Sunday, May 20, 2018

About self-criticism

Friday, May 18, 2018

About stupid


A politician may or may not have called another politician a “stupid woman”, which is very bad, apparently. I understand it’s not exactly the sort of thing you’d like to hear from a colleague, but it’s fairly low down the rankings as far as political vituperation goes.

It turns out, though, that “stupid” is now verboten in many schools. But I’m not sure if that means it’s just considered too hurtful to draw attention to someone’s stupidity — or whether stupidity as a thing is considered not to exist.

Thursday, May 17, 2018

About safe spaces etc

A couple of pull-outs from Bret Easton Ellis’s interview (by Nathalie Olah) in the TLS:
It’s terrible. And it’s a terrible way to live as an artist. You see it affecting the arts on a vague, vague but vast scale – where is the taboo? Where is the Other? So what if it’s offensive? Good! Where is this bizarre idea of art created by committee, by a democracy, coming from? Art isn’t created by a democracy! And there seems to be this thing, especially on social media, of group-approved art, that’s chilling.
I wouldn’t have been the writer I am if I’d been raised in a very safe, no-bully environment with a nice mom and dad who looked after me and made sure everything was ok... I think your experiences of pain and alienation and people marginalizing you is what forces out this expressiveness. I think we’re becoming a society that wants to erase all of that. Put everyone into this safe group that is all taken care of and everyone’s the same and no one’s different and we all love each other and we’re eradicating all pain and it’s all very nice and it’s all very utopian; I just don’t think that’s who we really are and I don’t know what the end game of that is.

Wednesday, May 16, 2018

About trolling

According to the musician Courtney Barnett, the phrase
I could eat a bowl of alphabet soup and spit out better words than you
is a manifestation of trolling and “male aggression”. Or is it just criticism?

Monday, May 14, 2018

About Pompidou

I was vaguely listening to a radio play about the Paris événements and Googled “Pompidou” to clarify some nugget or another; inevitably, the first thing that comes up is the art centre, rather than de Gaulle’s sidekick. “All that was once directly lived has become mere representation,” as Guy Debord said. Nice to see the old sod finally being validated.


Wednesday, May 09, 2018

About Guattari

Tuesday, May 08, 2018

About a qipao


I did consider writing about the case of Keziah Daum, who wore a qipao/cheongsam to her high school prom and kicked off all manner of brouhaha about cultural appropriation and that juicy stuff, prompting everyone to adopt their instinctive battle formations in the culture wars. But, for once, I was inhibited about opining, what with me being a non-Asian, non-female, non-qipao-wearer (at least while sober) and all that. Fortunately, the excellent Anna Chen, in The Guardian, made far more sense about the whole thing than I could ever have done, pointing out that the garment itself has woven into it a whole load of other problems about gender and class before we get to whether some random gweilo is allowed to wear it and, essentially, that Asians living under the shadow of Trump have rather more pressing concerns than this.

But something still niggles. In the past I’ve made the smartarse observation that the end point of the whole cultural appropriation concept is that only Belgians will be allowed to play saxophones; only to be told that this is all about power, and it’s perfectly OK to appropriate from above. Thus, it’s wrong for Keziah to wear a qipao but it’s acceptable for her Asian classmates to wear jeans, because American culture dominates everyone and everything.

Fair enough for the here and now; but let’s think ahead a bit. This is the Asian century; forecasting history with absolute confidence is a fool’s errand but it’s a pretty good bet that by, say, 2050, China will be a hugely dominant global power, in terms of economic, military and cultural power, maybe even challenging the American hegemony. And if that’s how it turns out, will it be acceptable for Keziah’s daughter or granddaughter to wear a qipao to her prom; but not for the President of China to wear a business suit?

Monday, May 07, 2018

About Boris and Donald and Marshall

Some of the fine details of McLuhan’s ideas seem a little quaint because the specifics of technology and media have so far outstripped what he knew; for example, the declining relevance of television as a mass medium. That said, I think he would have had something to say about the fact that senior politicians can best communicate with the most powerful man in the world by appearing on his favourite TV show rather than, y’know, talking to him. Apart from the fact it’s utterly weird and depressing and terrifying, obviously.


