is probably why my parents (along with everyone else) were simply relieved when children announced they were going to "play out", and then vanished for hours at a time, only to return when they were hungry.

Children's tv consisted of about an hour at lunch time, then a couple of hours after school. Repeats were much in force, and due to the general sparsity of all kids tv, I would often end up watching stuff that was completely age inappropriate. I would think nothing of watching pre-school stuff like Bagpuss when I was 14 and staying off school with some feigned illness or other.

I loved Bod, mainly due to the splendid voice of John Le Mesurier. Bod (for those of you who haven't had the pleasure), was a surreal pre-school animation show, about a non-gendered skin-head midget in a yellow dress and his friends.

It has great music (especially the theme tune and the sexy slinky saxophone that introduces Aunt Flo), and there's something very zen about the storylines, but it's that rich mellow voice that I love the most.

John Le Mesurier appeared in last week's BBC4 dramatisation Hattie - another of those film-length "based on true events" shows, which takes a much-loved comedy character from the 1960s or 1970s, and then shows how miserable and twisted they were in real life, to a backdrop of lurid wallpaper, people wearing baby doll nighties while smoking indoors next to Tretchikoff pictures.

Hattie (Jacques), who played the "frigid silly fat one" in the endless Carry-On series, was married to John Le Mesurier, although it turned out, she had an affair with her hunky much younger driver, and moved him in to the guest room. When Le Mesurier caught them in bed, he apologised to them and then resignedly moved himself into the guest room, swapping places with the chaueffeur. Along with that voice, it's his faultless good manners, unflappable nature and desire to "rub along" which makes him one of my role models.

Saturday, January 22, 2011

We buy from the children of dead people

One reason why I love the films of Nicole Holofcener is that they always star Catherine Keener as the main character. Keener is one of my favourite actresses, ever since I saw her as prickly, angry Terri in Your Friends and Neighbours. She's great when she's playing sweet (as in The Forty Year Old Virgin), and great when she's playing a bitch (as in Being John Malcovich), but in Holofcener's films she tends to play more complex, nuanced roles which are more difficult to define. She appears more real somehow. Holofcener's quartet of films, Walking and Talking (1996), Lovely & Amazing (2001), Friends With Money (2006) and Please Give (2010), made roughly five years apart, are like having glimpses of Holofcener's obsessions, as well as showing snapshots of Keener as she grows older (and gets better).

Holofcener's films are not blockbusters. There are no explosions or kidnappings. If people experience amazing moments of self-revelation, it often happens quietly, and is achieved by a slight alteration of a facial expression. Storylines are often not completley resolved. In Please Give, Kate (Keener) has a husband who has an affair. At one brief point we are led to suspect that she might suspect that something is going on, but she never pursues it. The affair ends. There is no loud confrontation. No break-up. Life continues and the film ends. As in real life, what is not said and what does not happen is often much more important, although can be harder to portray cinematically. These are not films you should watch while updating your Facebook profile.

The people in Holofcener's films are completely ordinary, American and frequently well-off. They have neuroses that often appear credible, particularly to educated middle-class people who think/worry too much. Middle-class guilt is a recurrent theme. In Friends With Money, Christine (Keener) and her husband are getting an extra level added to their home, although when Christine discovers that this is going to ruin the view of her neighbours, making her the local social pariah, she tells the Latino workers to down tools, incurring the fury of her husband. Guilt is explored more fully in Please Give, where Kate and her husband run a retro furniture shop, buying up recently inherited kitsch furniture from the children of dead people and then selling it on to hipsters in their trendy New York store at a fantastic mark-up. Meanwhile, the couple have purchased the next door apartment from a 91 year old cranky neighbour (played with delicious spite by Ann Morgan Guilbert), and are now waiting for her to die so they can knock through and extend. All of this gradually overwhelms Kate, and she spends her time over-compensating by giving large amounts of money and food to the "45 homeless people who live on my street", including, in one embarrassing scene, a black man who she mistakenly thinks is homeless, but is just waiting to get into a restaurant. She also attempts to do volunteer work, first at an elderly centre, then at a school for children with special needs, but she gets overcome with pity for the children and starts crying in front of them.

The other emotion which is prelevant in Holofcener's films is (repressed) anger. Often, quite ordinary scenes involving service encounters or friends can turn nasty in seconds, resulting in polite characters trading increasingly shocking insults in public spaces. In Friends With Money, Jane (Frances McDormand), has a particularly unpleasant incident involving queue-jumpers in an Old Navy store, which ends up with her breaking her nose, while in Lovely and Amazing Michelle (Keener again) finds difficulty selling her bizarre home-made knick-knacks in various chi-chi shops "I'm TRYING to sell my art!", and ends up having an escalating encounter when one shop-owner tries to reject her.

