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: