Friday, March 30, 2007

Boss tones

I'm moving house at the weekend, so please excuse any inactivity in the next few days. To keep you amused in the meantime, my deconstructing-The-Da-Vinci-Code blog The Chasms of the Earth makes a fleeting return.

Wild link: did you know that Dan Brown (who 'wrote' TDVC) went to the same school as Win Butler off of the Arcade Fire? I've only just found the time to listen to their lauded-to-high-heaven new album (Neon Bible) and I must say, for all the tortured baroque-rock posturings, it really does sound like mid-80's Bruce Springsteen, doesn't it? Except for track 10, which is The Go! Team moonlighting as a Prefab Sprout cover band. Which isn't necessarily a bad thing, but at the same time doesn't quite make for the quasi-religious experience that some critics have identified.

Not to worry, I got a free badge with my copy.

Wednesday, March 28, 2007

The next big thing

So, where is the rhizomatic trail of Web 2.0 going to end up next? Are we getting to the stage where if your blog hasn't made you the target of death threats, you just aren't trying hard enough? Or are we, as Michael Parsons suggests, with tongue in cheek and copy of Ubu Roi conspicuous on the coffee table, heading for the world of Jittr?

No, I'll tell you what all the beautiful broadbanders are doing these days. They're being photographed in domestic settings, reading books about morose rock bands. No, really they are.

Thank you, people. I think.

Monday, March 26, 2007

By request: Thirty pieces of Archer

A few days ago, I received an e-mail from my father, entitled 'Disappointment'. Since this is one of his more complimentary nicknames for me - along with 'Rastus', although that's a story for another day - I didn't think too much of it. But then I read his message, and I realised that he was genuinely disappointed in me; specifically disappointed that I hadn't written a sarky blog post about Jeffrey Archer's new book.

Now, since he's my dad, and one of the few cool golfers on the planet, and because he's voluntarily ploughing through my Radiohead book despite having no interest in the subject matter - seeing as how Radiohead are neither black nor dead - I've been humbled into submission, as the post below reveals. But his original message has made me think. How do I know that my blog is achieving desired levels of satisfaction in the target demographic? People do occasionally express a liking for what I've written, but for the most part I'm flying in the dark. Maybe there are other people out there who are thinking, "Hmmm, well, I quite like that Cultural Snow, and I check it out once in a while, but I'm slightly concerned about the paucity of coverage he gives to Jeffrey Archer/Gilbert and George/Cate Blanchett/Lee 'Scratch' Perry/cheesy-pineapple chunks. Were he to venture into such areas I would add him to my blogroll and recommend him to my friends, many of whom are powerful and influential arbiters of the Zeitgeist who could give him his own show on BBC4."

On the offchance that this is so, I'm instituting an occasional request spot. If there's something you'd like me to write about, please let me know, and I'll try to oblige.

Just don't put 'Disappointment' in the subject line, please. My therapist is still dealing with the fallout from that one.

Anyroad up, as you probably know by now, Jeffrey Archer has squeezed out a new tome, called The Gospel According to Judas. Many observers have remarked that the narrative core of the slim volume (the rehabilitation of a wrong 'un) is something rather close to the ignoble Lord's heart. Moreover, he seems to have picked up a new clutch of pals in recent years, presumably having been dumped by his old Tory chums along with half their policies. His new buddies are priests, mostly Catholics but also, bizarrely, the unimpeachable Archbishop Desmond Tutu. Is this a genuine change of heart, or a cynical ploy to imply that he's now atoned for his sins? Or is it that, faced with the success of Dan Brown, who has also made millions by writing derivative shit, Archer too wants a slice of the episcopal blockbuster market, albeit on the side of the Angels rather than Brown's demons.

I haven't read the book, although that hasn't stopped many hacks from having a pop at the bumptious little perjurer. However, its synopsis did ring a few bells. When I was in my early teens, I was a big fan of Not the Nine O'Clock News and its associated spin-offs. I think it was the NOT 1983 calendar that had a 'Gospel According to Judas', including the following version of The Last Supper. (I'm quoting from memory here.)

And Jesus said: "One of you here tonight will betray me."

And Judas said: "Lord, is it I?"

And Jesus said: "Certainly not, Judas, it's one of the others. You wouldn't do a thing like that."