It's easy to compare Holofcener's films to Sex in The City, and indeed, she directed a few of the early episodes, but her films are like a version of Sex in The City which doesn't insult your intelligence and isn't obsessed with shoes and labels. With this winter dragging on and on, her films are a great way to pass away a few hours (and bars of chocolate).

Thursday, January 13, 2011

On Ena

My relationship with Britain's longest soap opera, Coronation Street has waxed and waned over the years. In the 1970s I would sneak out of my bed and go downstairs when my mother was flossing her teeth in the bathroom (a task that would take about 90 minutes - say what you like about OCD perfectionists, but they always have lovely gleaming teeth). I would then watch Coronation Street with the sound turned right down, while sitting up close to the tv so I wouldn't be discovered. One storyline particularly affected me - when Deirdre Barlow left a pram containing baby Tracy Barlow outside the Rovers' Return, and then a lorry crashed into it. Deirdre thought Tracy had been killed, and almost threw herself off a viaduct, but it all ended happily, as a neighbour had taken the pram off for a walk without telling anyone. Although a) if you leave your baby in an unattended pram while you go in a pub then you're kind of asking for trouble and b) considering that Tracy turned into one of the street's biggest villains, a different outcome may have been happier for some people.

During the 1990s, when the internet was just taking off, I was the scourge of the newsgroup (or ratucs as the "in-crowd" called it). I was one of those obsessive contributors, posting several messages a day (sometimes an hour), and being a central figure in an "online community". We felt so cutting-edge, that we were living in a futuristic virtual society (this was long before Facebook and Youtube). I had a kindly stalker who used to visit me at work occasionally, and I conducted an "online marriage" with a lady from Canada, which caused controversy and
threatened to wreck the group. I ran little competitions and actually sent out prizes to winners (!) And I even posted up mocking updates of the show, where I referred to Deirdre as Dreary, Rita as the Big Red Wig and Ivy as Pope Ivy. One of my fella members of ratucs, Glenda, took over the updates, and runs her own Corrie site, as well as the site Flaming Nora.

As I took on more responsiblity at work, and developed a busy social life for a brief period, it became increasingly difficult to keep up. I've watched Corrie on and off since then, but more off than on. To be truthful, the increasing reliance on murders, dramatic accidents, big fights at weddings, fires etc, have put me off it a bit. After a time they become predictable and I've always enjoyed the gentle humour and characterisation the most, not the cliff-hangers. If Coronation Street was real, would any of the characters ever be able to get life insurance or even car insurance. Imagine them phoning "Go Compare" and saying "I live at 9 Coronation Street, can I have some life insurance please!". A klaxon would probably start buzzing in the call centre, as their little computer worked out that statistically, you have a 20% chance of being murdered within the next 10 years, a 30% chance of being in a car which crashes into a canal, a 86% chance of getting married to Steve McDonald at some point in your life and a 112% chance of your partner cheating on you and your baby actually being someone else's.

Long-suffering Steve McDonald: my ideal man, which is just as well, as statistically everyone will end up being married to him at some point in their lives

A boxed set of episodes from the 1960s have been released recently, and I'm enjoying them much more than the current storylines. There is the added bonus that they can be viewed as both social history and as entertainment. It's fascinating seeing the insides of people's homes in the 1960s (even if they are fake homes). The production values are much more austere (we rarely see outside, and the outdoors sets are clearly painted backdrops of streets), while the fact that episodes were filmed live means that actors occasionally fluff their lines but nobody seems to mind. The stories tend to be character driven - Ken Barlow's intellectual snobbery featuring heavily in early episodes. Like many of the early characters in Coronation Street, I see little glimpses of myself - particularly Ken (though Annie Walker and Elsie Tanner (see below) also contribute).

On the whole, people are kinder to each other and there is a strong sense of community, exemplified in an episode where a coach trip to Blackpool feels like the characters are going to the other side of the planet. Rather than milking every storyline for maximum drama, it instead goes for an understated approach, which is actually more effective. So when Ida Barlow is killed in a road accident, we learn about it via a series of business-like conversations in a police station. We don't see the accident, and even when the police tell the family the bad news, we are not shown this scene, but are left to imagine how Ken and his father will react, off-camera. Had Ida Barlow been run over now, there would have been a giant close-up on her face as a car hit her and she died, then the car would veer off the road and fall into a canal, then it would explode, killing everyone in it. Then we'd switch to a close-up of the shocked faces of her entire family who had witnessed the crash. Then a tram would crash off a bridge on top of them all, and they would all die too.

Three characters stand out in the early years, all women: Annie Walker, Elsie Tanner and Ena Sharpes. Annie Walker (played by Margaret Thatcher before she became Prime Minister) is the Queen of the Street, being a terrifying dragon figure to her husband, and engaging in petty bourgeoisie snobbery whenever she can, she has a wonderful way of giving people dirty looks while sounding nice.

