Friday, November 16, 2018

About Brexit (Hey, is that still a thing?)

(I posted this on Facebook last night and a few people liked it. Here’s a slightly amended version.)

“It’s not the Brexit my constituents voted for” seems to be a mini-meme running through the current batch of resignations. OK, let’s look at this. 

Some people voted Leave from a long-standing, principled objection to the EU itself, whether from a right-wing perspective (it puts too many restrictions on free enterprise) or from the left (it’s in hock to corporate capitalism). 

Some voted Leave because the balance of power in the 21st century is leaning away from Europe and the US, and towards Asia, so we're better off getting cosy with China and India. 

Some voted Leave because, whatever the originating principles of the EU, it’s become moribund and corrupt. 

Some voted Leave because they object to a supranational body having any kind of control over a sovereign nation (although why these people don't extend this concern to the fact that Parliament in London still has ultimate control over the people of Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, I’m not sure). 

Some voted Leave because they were worried about immigration/freedom of movement, on a continuum between mild worries over jobs/housing/health services on one hand, and good old-fashioned swivel-eyed, gammon-cheeked racism on the other. 

Some voted Leave because they want to return to some weird prelapsarian amalgam of 1945, 1955 and 1970, where Kenneth More won the war, the Suez debacle never happened and TV on all three channels consists of frilly-shirted comics telling jokes about blackies and poofters in your face forever. 

Some voted Leave because they believed all that bollocks about straight bananas — these people are idiots, but they're still entitled to their say. Ditto the stuff on the bus about £350 million. Oh, and blue passports. Gotta have those blue passports.

And some people voted Leave as an atavistic reaction to what they perceive as political elites, simply doing something they knew would annoy the likes of David Cameron and Tony Blair, or people who work at the BBC, or live in London, just because. 

Now, all these people voted to leave, they voted against something, and all together they added up to a (bare) majority. But beyond that, is there really one coherent end-point that they all, every single one of them, voted *for*? Is there any single state of being that would satisfy all of them, from the grumpy Little Englanders to the post-Eurocentric global liberals and all points in between? So how the hell can anybody say that this or that document doesn't deliver something that never existed in the first place?

Oh yeah, and the Irish border. Doh.

You know what, I’m starting to think that maybe this Brexit thing wasn’t such a great idea after all.

Tuesday, November 13, 2018

About Threatin

I was going to write something covering the bizarre tale of the band Threatin, which appears in reality to be a figment of its own imagination, with a fanbase to match. In short, an LA-based musician called Jered Threatin booked several venues in the UK, claiming to have sold hundreds of tickets to each gig, but he hadn’t really and as a result the venues and support bands were the losers. I’m torn by this; I dislike dishonesty, but I’m also wary of people who put too much emphasis on the chimera of “authenticity”. In a battle between a bad-haired twit living out his rock ‘n’ roll delusions in public and local metal bands who make a virtue of their “realness” (above and beyond being any good) I’d probably side with old Jered. And yeah, I’d probably have said something about Baudrillard, and how the illusion of Threaten conceals a reality that never existed and all that sort of good stuff.

But I won’t bother because the excellent Everett True wrote a review of their recent London gig which is utterly true, and utterly inauthentic. Which is pretty much what you want, isn’t it?

Wednesday, November 07, 2018

About the midterms

Two years ago I was in a restaurant in Bangkok, surrounded by people from all ends of the planet, even Wales, all working happily together, when Donald Trump (metaphorically) walked in and did a big shit in the kitchen. I'm going to bed now, hoping against hope that by the time I wake up, good people will finally have got their act together and rubbed his orange nose in it.

Friday, November 02, 2018

About Pig

The new Iranian film Pig (directed, incidentally, by my old school chum Mani Haghighi) raises a number of questions, but not enough to stop it from being very funny, in a dark, bleak, strange way.


The premise is ingenious: a serial killer is going around decapitating the great Iranian movie-makers, leaving one director distraught, not because he’s worried about getting killed, but because the murderer hasn’t yet bothered to kill him. He’s already despondent because he’s been blacklisted and has to direct high-camp bug spray commercials to keep the wolf from the door.

Because it’s a film about a director, there’s an obvious temptation to assume it’s in some way autobiographical, but Haghighi avoids that by appearing as himself, albeit it in a very oblique manner. It’s a bit like Martin Amis explicitly writing himself into Money, just to confirm he’s not any of the dreadful fictional characters. This is distinct from the character Marcus Appleby/Mark Asprey in his next novel, London Fields, who may or may not be Amis, but is just as bad as everyone else. Which is a roundabout way to remind everyone that the long-awaited London Fields movie has finally seen the light of day, and appears to be just as dire as we all dreaded/hoped. And then I remember that it was originally meant to have been directed by David Cronenberg, who would at least have included a bug spray commercial or two, one hopes. I’ll probably try to see it, if only out of morbid fascination; but I bet it’s not as much fun as Pig.

Thursday, November 01, 2018

About unconditional offers

St Mary’s University in Twickenham is to end the practice of making unconditional offers (awards of places that aren’t dependent on future A-level results) “to ensure it maintains its entry standards”. Th e problem appears to be, amazingly enough, that if students are studying for exams, the core purpose of which is to get them into university, and they’re told they don’t need to pass them to get into university, they’re not especially bothered whether or not they pass them.

This doesn’t mean that they haven’t been studying, of course – these offers tend to come about half-way through the second of final year of A-level studies, so the student will already have been through the bulk of the syllabus. What they’re missing out is the last-minute cramming of facts (and maybe a little judicious cheating) that will enable them to jump through the hoops held out by the examining boards – facts that, if they didn’t know them before, will probably have evaporated within days of the exams themselves. It’s only a problem for the universities because those A-level results are the objective measure by which they identify how adept their new students are; although all they really measure is how good they are at passing exams, not their actual aptitude for or understanding of applied mathematics, Spanish literature, existential phenomenology or whatever. The standards of the new students aren’t affected by unconditional offers, but the publishable statistics are, and they’re what matters (to politicians as well as universities). And to admit this would be to suggest that the whole exam system as we know it at the moment is pretty much pointless. And then we’d really have to start asking what education is really for. And nobody wants that, do they?

Thursday, October 25, 2018

About the Croydon Literary Festival

I honestly don’t know who’s reading this any more, or whether any of you are within spitting distance of South London, but if you exist, please come along to the Croydon Literary Festival, where the capital’s unloveliest borough resounds to the noise of words, pictures and all associated book stuff. All the details are in the link above, but prize pickings include

...and then we all decamp to the pub next door for music, comedy and fiendish quiz, with me asking the questions.

It all happens on Saturday, October 27. Please come. Let’s be analogue, for a change.

Friday, October 12, 2018

About Hurricane Michael

OK, call it the pathetic fallacy, but maybe Hurricane Michael is really trying to tell us something about consumer capitalism. In any case, it’s given Naomi Klein her next book cover...

Saturday, September 29, 2018

About triggers

Have I become that bloke who just complains about political correctness bubbling through various stages of mental wellness? Well, anyway, I’ve just seen a discussion on a movie site prefaced with a trigger warning that it may contain discussions of food.

Tuesday, September 25, 2018

About Courbet

I’ve previously discussed at immoderate length the knots into which mass media gets itself when trying to discuss Gustave Courbet’s The Origin of the World without actually depicting or even describing what it represents? So full marks to the BBC for giving us the real deal (after a “graphic content” warning), while reporting a story about the rediscovery of Courbet’s model; and at the same time leading, above the digital fold, with a clean version that’s actually rather funny.

PS: And the comments section for Jonathan Jones’s piece on the above degenerates into a digital snowball fight regarding the distinction between a vagina and a vulva.

Sunday, September 23, 2018

About the Crocus Valley

I am, and always have been, a profoundly rubbish photographer. But I’ve finally come to realise that this hasn’t stopped a whole load of other buggers from taking lots of photos and showing them to people, so I’ve put a few snaps of my hood, as the young persons have it, here on Tumblr. Enjoy. Or don’t, because they’re rubbish.