Now, I wouldn't want to accuse Jeff of plagiarism, although were he to attempt to sue anyone for libel I doubt there would be a dry eye in the courtroom. But I do think he's done something very clever here. Like many of his books (see Not a Penny More, Not a Penny Less, First Among Equals if you can bear the derisive sneers in Waterstones), Archer's new book is blatantly autobiographical, a fact that will be obvious to all but the most clueless reader. But he takes things further this time. In identifying with Judas, he's obviously making a point of associating with traitors and blasphemers, the lowest of the low. With the subtle act of, um, over-enthusiastic borrowing (anyone remember the Kathleen Burnett scandal?) he's piling on even more sins, incuding those that Judas had never even heard of. Indeed, he seems to be taking all the sins of the world onto himself, and onto his work. His own real sins become both the content of the work and the subtext. It's all so metafictional, so intertextual, so utterly black-polo-neck-and-goatee, it gives me wind.

For it is not Judas Iscariot that Archer seeks to emulate. As NTNOCN also put it, "It's clearly a mockery of our Lord..."

And who'd want to do a thing like that?

Update: John Crace encapsulates the whole thing to save us the embarrassment of buying it.

Saturday, March 24, 2007

Strike a pose, there's nothing to it

Apparently, pie victim Anna 'Nuclear' Wintour wants to ban the use of the word "blog" on the Vogue site. Suggestions for its replacement include "bjöurnal" and (my personal favourite, for reasons that may be obvious if you look at the picture in the "ABOUT ME" bit to the right) "cenpub".

In any case, I'd like it known that from this moment on, the phrase "Anna Wintour" will not appear on Cultural Snow. And neither, for that matter, will "Meryl Streep in The Devil Wears Prada, that's her, but they daren't admit it".

Thursday, March 22, 2007

Toby Young, be foolish, be happy

The correct, safe response when asked to contemplate Toby Young is probably to hold no opinions whatsoever about the man. After all, he seems to have constructed a public identity for himself that thrives on attention, and he doesn't give a toss whether that's expressed as love or hate. Pretending he's a figment of one's own imagination may be feasible, except that he's clearly a figment of his own, so he'd take this imitation as being a sincerely ironic form of flattery.

But, damn it, I just can't help myself. I first encountered his name when he was a member of the cabal that produced my favourite magazine of all time, the Modern Review. After his falling-out with La Burchill, he decamped to NYC and reinvented himself as a sort of journalistic Clouseau, getting himself crossed off all the best guest-lists and driving his bosses to near-derangement. Then, on returning to London, he fell in with Boris Johnson's Spectator crowd, reinventing himself as a neo-fogeyish scourge of PC and the liberal left (this from the son of the man who wrote the 1945 Labour Party manifesto). It was in this latter incarnation, as the Speccie's theatre critic, that he committed his most heinous sin, when he suggested that Zoe Wanamaker is not sexy, which surely makes him either blind, witless, a eunuch, a repressed homosexual or a devotee of our old buddy L Brent Bozell.

So, pretty much a downward trajectory so far. But events of the last few days have made me reconsider TY (not that TY) yet again. First of all, he was subjected to a brutal evisceration by Paul MacInnes of the Guardian. According to MacInnes, Young had turned the recent spate of murders of black teenagers in London into a quasi-racist rant in the Evening Standard. And, on the basis of MacInnes's quotations, this seemed to be the case.

But then began the redemption of Toby Young. Not only did he prove himself to be one of the few hacks with the balls to stick up for himself in the public arena of a comments box (rather than the letters page of a paper, or via a quiet word with the editor in the Groucho), but he also posted the original version of his piece on his own site. The uncut version suffered from a couple of lame jokes, but was rather different from the hysterical, glad-to-be-bourgeois drivel that the Standard subbing machine had turned it into. It seems to be a wry love song to all that's great about 21st-century, multi-cultural London; an attitude that seems alien to the Standard's mindset of reflex paranoia. I'm now starting to reconsider that peculiar I-survived-the-tornado-and-ended-up-in-Claridge's piece that gave us all such amusement a few months ago. Maybe that author too had her words twisted to fit the smug, vile world-view that infests every tendril of the Mail group. But if so, she didn't have the guts to come out fighting.

Toby Young, I never thought I'd say this, but you seem like a decent chap again. Although, to be fair, the best old-media response to the murders was by Martin Samuel, in The Times.

First I have kind words for Toby Young, then I say nice things about the Murdoch press. It's the heatstroke, I tells ya...

Monday, March 19, 2007

The appliance of science

My ongoing statistical investigation (to identify the correlation between mentions of my new book, Welcome to the Machine: OK Computer and the Death of the Classic Album, and online indicators such as Amazon ranking and my own Google rating) has gone completely tits-up. Since the last mention in this blog, on Friday, Amazon has plummeted; while Google is as chirpy as an Irish cricketer.