Elsie is the most likeable and fun character, a brassy red-head and good-time girl who's now a bit "past it". She is supposed to represent the "common family", with a son who's been in prison (and is clearly gay, although written as if straight). Nowadays she'd be viewed as respectable and having old-fashioned values. Elsie has a heart of gold and genuinely likes and understands men, even if they continually let her down. I don't know a great deal about how her character develops, but it's clear she's going to suffer again and again.

But it's Ena Sharples who, for me, is the true star of Coronation Street. Perhaps the closest thing to a villain, Ena is a ferocious battleaxe in a huge trenchcoat with a hairnet helmet permenantly glued to her head. She's the sort of woman who isn't afraid to speak her mind, who views conflict as oxygen, who dominates her hapless friends vinegary Martha and vague Minnie, is casually racist (see second clip below), but also extremely clever and manipulative, often using religious piety or her age ("I'm just an old pensioner") to gain the undeserving moral high ground. Many of Ena's storylines involve her precarious position as caretaker of the Glad Tidings Mission, where she gets to live at the vestry for free. To Ena, the vestry has the same status and importance as Southfork in Dallas or Denver-Carrington Oil in Dynasty. She will do anything to keep it.

In the first episode, Ena introduces herself to timid Florrie Lindley, who has just taken over the corner shop. "I'm Mrs Sharples. I'm a neighbour, you a widow woman?" she says. She then interrogates Florrie on what church she goes to and where she's going to be buried (death is one of Ena's favourite subjects), and asks for half a dozen fancies ("no eclairs, I said NO ECLAIRS").

This clip of Ena, while in hospital is notable for her racist outburst "I had three doctors round me this afternoon and one of them was as black as a chinmey bag. Oh he was clean you could tell, his face shone like black leading", and the disturbing close-up of her face right into the camera at the end of her accusoratory rant. It is as if she is about to emerge out of the television and attack the viewer. Can you imagine Coronation Street doing anything so avante guarde these days?

Despite Ena's rather challenging personality, it is easy to see how she quickly became one of the most popular characters, and her "wisdom" is currently much impersonated in the Odana household. Well, not the racist stuff.

Monday, January 10, 2011

The death of You're welcome

Emotional Labour is a phenomenon (mid-late 20th century) of westernised societies, whereby workers have to manage their emotions during service encounters, or at least appear to be experiencing various emotions, such as pleasure at serving someone. Like most things in our culture, it's aimed at getting you to buy more stuff. It was first noticed by the sociologist Arlie Hochschild, and is exemplified by the fixed smile on flight attendants, along with phrases like "Have a nice day." It's a very American thing - on my first visits to the US, I was always thrown by the "greeter" of a store, who would say hi and ask you how you are. British shop service tends to be lukewarm, much like the rest of British culture. Servers rarely approach you and if they must be engaged, both parties try to get it over with as quickly as possible.

Another Emotional Labour phrase is "You're welcome", which seems to be quintessentially American - I've never heard anyone in Britain utter it, ever. It is heard in shops, for example, when you say thank you after a server hands you change, but it is so widespread that it occurs in non-service encounters, like after you say thank you to someone for holding the lift for you. (The British equivalent, if there is one, seems to be "That's OK". It's taken me ages to get used to "You're welcome". It's one of those phrases that seems to backfire a bit, often coming across as rather curt, especially as it seems to be recited without any real thought or emotion. It's just something you say.

But on this trip to America, nobody said "You're welcome" to me at all. Just when you get used to an aspect of a foreign culture, they go and change the rules. Now, when you say "thank you", the American person says "Mm hm" back to you. Sometimes it sounds sassy in a RuPaul type of way.

"Mm hmm honey!"

Sometimes it's barely audible and involves no eye contact. It's the barest acknowledgement, even more perfunctory than the sleep-talking, rote-learnt "You're welcome". And it comes across as surly. Perhaps it's the recession. I never thought I would say it, but I miss "You're welcome."

Still, I come back from the US even more enamoured with Manhattan than ever before. People often ask me "Why do you go to New York?" and when I say "To be a tourist", they look at me with scorn or sympathy, as "tourism" is such a degraded concept these days. However, I love being a tourist. That's what being on holiday is about. I want to be able to spend money freely, see plays, musicals and films that are not available where I normally live, traipse around museums or walk everywhere and take multiple random detours just to explore new neighbourhoods, wake up late, have my bed made for me, eat a three course meal in a different restaurant each evening and spend every waking moment with my husband. If tourism is wrong, then I don't want to be right.

Added to this is the fact that my Britishness, a quality so dreary in almost every other context, is the equivalent of a starburst filter and a facelift to American eyes and ears. Even the crippling social awkwardness that is my British heritage comes across as exotic and glamorous - I am Hugh Grant or Colin Firth in a classy Britcom, rather than the result of a diffident education which despised success (show-offs). Even when I hear my own voice, drowned out by all those loud drawls, I think I sound cleverer and posher than I actually am. I like myself better as a foreigner.