Wednesday, April 25, 2018

About West Side Story

The singer Sierra Boggess has pulled out of a forthcoming concert performance of West Side Story, in which she was due to play Maria, because she’s not of Hispanic heritage. Since about half the cast of the show are supposed to be Puerto Rican, this could be interesting.

Meanwhile, the actor Hank Azaria has said he’s thinking of stepping aside from the role of Apu in The Simpsons, because he’s not Indian. But a little brisk Googling reveals that Mr Azaria is a Sephardi Jew who can trace his ancestry back to the Ladino-speakers who were booted out of Spain in 1492. So, since he’s to some extent Hispanic, maybe he could play Maria.

(Yikes, I just remembered, I was riffing on this theme more than a decade ago.)

Monday, April 23, 2018

About Brain of Britain

I shall be stumbling onto your airwaves (assuming you listen to BBC Radio 4) at 3pm on Monday, April 30, for a heat of the evergreen quiz show Brain of Britain. Do listen, at the time or on the blessed iPlayer.

Saturday, April 21, 2018

About Picasso, sort of

I went to the Picasso 1932 exhibition at Tate Modern yesterday and was going to write something about it but on the way there my attention was grabbed by a different kind of art; dear old, dreamy, enigmatic René Magritte, ripped off, recuperated, to sell yet more glossy, vacuous apartments.




Anyway, my righteous indignation had eased a little by the time I got to the power station, and the Picasso show was good, a tightly packed capsule of life and creativity. We saw the ebb and flow of his little obsessions and what prompted them – he was seriously into octopuses for a few months – and the sheer volume of fact was delightful, from the make of his car to the fact that Carl Gustav Jung, of all people, wrote a really vicious review. And yet it was still tantalising in the details it missed; we learned that Picasso skipped the opening of his first Paris retrospective to go to the cinema – I wanted to know what film.

And, of course, the whole thing was sponsored by a big accountancy firm. So, maybe capitalism won in the end and we just have to live with the big dull flats and the bad Magritte clones. But I wouldn’t want to break the news to this enigmatic figure, for whom it’s still, clearly, all about the pictures.


PS: From Hyperallergic, more about what happens when art and capitalism and gentrification coincide.

Thursday, April 19, 2018

About bloody Morrissey



Wednesday, April 18, 2018

About research

Academic research is mainly a matter of finding stuff that people have already written about (so you can include proper references) but got wrong (so you can justify your own pathetic existence by disagreeing with them).

Saturday, April 14, 2018

About spaghetti

I’m generally allergic to anything that hints at the “modern art is bollocks, a three-year-old could do that” flavour of philistinism but this made me giggle.

Thursday, April 12, 2018

About words and things

From Benjamin Woolley, Virtual Worlds: A Journey in Hype and Hyperreality (Oxford: Blackwell, 1992):
In the commonsense world of science and especially mathematics, ‘words’ really do not matter, because they represent no reality, they float above the surface of it. In the world of ‘theory’, however, the very opposite is true. Reality exists in language, in history, in culture, in all the contingencies of human action and creativity, in the very substance of Hamlet’s being, in ‘words, words, words’. A universal, objective reality, and the science that seeks to reveal it, was the great sustaining myth of the modern age. The question is, then, what happens to it when the myth is punctured, when the paradigm has shifted?

Wednesday, April 11, 2018

About silence

I haven’t seen the movie A Quiet Place yet, but the concept sounds fun and anything that shows up the noisy eaters has to be good. That said, it does reinforce the idea that silence per se is vanishingly rare; removing sound only reveals more sound beneath, as these Quakers found when they squeezed their 30 minutes of quiet into a podcast.