Never mind, I'm going to hell anyway.

Update: Maybe that simile about the Irish cricketer wasn't so apt, if the subsequent tragedy and ongoing allegations of skulduggery are anything to go by? Chirpy as a Pakistani bookie? As a Jamaican conspiracy theorist?

Sunday, March 18, 2007

Heat of the moment

I've never really been into drugs. I dabbled in hash and speed when I was younger, but only if it was in the vicinity. I drink, but hardly to excess. The closest I've ever come to addiction was my caffeine habit, and I've pretty much broken that now.

Yesterday, however, I discovered a new, natural, legal high. Unlike banana skins, it works, and unlike morning glory seeds, it doesn't give you bizarre flashbacks for months afterwards. All you need to do is to walk around Bangkok in the middle of the day, at the height of the hot season, well away from any air-conditioning or shelter. After a few hours, everything starts to ache and you feel as if you're running in treacle. The fortunate thing is that this stage (the equivalent of the comedown or the hangover) comes first. The following day is spent in a spaced-out trance, where everything is three steps sideways from reality and the most peculiar songs leap undbidden from the depths of your memory.

And best of all, if the Thai authorities stop you at the airport with half a kilo of heatstroke up your bottom, they can't do anything. Although they may ask to share it.

Friday, March 16, 2007

Eeyores of the world unite

There are numerous good reasons to purchase Shaggy Blog Stories: a Collection of Amusing Tales from the UK Blogosphere, the book that Troubled Diva and chums have thrown together in record time. Above all, it should raise a decent sum for charity, under the auspices of the hugely successful Comic Relief brand. Not only that, it contains contributions from many fine bloggers, including wotserface and thingy and oojamaflip and the other one. And, of course, it deserves success simply because of the effort that must have gone into such a project. It's almost a year since I signed the contract for my book (Welcome to the Machine: OK Computer and the Death of the Classic Album, and I mention that only as part of my ongoing experiment to track the correlation between online mentions of a book and Amazon rankings, honest) and the bloody thing's still not in the shops yet. Props to The Diva. And respeck. And, um, t'ing.

However, for all the success that will deservedly cascade upon the Shagtastic tome, I worry that it excludes an important, but overlooked minority within the blogosphere. Those of us who aren't blessed with the amusingosity gene; who can only develop a red nose if we leave our antihistamines at home; who know only too well the dreaded Tumbleweed Moment. Just as the blogiverse is blessed with jesters and wits, it also has space for those of us whose talents lie elsewhere: moroseness; complaining; grumpiness; pessimism; decomposing appendages; and, as the lovely Misty so rightly commented here only the other day, cosy, posturing intolerance. Imagine a bound volume containing the finest examples of such ball-aching misery. Could it not shift, ooh, tens of copies?

So, anyone up for it? Sadly, in the absence of an umbrella organisation (anyone for Curmudgeon Relief?) we may have a more uphill struggle on our hands than the chroniclers of jollity and japery. But we're used to such Sisyphean drudgery and frustration. I don't think we can hope to match the industry and enthusiasm of the Shaggy Bloggers - indeed, I reckon such a thing would be rather against the whole spirit of the venture. So, if we're really after a gimmick, perhaps this could aim to be the most ill-conceived, ill-tempered, protracted and ultimately unsuccessful charity blook project of all time.

Although, knowing my luck, I'd probably arse the whole thing up.

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

You're older now and you're a clever swine

Anyway, those nice people who do The Grauniad asked me (and quite a few other people, such as Dave H) what I'd like to happen in the next 12 months. So what did I ask for, from the Santa of Farringdon Road? World peace? Cure for AIDS? End of global warming?

Yeah, right, I said...

Monday, March 12, 2007

Dumb and then some

I've written before about Jade off of Big Brother, and about Jade: My Autobiography, by Jade Goody, which is a book about Jade off of Big Brother written by Jade off of Big Brother. I feel slightly unclean in raising the subject again, but she infects the Zeitgeist to the extent that it's unavoidable. If I were writing this blog in the 14th century (apart from the fact that I'd be burned for sorcery) I'd feel obliged to raise the unpleasant fact of the Black Death. So it is with Jade. Sorry.

I come back to her because of a new survey that lists the books that Brits don't finish. All the usual suspects are in place: Ulysses; War and Peace; The Satanic Verses; big, important books that you feel you ought to read, but never quite get around to finishing. Or even start; one of the most disturbing findings from the poll is that 55% of respondents buy books for decoration, with no intention of reading them.