My new favourite part of Manhattan is Greenwich Village, specifically Christopher Street. I so want to live on Christopher Street. Once the birthplace of the modern gay identity - and the location of the famous Stonewall riots, it's housed Dick Francis, Yoko Ono and Amy Sedaris. It's now a lot quieter than it was in the 1970s, when gay men would promenade up and down it all hours of the day and night, and Greenwich, having become all gentrified and expensive, is no longer such a hub of the avante guarde and culturally innovative. One of its latest claims to fame was that it kicked off the world's current obsession with cupcakes, thanks to the Magnolia Bakery on Bleeker Street.

I guess cupcakes don't exactly have the same bohemian edge as say, Jack Kerouac.

Around mid-2011, I'm due a long sabbatical. So if things go according to plan you'll find me in Greenwich Village, eating cupcakes and saying "mm hmm", or whatever has replaced it by then.


Perhaps I have just alienated everybody ("it's his personality unfortunately"), but judging by the lack of comments on recent posts, nobody seems to be reading blogs (or at least, this blog). I don't mind really. The blog acts as a useful reminder to me, so that when I have senile dementia, people can read out bits of it back to me and see a flicker of recognition.

But after months in obscurity. I am back on Facebook. Hopefully I can figure out how to organise my friends into groups better this time, so my work colleagues won't see photos of my grown up nephew in Borat fancy dress.

Saturday, January 01, 2011

Camels in Manhattan

I am in New York to see in the New Year. Fortunately, almost all of the snow has melted away now, and the temperatures are reasonable for this time of year. The day we arrived, we went to see the Rockettes performance at Radio City Music Hall. RCMH is my favourite theatre ever. It's an art deco cathedral, which was lovingly restored back to 1930s glamour about a decade ago. The toilets are huger and more opulent than any I've ever seen - and that's just the toilets.

The Rockettes are a troupe of dancers who are well-known for their high kicking, synchronised dance routines. They've been performing since the 1930s (with many cast changes since), but still do some of the original dances, like one where they're dressed as toy soldiers. The Christmas spectaculor was about the most high production show I've seen. It seemed to have been choreographed by Steven Hawking, being hyper-complicated and ultra-precise. However, it was an odd mix of different things, some of which seemed a bit strange when taken out of context. For example, the show began with a voice intoning all of the different commercial sponsers who had been involved in the production. After this list, each one was given its own little advert - and bizarrely, at the end of all of this the audience actually applauded. Commercialism was threaded through much of the show, with an impressive cinematic Santa sledge ride through Manhattan involving going through a digitised Times Square, complete with bill-boards advertising the products of the sponsers. And at the end, as we were leaving, ladies were handed free Maybelline lipsticks. I guess all of this extra sponser-money was what helped to make this an amazing show, but I think I'd have still been impressed with less razzamatazz and no ads. I expect we'll be getting more of this sort of thing (if you're British), as the government are allowing product placement in tv and radio programmes now. In fact, this blog posting was brought to you by Vomilex - Britain's number one vomit suppressant: Don't retch! Take Vomilex!

Amidst these efforts to secure loyal customers, was a little tacked on bit at the end about the True Meaning of Christmas (not shopping after all), but the birth of Jesus Christ our Lord and Saviour. A montage of carols was hurriedly dashed out, and then a few sheep and camels were led across the stage. Having been on a tour of Radio City Musical Hall a couple of years ago, I'd seen the pens were animals were kept backstage, but it was still amazing (and not in an especially good way) to see camels in Manhattan - in mid-winter, indoors, with music blaring at rock concert levels. Again, it looked lovely, but I expect they'd be happier off in more natural surroundings.

Despite nods to "innovation" in entertainment such as 3D (not really an innovation, but a repacking of an old and naff idea), it was the Rockettes who were the main draw of the show, and performed best. Of the Rockettes, all were female, tall, leggy, beautiful, young, and most were white. Had I been a heterosexual man, I would have probably had a rather different reaction to this display of loveliness on stage. As it was, I had to make do with revelling in the kitchness of it all, and wishing that there were a few equally athletic chaps to do those high kicks in the line-up. Although the Rockettes are sold as wholesome, this oddly accentuates their desirability and sexuality - and I wonder what rich gentlemen in the 1930s would have made of them.

So it was an odd performance - the hard-sell of rampant commericalism, the technical wizardy of 3D, old fashioned songs and values, kitschy glamour, sexy-pure heterosexual fantasy machines, and a dash of religious fevour at the end. For aliens who want a crash course in American values, they could do a lot worse than the Rockettes Christmas show.