Thursday, September 20, 2018

About Amnesiac

In a book I once wrote, I argued that the era of the classic rock album ran for just over 30 years, from the triple threat of Revolver, Blonde On Blonde and Pet Sounds in 1966, to Radiohead’s OK Computer in 1997. That's not to say that good rock music wasn’t released in album form before or after those dates; it’s that the idea of a discrete package of songs in a pre-determined order was for three decades central to the cultural and social experience of music. People would listen to Dark Side Of The Moon or Purple Rain or Hounds of Love or In Utero and want to talk the transition from the third track to the fourth or the message in the play-out groove or the slightly rude picture on the inner sleeve; they might even listen to the albums together. Whereas now, when something by Beyoncé or Adele, er, drops, people may well want to talk about individual songs or lyrics or videos but rarely the whole thing, which is now no more than the sum of its parts. The idea of a bunch of friends hanging out in a single bedroom to listen to the new Ed Sheeran or Kanye West seems oddly quaint.

And then I heard about the Lexi cinema in north-west London, which is hosting in-the-dark sessions where people gather, don blackout masks, and listen to albums from beginning to end, together. And their next event will feature Amnesiac, which Radiohead released several years after, uh, OK Computer.

Anyone got any Tipp-Ex?

Tuesday, September 18, 2018

About arts

An interesting collision on West 57th Street in New York; the anonymous graffitist is saluting Norman Rockwell’s words while at the same time obliterating them. But this isn’t a straightforward high-vs-low tussle. For many years, Rockwell was held at arm’s length by the art world, the cosy sentimentality of his Saturday Evening Post covers outshining his sometimes radical intent; street art, meanwhile, has become big business. Would Rockwell have retaliated? And would his retaliation have been art?

Sunday, September 09, 2018

About Frida Kahlo

Following on from an earlier post about how dangerous art is co-opted by capitalism (recuperation: discuss), tea at London’s sumptuous Lanesborough Hotel currently celebrates the Communist feminist Frida Kahlo (but not paying so much attention to the, uh, Communism and, uh, feminism).

But it did taste nice.

Tuesday, September 04, 2018

About Triptych

I’ve started reading Triptych, a book containing three separate works responding to the Manic Street Preachers’ album The Holy Bible, and already I wish I’d been a bit less sober when tackling my own sturdy tome about another key album of the 1990s, or maybe had another couple of voices in there, weaving in and out of my waffle.

And, so far (about half-way through the first study, by Rhian E Jones), it’s good; I particularly like her comment that the album “can feel like a disapproving judgement on the listener”; which musicians today could get away with casting themselves as stern-headmasters-cum-hellfire-preachers, piercing you with a kohl-rimmed stare while setting a reading list of Plath and Ballard and Mirbeau? But what’s this?
The 90s are a decade with little online record, and it can be difficult to reconstruct the texture of 90s fandom, particularly compared to the level of activity now possible among contemporary fans.
I had to read this sentence several times, because at first it felt like a millennial excuse, a “before-my-time-Alexander” from someone for whom, if it’s not Googlable, it’s not there; and if the 90s have a patchy online record, good luck with, say, the 1340s. And this feels especially inappropriate when considering a band so didactic as the Manics; “libraries gave us power” and all that. But clearly it’s not that, because Jones was there at the time and speaks of it, an analogue fan in the Manics’ south Wales heartland, devouring the NME, having to get her local branch of Woolworth’s to order the album. In fact, it’s pretty easy to reconstruct 90s fandom from the mound of paper and plastic and ratty feather boas; what’s hard is to get the texture of the stuff that’s going on now, beyond mere likes and algorithms and zeroes and ones. And although obviously people are having their hearts and heads and lives changed by, say, Beyoncé or Childish Gambino today, I wonder whether in 20 years time enough texture will remain of those experiences to be able to create something akin to Triptych?