This becomes even more depressing when you realise that one of the unread books is the aforementioned Jade: My Autobiography. Now, I can see all sorts of reasons for not reading the book, and for not buying it in the first place. But, presuming you're the sort of person who might choose to acquire it, you're not likely to cast it aside with disgust, because you suddenly realise what a dreadful woman J.O.O.B.B. is. So there can be only two reasons for not pursuing it to its inevitably gripping conclusion. One is that you find it too intellectually taxing. The other is that you bought it simply as decoration; the implication being that it should be propped up between A Suitable Boy and A Brief History of Time, as a means of impressing the neighbours.

It's then that you remember that the people who purchase Jade: My Autobiography are, to some extent, an elite, in that they buy books at all, even if they only buy them to make other people feel inadequate. Which ties in with another story, about allegations of skulduggery in phone-in quizzes on TV. The big chinstroke for many commentators seems to be about the level of trust between producer and consumer, coupled with the suggestion that you've got to be pretty dumb to keep chucking money at these competitions, despite the production office mantra that the viewer isn't stupid. But wasn't the truth about the aptitudes of the sofa species (or at least the professionals' perception of those aptitudes) already apparent from the questions being asked? As Holy Moly reports, a researcher on This Morning (in its Richard and Judy incarnation) was tasked with setting the teasers for 'Mid-Day Money', and was advised that "What is the capital of France?" might be too challenging a conundrum for the target demographic. His facetious suggestion of "What colour is an orange?", however, was accepted with alacrity.

And before anybody says it, yes, I know. The capital of France is 'F'.

Sunday, March 11, 2007

Sense of hooter

James BC directs us to a project that a) may raise a few quid for the many worthy causes supported by Comic Relief, and yet b) doesn't make more discriminating viewers want to disembowel the leading lights of Light Entertainment. Go here for details.

I might pitch something in, but I don't really think I do funny ha ha particularly well.

Friday, March 09, 2007

Opinions which are of no consequence at all

Can I crave your collective indulgence and ask you to assist, albeit passively, with a small experiment? The last time I lowered myself to commercial considerations, and mentioned my new book on this blog, not only did its sales rank on soar to the nausea-inducing heights of 40,000-something, but my Google rating (with quotation marks) rose by 10,000. Both have since slipped to a quite startling degree. I don't know, of course, whether one thing provoked another. So this is just to test whether a simple mention that Welcome to the Machine: OK Computer and the Death of the Classic Album, by Tim Footman, will be published by Chrome Dreams early next month, is enough to set the wheels in motion again.

C'mon, gimme a break. At least my publisher didn't accidentally on purpose leave the manuscript on the platform at Balham Tube station so as to garner a small cough of publicity for a waning career.

Nevertheless, just like the nugatory slivers of news that adorn the advertisements in that free publication that a Slovenian thrusts into your paws when you're trudging to work; or maybe the interview with David Letterman that gives you an excuse to buy Playboy, here are a couple of things that aren't plugs. One is an interesting bit of metablogging from David Cox at CiF (although, as Patroclus rightly insists, CiF isn't a blog).

And the other is from my current bedside read, Sex, Drugs, and Cocoa Puffs, by Chuck Klosterman:

"It's become cool to like Star Wars, which actually means it's totally uncool to like Star Wars. I think you know what I mean by this. There was a time in our very recent history when it was 'interesting' to be a Star Wars fan. It was sort of like admitting that you masturbate twice a day, or that your favorite band was They Might Be Giants. Star Wars was something everyone of a certain age secretly loved but never openly recognized; I don't recall anyone talking about Star Wars in 1990, except for that select class of übergeeks who consciously embraced their sublime nerdiness four years befor the advent of Weezer (you may recall that they were also the first people who told you about the Internet). But that era has passed; suddenly it seems like everyone born between 1963 and 1975 will tell you how mind-bogglingly important the Star wars trilogy was to their youth, and it's slowly become acceptable to make Wookie jokes without the fear of alienation. This is probably Kevin Smith's fault."

Wednesday, March 07, 2007

This blog did not take place

Jean Baudrillard, philosopher, sociologist and cultural theorist, pioneer of the simulacrum and hyperreality, died yesterday at the age of 77. And yes, as Joel pointed out a few months ago, he does indeed look quite like Stanley Baxter.

PS: CiF piece here.

Tuesday, March 06, 2007

The posh kids win, they always do...