But, as usual, someone got there first:

Sunday, April 08, 2018

About the NME (RIP, etc)

Paul Morley, one of the old NME hands mourning their alma mater in Record Collector:
Post-Wikipedia, writers spend about nine-tenths of their piece setting out facts and received wisdom before saying anything original. Back then, we could make it all up. You didn’t know the “facts”. Didn’t really need them. I remember doing an interview with the Monochrome Set, in which I numbered them, one to six. What mattered was the words, the making up, that colouring in, which became the truth, the narrative of the music.
Now, this may feed into our modish hysteria about Fake News, and also confirm the prevalent belief that Morley is nowt but a posturing pseud. But surely it’s preferable to the recent banal prattlings of another NME alumnus; or the Best of British list, so male, so white, concocted by listeners to a radio station that once had vague claims to being alternative, whatever that might mean.

Friday, April 06, 2018

About Jeff Koons

An article about the forthcoming sale of a sculpture by Jeff Koons describes him as “notoriously perfectionist”. I understand what they mean; Koons wants his art works to be just so, and he’s prepared to be a bit of a dick about it. But it implies that the end result he desires – and, presumably, gets – is ultimately a thing of wonder, rather than the pile of schlocky drivel that tends to occur. I mean, look at it.

Friday, March 30, 2018

About the street art/graffiti divide

I’m not going to get sucked into the whole Mear One/Corbyn mural saga, except to observe that the guys around the table do have noses that are rather larger than necessary and to suggest that if you want to defend yourself against charges of anti-semitism, there are better platforms on which to do it than David Icke’s website.

It does, however, add another layer to the whole debate about the dividing line between officially sanctioned street art and verboten graffiti, which I touched on here and here. I wrote a term essay about this in January, touching on the speed with which subversive, dangerous art can become officially recuperated in a relatively short space of time; one example was my local council’s attitude to the hoary punk combo The Damned, who were excoriated in the 1970s and are now lauded as favourite sons. Which, of course, means that the street art that celebrates them is falling victim to the spray cans of those (currently) beyond the pale. As is entirely right and proper, surely?

Tuesday, March 27, 2018

About Bowie and the vandals

Following on from my earlier post about the conservative (and Conservative) distinction between art and graffiti, I’m intrigued by the attack on the new Bowie statue in Ayslesbury. But, given the general response to the installation over the past few days, I wonder if this is actually the work of the provisional wing of Art Critics Anonymous.

About bedbeats


I checked. It’s real.

Friday, March 23, 2018

About housing


Amidst the current brouhaha involving Facebook data being used to manipulate what we used to call democracy, it’s good to remember that lots of politics is carried out via good, old-fashioned leaflets through the door – and also that the tactics involved can be just as toxic. Here’s a glorious example of othering from my local Conservative party, in advance of the local elections. *Their* residents parking on *your* streets. Incomers, strangers, newbies, you’re not from round these parts, are you? Get off my land (or at least my parking spot). And, you know what? I bet it’s going to work.

And, on a related note, I posted the image below on Instagram, and within a few minutes it had been *liked* by an account called mortgageslondon.


PS: And more false dichotomy from the local Tories: street art (can be) good; graffiti bad.

Wednesday, March 21, 2018

About unlistenability

The US National Recording Registry has announced its latest tranche of recordings to be preserved for their cultural significance, which raises all sorts of choice and meaty questions about canonicity and taste making* and whether ‘Footloose’ by Kenny Loggins may be enjoyed outwith the arch finger-quotes of irony. But I’m rather startled by the BBC coverage of the story, which labels seminal 1967 album New Sounds in Electronic Music by Steve Reich et al as “now practically unlistenable” while nodding through the Proceedings of the United Nations Conference on International Organization, and Rhythm Is Gonna Get You by Gloria Estefan and the Miami Sound Machine without a quibble. I know which one I’d prefer to subject my friends to at my funeral...

* Essentially, a) Who decides? b) How and why do they decide?

Tuesday, March 20, 2018

About comments

Some anonymous comments that someone/thing that attempted to place on this blog in recent days:
  • Whenever confronted with facts they pull straight back even farther. Within their minds there is no way their icons were Marxists.
  • Steer clear of the chronically lazybones go ahead and.
  • Your ten factors why its stupid rock. Go Vols! 
  • All bachelors ought to be called master, maybe not mister, when addressed by their feminine counterparts according to a situation law.
  • Such as the Grim Reaper, she's a distinctive amalgamation of religious entities.
  • I've listed 25 factual statements about Lil Jon below!
  • Patton's ill-conceived raid on a POW camp to save lots of his son in legislation led to controversy, recriminations and needless casualties.
  • Acidity might be just about the most uncomfortable situations you could ever feel. Now, this incomplete amount if fulfilled by having mass gaining supplements on the diet. People are not necessarily practical and think a great deal before consulting from doctors or experts.
  • But, hey, Lily states she actually is nevertheless okay, one thing Ted doesn't realize. She even asks Ted to choose her toward airport to pick up a famous ecologist.
  • Furthermore personal pc giant seems to lose millions rome: a little shading problems in some type of computer television show active microsof company in a multi-ply million dollar enterprise fiasco, the head while using company's geopolitical line of attack product offers you revealed. ben Edwards proclaimed these international physical joining the legislature in Glasgow so how mistakenly colouring pens eight as a result of 800,000 pixels dark colored instead lamp oriental to make Kas thehmir's questioned acreage low american native experience in Windows 95's sector boast of undergone produced your jewelry currently disallowed in India. persons hurt by tag heuer in relatable to each other netbook goof ups in recent years add some Saudi Arabian combined with Turkish authorities, your current Kurds and as well as chinese language, women in lots of latina indian economies and as well game 
  • oriental the opposite sex having some bovine collagen when considering baby plushy dermal... A product having to do with DHC singapore cherry flavoured hummingbird nectar his bestseller bills

Monday, March 19, 2018

About Didcot

Having been re-flicking through childhood favourite The Phantom Tollbooth recently, I wonder where residents of England’s most normal town escape to, if only in their heads...


PS: And these are even better...

Wednesday, March 07, 2018

About NME

The NME has announced it is closing its print edition and becoming a digital-only product. The end of an era, if that era hadn’t ended in about 2002 (or 1995 or 1981 or pick the year you finally gave up and grew up).


PS: That said, a glance at the cover wrap of that last issue perhaps unwittingly explains what’s really gone wrong for print media:


PPS: And inside, confirmation of exactly how bland and impotent a beast the NME has become, when even the mildest swear is asterisked into oblivion:

Monday, March 05, 2018

About Duchamp and Cage

Lovely write-up in Hyperallergic of the Duchamp/Cage chess match, 50 years ago today.
While all artists are not chess players, all chess players are artists.

Tuesday, February 27, 2018

About posthumanism (again)

The career paths that remain free from threats by encroaching technology seem to be vanishing by the day. Now, fashion models join the list, as Dolce & Gabbana replaces the skinny, glum-looking ladies with drones.

PS: On similar lines, the tale of Shudu Gram, the model who doesn’t exist.

Saturday, February 24, 2018

Thursday, February 22, 2018

About empathy

President Trump’s notes for his meeting yesterday with high school students and parents to discuss school shootings. Picture by Carolyn Koster/AP.

Wednesday, February 21, 2018

About sensitivity

An interesting article from the Chicago Tribune about the trend for publishers and authors to hire “sensitivity readers” to scan texts for That Which May Offend. A couple of excerpts:
Clayton [one of the readers], who is black, sees her role as a vital one. “Books for me are supposed to be vehicles for pleasure, they're supposed to be escapist and fun,” she says. They're not supposed to be a place where readers “encounter harmful versions” and stereotypes of people like them.
Vehicles for pleasure? Escapist and fun? Why would you pay for your book to be read by someone who has such a reductive view of what reading is for? Then author Kate Messner opines:
I wouldn’t dream of sending those books out into the world without getting help to make sure I’m representing those issues in a way that’s realistic and sensitive.
Realistic and sensitive? If you had to make a choice between the two, Kate, which would you pick?


Sunday, February 18, 2018

About education

Education secretary Damian Hinds on proposals for variation in tuition fees between courses:
What we need to look at is the different aspects of pricing — the cost that it is to put on the course, the value that it is to the student and also the value to our society as a whole and to our economy for the future.
“Value.” Such an interesting word.

Friday, February 16, 2018

Thursday, February 15, 2018

About the skeleton

And it’s the Winter Olympics, when we suddenly become experts on the strangest sub-zero pastimes, and then forget about them for another four years. This time round I’m particularly fascinated by the skeleton, but that may be down to my youthful obsession with 1930s horror movies.


Tuesday, February 13, 2018

About class

Facebook is apparently developing technology that determines users’ social class. But I don’t know why they bothered. You can immediately judge anyone’s class on the basis of how they refer to their grandmothers. If you call her “nan” or “nanna” you’re almost certainly working class. If you call her “grandma” or “granny” you’re probably middle class. And if you call her “the Dowager Duchess of Chorlton-cum-Hardy” you’re proper posh and there’s no mistake, missus.


Tuesday, February 06, 2018

About culture wars

Stolen from Hegemony Jones on Facebook.
If we are going to have a made-up intergenerational culture war where one generation gets accused of being “problematic”, and the other gets accused of being “snowflakes”, can we agree in advance to make it about something - anything - other than FriendsI’m well up for a completely meaningless and invented ruck with the youth, not least because they are all going to outlive me, the little bastards, but I’m not prepared to die in a ditch in defence of the most anodyne shit known to man. A man has standards. It’s hardly Ice-T or Piss-Christ.

Monday, February 05, 2018

About robots

In-class thinking: posthumanism, encompassing androids, cyborgs, VR, zombies and more.


Saturday, February 03, 2018

About Atwood


A nugget I’d missed when first reading Margaret Atwood’s recent, rather controversial piece answering the preposterous charge that she’s a bad feminist:
The aim of ideology is to eliminate ambiguity.

Friday, January 26, 2018

About Leonardo


If you’re going to publish a book called The Death of Expertise, bemoaning the lack of respect accorded to people who actually know stuff, maybe it’s not such a great idea, on only the second page of the preface, to refer to the man who painted the Mona Lisa as “Da Vinci”, as if that were his surname.

PS: It seems to be catching. Although it’s only the banal charlatan Jeff Koons, so, whatever.

Thursday, January 25, 2018

About content

Reminded of a comment by Marshall McLuhan while listening to Douglas Coupland’s documentary on Radio 4:
...the ‘content’ of a medium is like the juicy piece of meat carried by the burglar to distract the watchdog of the mind... 

Tuesday, January 23, 2018

About VR

Stumbling out of London Bridge, I see a poster for something to do at the bloody Shard, touting itself as “the UK’s highest Virtual Reality experience”. But surely the whole point of VR is that it transcends physical location; and if you’re aware that you’re genuinely, empirically however-many-analogue-storeys above London, rather than within the slightly emetic digital world created by the headset, then something’s not quite working.

There’s probably a metaphor here for global capitalism but I’m not sure if it’s worth pursuing.

Sunday, January 21, 2018

About Christopher Robin

When I was very young, maybe five or six, there was a family holiday to Devon. At one point we ended up in a bookshop. I was probably mooching among the Ladybirds when my father nudged me and pointed towards the back of the shop, from where a bespectacled man had appeared, muttered something to the lady at the till and then disappeared again. “That’s Christopher Robin,” whispered Dad.