Friday, August 31, 2018

About toilet paper

Part of the response from the ethical toilet paper company Who Gives A Crap to a Facebook query as to why they wrap each roll individually (which appears on the face of it to be an environmental own-goal:
They work better with an online product and were more visually appealing and shareable.
Yes, we are in a world where people take to Instagram to show us the product they use to wipe their bums. Sometimes I’m not sure whether it’s really worth saving.

Wednesday, August 29, 2018

About the Elephant Man

A new TV drama about the life of Joseph Merrick, the Elephant Man, has run into trouble because the actor portraying Merrick is not disabled; indeed, it’s been compared to the practice of white actors blacking up. The real-life Elephant Man probably had Proteus syndrome, a rare condition that affects fewer than one in a million people, but nobody appears to be suggesting that they need to cast a Proteus sufferer; as far as I can tell, all that matters is that the performer - unlike the actor Charlie Heaton, the one who’s actually got the gig - has some sort of disability.

I’m a little uneasy with this, mainly because it appears to set up a rigid binary divide, disabled actors on one side, non-disabled on the other, and all parts are to be allotted accordingly. That said, the actor Adam Pearson, who has called the casting of Heaton “cripping-up”, has neurofibromatosis, which was Merrick’s assumed diagnosis until the mid-1980s, so maybe he has more of a right to it than, say, an actor with Down syndrome, or a wheelchair user; although that would imply some sort of hierarchy of disabilities. And the alternative to that is a situation where characters such as Quasimodo, Long John Silver and Tiresias would be off-limits to the non-disabled, but the one-legged Silver might be played by someone with the standard complement of limbs, but deaf, or epileptic, or... take your pick.

I do get it - opportunities for actors with disabilities are already limited, so it looks like a kick in the teeth to make an able-bodied actor pretend. And, yes, there’s an equivalent situation for ethnic minorities (more of that later). But we may be getting to a situation where political sensitivity leaves some roles essentially unplayable, leaving important stories forever untold. At least Merrick’s tale has already been told, and superbly, which raises another question, of why film and TV seem insistent on remaking things less well. I’m not sure whether John Hurt’s portrayal of Merrick should now be seen as unacceptable, the disabled cousin to Olivier’s Othello, but it moved me to tears the first time I saw it and it does the same today. What do you think?

PS: In Twitterland, Archie Valparaiso brings up this comedic classic and I wonder whether it too would now be verboten:

Thursday, August 23, 2018

About the post-Bowie world

The more I think about this, the more tempted I am to take it utterly seriously...

Tuesday, August 21, 2018

About a hole

A man fell into a hole. More specifically, he fell into Anish Kapoor’s art work Descent Into Limbo, which is a big hole, currently in a floor in Portugal.

Two thoughts. First, since this is part of a temporary exhibition, how does one transport a hole, a gap, an absence? How does one insure it? How much does it weigh?

Then, presumably the unfortunate gentleman stepped into the hole because he thought it was only an image of a hole, a picture of one. But it wasn’t; his fall was ultimately a confrontation with empirical reality. As is so often the case, I blame that Belgian rascal Magritte. Ceci est un trou.

Monday, August 20, 2018

About Shelley and Corbyn

From Joe Kennedy’s anti-Blairite screed Authentocrats:
When Corbyn quoted Percy Shelley’s “The Masque of Anarchy” at Glastonbury Festival in the summer of 2017, various figures on the political right and centre were quick to take to Twitter to claim that referencing Romantic poetry was hardly an example of the common touch. Imagining how Raymond Williams might have responded to this idea is good fun, to say the least. If you’re tempted in any way to concur with it, think a little longer about the implications of saying poetry, books, music, painting and so on are only for the well-off.
Well, yes and no. Obviously, poetry, especially the poetry of a dazzling radical such as Shelley, *should* be on the lips of everyone. But it really isn’t, is it? If I were to amble into my nearest branch of Lidl and ask them who wrote The Masque of Anarchy, what sort of strike rate should I expect? In fact, I rather suspect that going to Waitrose wouldn’t be any more productive and the vast majority of those who Kennedy would define as “well-off” wouldn’t recognise a line of Shelley if crawled up their trouser legs and returned the trains to public ownership.

Which is, to Kennedy, probably Tony Blair’s fault, but it’s still true.

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.”


Wednesday, July 04, 2018

About writing

I’ve tried so hard to ignore him, but this. This. Everyone’s seizing on the “pour”/“pore” thing but I’m more concerned that he actually believes he wrote those books, despite his ghostwriter going public a couple of years back.

PS: It gets better. The ghostwriter comments, and is ordered to read the book he, er, wrote:

Friday, June 29, 2018

About cover versions

The Guardian, shamelessly intending to wind us all up, has created a worst-to-best list of every Abba single — although, for a change, I reckon they’ve got it pretty much right. SOS is in the top spot, and the passing reference to Portishead’s magnificent reworking made me realise that the best cover versions aren’t those that, like Baudrillard with a beatbox, obliterate the original, but the ones that make you go back to to the initial offering, reinvestigating it, looking for things you might have missed the first time around; Nick Cave’s The Carnival is Over or Aretha Franklin’s Bridge Over Troubled Water, for instance. Any other examples?

And, on a vaguely related note, the news that Ed Sheeran is being sued over the supposed similarity between one of his tiresome ditties and Let’s Get It On (hint: there isn’t one) puts me in the difficult position of defending the inexplicably successful strummer against the genius that is Marvin Gaye (or at least his estate). And the fact that this comes on a day when the most sensible voice on Brexit comes from Danny bloody Dyer suggests the world really has gone mad.

Thursday, June 28, 2018

About the cleaners

A brief stop in the SOAS bar last night and I realise that, in aesthetic terms at least, today’s student radicals are still yearning for the good old days.

Friday, June 22, 2018

About the possibility of a podcast

This blog has been running for nearly a dozen years and about half that period has involved labouring under a metaphorical cloud labelled “IS BLOGGING DEAD?” Seriously, should I finally do the decent thing and become a podcaster? Or a vlogger? Or whatever people will be doing in six months’ time that will have people discussing the death of podcasting and/or vlogging?

Tuesday, June 19, 2018

About Monkey Jesus

Older readers may recall the tale of the fresco in a Spanish church that was subjected to an overenthusiastic restoration job, resulting in what was immediately dubbed The Monkey Jesus.

It did provoke a few heated discussions about the intersections between artistic accomplishment, religious devotion and tourist dollars, especially when the revised version started attracting far more punters to the church than it had in its earlier form. But is the whole notion of a Simian Redeemer so unusual? Ambling through the V&A yesterday, I came across this, from 14th-century Bohemia. And I suspect it’s not the only example.

Friday, June 08, 2018

About Bourdain

To be honest, I’ve met rather too many chefs who were trying a little too hard to be Anthony Bourdain, whose death was announced today; some of them ended up closer to Ainsley Harriott. One thing that distinguished him from many of his contemporaries was that he could write. (Or, to be less charitable and because I know how these things work, he had a ghost writer/editor who decided Bourdain’s schtick might appeal to people who could read.) This, from Kitchen Confidential:
I was a sous-chef at a very fine two-star place on 39th, where I dimly recall preparing a four-course meal for Paul Bocuse; he thanked me in French, I think. My brain, at this point, was shriveled by cocaine, and I made the mistake of telling a garde-manger man that if he didn’t hurry up with an order I’d tear his eyes out and skull-fuck him, which did not endear me to the fussy owner manager.

Wednesday, June 06, 2018

About Kate Spade

A genuine Facebook exchange I just saw:
“OMG, RIP Kate Spade 
“They closed down?”
Wrapped up in there is a whole narrative about the extent to which capitalism is trouncing real life but for the moment I’ll just let it hover here.

Monday, June 04, 2018

About women’s things

I report, without comment or gloss, that the BBC’s forthcoming series of monologues about women’s lives over the past 100 years will be called Snatches.

Saturday, May 26, 2018

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.