Wednesday, August 08, 2018

About the Oscars

The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences has announced a new category for the Oscars; Outstanding Achievement in Popular Film. Nobody’s actually decided what the criteria might be for said film, how they might calibrate said popularity, whether there’s an online poll or a focus group or a pin in a list or they just put the question to the same people who vote for the... what will it be now, Unpopular Film? Is there a certain level of ticket sales or rentals a film has to hit in order to qualify? Is it down to likes on Facebook or Instagram or whatever the young folk will be into next year? Or they could just ask Warren Beatty what he reckons – and then pick something else.

The funny thing is that nobody at the Academy thinks that these elusive Popular Films actually need such an award; they’re popular, which is an award in itself. It’s just that very few people are bothering to watch the Oscars ceremony on telly, so the Academy isn’t making enough money from it, which is another reason I’d be wary of taking their word on what popularity and how it should be done. And will anyone who hasn’t already seen a movie be tempted to see it because it’s the Best Popular Film?

“So this is the Best Film?”
“No, it’s the Best Popular Film.”
“Well it can’t be that Popular, if we haven’t seen it.”
“No, not the Most Popular – the Best Popular. The Most Popular Film wasn’t nominated.”
“Why not?”
“It wasn’t very good.”
“But we saw it.”
“Yes. Everyone did. Hence its Popularity.”

In essence, what a Best Popular Film award will say is that This Film Is Good – Just Not Quite As Good As The (Less Popular) Best Film. Which I’m sure will look great on the posters.

And it’s going to be Black Panther anyway, so there we go.

PS: Oh, hang on though...

PPS: Apparently it’s Piers Morgan’s fault.

PPPS: More sensibly, IndieWire comes up with seven new categories we actually need.

PPPPS: This:

Tuesday, August 07, 2018

About Stalin and Magritte

Don’t ask me why I ended up at the home page of the Stalin Society of North America. And, when you haven’t asked me that, don’t ask me why they’re co-opting Surrealist iconography (and my Blogger profile pic) for their murky ends.

Saturday, August 04, 2018

About Ottessa Moshfegh

Ottessa Moshfegh has written a piece in which she discusses a brief, strange, awkward sort-of-relationship she had 20 years ago with a well-known writer that she refers to as “Rupert Dicks”. In the accompanying interview, Alex Clark says, “Inevitably readers will come to it in the context of the wider conversation about male privilege and predatory behaviour.” Which may well be true, but surely they’ll also come to it in the context of WHO THE HELL IS IT?

I’m saying John Updike, but what do I know?

Tuesday, July 24, 2018

About the importance of music

I last saw the Flaming Lips in Singapore, eight years ago. It was a defiantly underground event, both literally (it took place in the basement of a convention centre) and culturally; the Lips’ trippy, shambling weirdness stands in direct opposition to the earnest, aspirational, fiercely drug-free ethos promoted throughout the Lion City.

It was also a strictly 18+ event, as good Singaporean children should spend their evenings scrabbling for a foothold within the brutally competitive education hierarchy. Whereas when the band played in London last weekend, headlining the Kaleidoscope festival at Alexandra Palace, small people were actively welcomed into the mix. To an extent this makes sense. Much of what the Lips do taps into the fusion of naïvety, nostalgia and melancholia developed by the Beatles, Pink Floyd and David Bowie around 1967; barely an image from Lewis Carroll or AA Milne went unchecked, albeit through a thick fug of hallucinogens. Lips mainman Wayne Coyne comes from Oklahoma and his references tend more to The Wizard of Oz but the process is similar.

However, there’s a difference between the childhoods half-remembered by the likes of McCartney and Barrett and Coyne and those enforced by the yummy mummies of North London. The Lips’ party atmosphere includes balloons, and lots of them, big, substantial ones, half-way to beachballs. In Singapore they bounced cheerfully over the heads of the punters until they burst or were otherwise forgotten. Here, they are grabbed by adult hands and passed over to little Mungo or darling Clemency to hold onto for dear life. Smaller children, meanwhile, are decorated with industrial-grade ear protectors, which does rather raise the question of why they’re being brought to a festival featuring lots of noisy rock music.

Actually, that question might be raised about plenty of the parents, it seems. From the absence of singalonging and an air of cheerful ambivalence towards any of the musicians, even the headliners, one wonders how many of the punters have even heard of the Flaming Lips; they were as much attracted to the event by the promise of face painters and balloon animals and gluten-free pizzas and other manifestations of a lovely summer’s day out. Which is all fine and dandy, and, yes, I know, music just isn’t that important a part of life for some people. But I wonder whether the next step will be a music festival without the expense and inconvenience of musicians.

And, the following day, this happened:

and I’m pretty certain it was a response to something I tweeted about yet another wholly admirable person who appears to have a pretty lame record collection. Again, I understand that many people don’t care as much about music as I do, and this applies both to the people who appear on Desert Island Discs, and many of the listeners. That said, I’d always assumed that the choice of music is intended to reflect some aspect of the subject’s life or personality in a way that can’t always be done through words alone. And as such, the music is available for public discussion and response in exactly the way the words are. If not, once again, what’s the point of having the music at all?

But I don’t launch into an unseemly Twitter Spat©, partly because I’ve got a horrible feeling that such disagreements tend to be ever-so-slightly gendered. Way back before I ever set foot in Singapore, I wrote a rather disobliging review of, among other things, Ruth Padel’s book I’m a Man. In it, she dismisses the (in her eyes) characteristically male tendency to think knowing stuff about music is very important, with a specific dig at Nick Hornby; this presumably offered her a get-out-clause for the numerous factual errors in her text. Since Padel is currently Professor of Poetry at King’s College London, I wonder whether she’s as relaxed about her students’ ignorance of Shelley or Plath. (Incidentally, when Padel herself appeared on Desert Island Discs, her music choices were perfectly respectable; which inevitably disappointed me, as I wanted her to choose eight slices of crap, just to prove I was right.

Saturday, July 21, 2018

About Rudyard and Maya

A mural bearing the text of Kipling’s poem If has been removed from the union building at Manchester University and replaced by Maya Angelou’s Still I Rise. The reason, apparently, was that Kipling was a racist; or, more specifically, that his poem The White Man’s Burden expressed racist views. Nobody, as far as I’m aware has expressed any reservations about If as a poem, or explained why Still I Rise is better. Instead, the new poem has been put up in an attempt to reverse the exclusion of “black and brown voices”.

So ultimately this is nothing to do with poetry; it’s all about the poets. Kipling is a dead white male who probably held some reactionary views; Angelou is an also-dead black female who probably didn’t – although the Manchester students could face an ethical dilemma if it turns out that she did or said something a bit dodgy at any stage in her long life. (Think of the fate of the movie director James Gunn, who Tweeted something off-colour a decade ago and has been told that this is “inconsistent with the values” of Walt Disney, although whether it would have been inconsistent 10 years ago, or under the aegis of the arch-reactionary Walt Disney himself is another question.)

For what it’s worth, and despite the fact that nobody asked me, I prefer the Angelou to Kipling’s tired doggerel; I also suspect I would have had more fun hanging out with Maya than with Rudyard. Above all, I hold to the values of Shakespeare’s mob when confronted by the innocent Cinna the Poet; don’t worry about what the poet is or does, just “tear him for his bad verses.”

Wednesday, July 18, 2018

About Valetudo

That means it’s going in the opposite direction of all the other moons in the same area. “It’s basically driving down the highway in the wrong direction,” Scott Sheppard, an astronomer at Carnegie who led the discovery team, tells The Verge. “That’s a very unstable situation. Head-on collisions are likely to happen in that situation.”
Is it nerdy to have a favourite Jovian moon

Wednesday, July 11, 2018

About football

I don’t know if you’d noticed, but there is some football about the place, which is fine; and a hell of a lot of talking and writing and singing about football, very much of which is not. Apart from anything else, I’m getting overwhelmed by overly helpful articles that aim to explain what the world was like in 1990, when England were last in the World Cup semi-finals, especially the fact that the country they played then (West Germany) no longer exists; and the country they play tonight (Croatia) didn’t exist then, nor did the country (Russia) where the match is taking place, at least as independent entities. I just feel old, especially when I remember that 1990 is closer to 1966 than it is to 2018. And don’t get me started on clickbait offering a gloss on what exactly Three Lions means...

England’s (up to this point) successful campaign has also prompted a few Panglossian pieces on how this ramshackle band with roots in Yorkshire and Jamaica, London and Nigeria, Ireland and Portugal, offers a vision of a new, inclusive rainbow patriotism, which is all lovely. But this multiculturalism in motion smudges over the fact that the country is also split along lines of age, class, income and levels of educational attainment. The sense of complicity that we snowflake libtards feel about the twin cataclysms of Brexit and Trump mean that social snobbery, especially when used against white males who don’t shop at Waitrose, is now almost as unacceptable as racism, sexism or homophobia; see how the tide has turned against the “gammon” jibe.

That said, on Saturday, after I’d watched and enjoyed the Sweden match, then made my way across London to a birthday party in (of course) Islington, where architects and psychologists and quite a few people who may not be able to stay around when Brexit finally bites, ate Spanish food and drank French wine. And on the way I encountered plenty of loud, drunk, aggressive, incoherent, beer-spraying, Caucasian men, draped in red-and-white flags, screaming that bloody refrain like a toxic battle cry and doing that weird fistypumpy dance, as if they were pulling on the teats of some enormous, mutant cow, encouraging it to spurt yet more lager into their pink, upturned faces. And three things came to mind; first, that if this is what they’re like when they win, God help us when the bubble finally bursts, whenever that is. (I’m writing this a few hours before the semi-final.) And second, the words of Martin Amis:

At my last football match, I noticed that the fans all had the complexion and body-scent of a cheese-and-onion crisp, and the eyes of pit bulls. But what I felt most conclusively, above and below and on every side, was ugliness — and a love of ugliness.
Which is sneery and snobbish and nasty, but then I didn’t have my taxi or ambulance smashed up, my shop invaded, my police dog hassled for being German. And finally, for some reason, I recalled an interview in the NME with oddball Chelsea/Everton winger and Joy Division fan Pat Nevin, some time back in the 1980s. “What do you love most about football?” he was asked. “Playing football,” he responded. “And what do you hate about it?” “Everything else.”