And it really was. Christopher Robin Milne had opened the Harbour Bookshop in Dartmouth in 1951, barely tolerating the gawpers who still saw him as the slightly fey child of his father’s books, all of them seemingly unaware (the clue’s in the last chapter of The House at Pooh Corner, people) that childhood isn’t a lifetime deal. I was still coming to terms with the distinction between fiction and real life, a confusion that wasn’t resolved by teachers who told us Bible stories in the same tones they reserved for sums and spelling; and if I’d deduced that Christopher Robin at least had his roots in reality, I couldn’t quite cope with the idea that this, to me, phenomenally old man (he would then have been in his early/mid-50s) was the blond, leggy friend to Pooh and Eeyore and all.

That said, in retrospect, he was probably the first Famous Person I’d seen in real life, outside the frame of a TV screen. And I still reckon that’s a pretty good one to start with.

Who was yours?

Wednesday, January 17, 2018

About Banksy (not for the first time)

Bristol Museum is in hot water for selling prints of a Banksy work without the mystery stenciller’s permission. On the face of it, it’s a straightforward copyright issue; but of course Banksy made his reputation as a graffitist, a subversive, a lawbreaker, a defacer. He does things in galleries now, but derives his authenticity from his time on the streets, where copycats attract opprobrium, but not lawyers’ letters. One purchaser cancelled his order when he found the print wasn’t authorised, as if a picture of something that Banksy did (not the work itself) is only good if Banksy says it is.

Which reminds me – “authentic” and “author” and “authorised” and “authority” all come from the same root.

Thursday, January 11, 2018

About posthumanism

I’m reading Katherine Hayles’s How We Became Posthuman (which Blogger turns into “Postman”, which is nice, and sexist), and came across this on Twitter and I know it’s *meant* to be funny but I’m not really laughing, sorry.

Tuesday, January 09, 2018

About that reshuffle

Our new Culture Secretary.



About Chile

Greil Marcus, discussing the UK post-punk scene, circa 1980:
Among the many mysteries of British culture I know I will never solve is the meaning of “Chile Solidarity Disco.”

Sunday, January 07, 2018

About All the Money in the World


When I was younger, I had several of those books about the behind-the-scenes scandals and secrets of the movie industry, sort of PG-rated Hollywood Babylon. One chapter I remember was about the casting ideas that didn’t come off, accompanied by slightly wonky collages that showed what The Wizard of Oz would have been like with Shirley Temple and WC Fields, or Doris Day as Mrs Robinson in The Graduate. Of course, it’s impossible to watch All the Money in the World – as I tried to do last night – without thinking of the unfortunate circumstances that preceded its release. The difference is, that this isn’t a “what if?” A version of the movie with Kevin Spacey actually exists and we don’t need to glue a cut-out of his head onto Christopher Plummer’s body to make it so; in fact, the collage effectively happened the other way round, with Plummer interpolated to a film that was already essentially finished. One effect of the last-minute change is that you’re constantly focusing on the artificiality of the filming process, knowing that all the scenes with Plummer were thrown together a few weeks ago, long after the other stuff had been shot. When actors talk about “the old man” they didn’t have an image of Plummer as J Paul Getty in their heads; as you see a reaction shot to Plummer, he or she was probably reacting to Spacey (who’s several inches shorter than his replacement, which must have added to the fun).

It’s a pity, because although Plummer is very good, his is strictly a supporting role. The real centre of the film is Michelle Williams as Getty’s daughter-in-law Gail, exactly the sort of role we need for women in a post-Weinstein universe, discovering her own hidden strengths without needing to flash her cleavage; but she’s all but buried as we try to work out how the venerable Plummer was shoehorned into the action.

Both Williams and Plummer are tipped for Oscars. There’s a healthy tradition of people winning statuettes for reasons extrinsic to the performances in question, which often aren’t their best; Judi Dench for not having won it for Mrs Brown the year before; Henry Fonda for not having won one at all, and being nearly dead; John Wayne for being John Wayne. But Plummer could be the first person to acquire an award for who he isn’t.

Saturday, January 06, 2018

About Mastermind (again)

In case you a) missed it and b) care. (That’s not me, by the way.)