Olav, aka Quiz Blogger, has pointed out an odd lacuna in the US trailer for quiz-show rom-com Starter for 10. (I should point out that I haven't seen the film, because I read the book, and got slightly annoyed at the liberties that the author had taken with the rules of University Challenge. I'm sorry, but these things matter.) It does seem from these clips that they want to turn it into that cheesy but endearing 1989 movie version of Martin Amis's The Rachel Papers, and I can't be the first to notice that James McAvoy is the new Dexter Fletcher, which must not only worry him a little, but makes me feel exceedingly old.

More significantly, isn't it a bit odd that the trailer seems to contain no reference whatever to any kind of TV quiz show? It's a bit like making a trailer for Titanic, but leaving out the boat. Which would have made that particular film rather shorter, but also less amusing.

And what's the title meant to mean if you leave out the quizzy bit? A particularly greedy selection of hors d'oeuvres?

Saturday, March 03, 2007

Race oddity

As Life On Mars settles into its second and final series, it's apparently being marketed to the same viewers who lap up Top Gear and its ilk, as wish fulfilment for overgrown schoolboys who feel emasculated by the 21st century. Interview chores this time round have been taken on not by John Simm, who plays nominal hero Sam Tyler; but by Philip Glenister, whose DCI Gene Hunt would take 'unreconstructed' as a compliment, after he'd chinned you for being a university-educated ponce. Glenister's certainly on-message if he wants to appeal to the Clarkson fans out there: "I talk to a lot of people and here's a funny thing," he told the Telegraph. "I haven't yet met one who has said to me: 'This political correctness business - isn't it great that we've got it?'"

It might appear that Life On Mars has fallen victim to the same fate as Johnny Speight's Till Death Us Do Part, which set out to satirise racism, then saw its villain become a hero. Tyler hates being stuck in this backwater of bigotry, confronting, whereas the viewers see it as a rather refreshing diversion. But is the tale of the stranded copper really as dangerous as it thinks? Sure, the pre-PC PCs smoke and drink and pinch birds' bums, and Hunt is a marvellously judged tribute to the mighty Jack Regan. But, for the most part, we laugh at them, not with them, and sigh along with the more enlightened Tyler. For example, one recent episode sees a black detective seconded to the squad. Ray Carling, the most Neanderthal member of the team, gets his jabs in, but the worst he can come up with is an anaodyne gag about "spadework". Is that really the nastiest abuse a non-white policeman could expect in the canteen culture of the 1970s? If frustrated blokes think they're getting a vicarious dose of the years when racism and sexism didn't need to come with quotation marks, they're deluding themselves.

Maybe this is the problem with retrospective pastiche: in attempting to achieve a perspective on the past, we lose the essence. But did TV ever really express the racism and sexism of the era? I recently watched the first episode of the 1969 sitcom Curry and Chips, also created by Speight, about a Pakistani starting work in a factory. Clips occasionally show up on cheerful compilations about 'TV Hell', or earnest documentaries about the representation of ethnic minorities in less enlightened times, but otherwise the show might as well be an urban myth.

First off, despite the presence of Eric Sykes and Spike Milligan, it's not very good. The jokes are heavy-handed, the pacing is non-existent, actors (especially Milligan) are visibly corpsing, and the jackal-like studio audience is profoundly annoying. But is it racist? Well, characters use words like 'wog' and 'Paki' a lot, which is disturbing to modern sensibilities. But it's made quite clear that the worst offender, the Powellite Norm, is a moron (as was the case with the similarly taboo Love Thy Neighbour). Sykes, as the manager, is a decent bloke who tries to help the new recruit to feel at home. Not that the moral battle lines are so cut and dried; you could almost call the whole thing nuanced. A black character, played by Kenny Lynch, joins in the abuse of the newcomer, arguing "At least I was born here". A landlady expresses reservations about taking him in, but relents after she decides that he's quite good looking. Could this have been the inspiration for last year's Oscar surprise, the bit-crap-and-muddled-but-its-heart's-in-the-right-place Crash?

Probably the aspect of the show that's hardest to stomach is the presence of Milligan, browned-up to play Kevin O'Grady (his mother was Irish, so the story goes), with an excruciating Gunga Din accent. White actors in minstrel mode make us very uneasy, but Milligan's performance is so stilted and unnatural, that the racial provenance soon becomes irrelevant. The whole point is that he's an outsider and a catalyst, and might have come from anywhere in space (like Mork from Ork) or time (like Sam Tyler). After all, it's hardly a documentary.

Perhaps that's the thing to remember, when pondering what Life On Mars tells us about the frustrations of contemporary masculinity. The past that viewers see, playing out to a glam-rock soundtrack, is a scrubbed-up version of the reality of those years. And the much-maligned 'political correctness' (if that includes the unspoken assumption that racism is a bad thing) was alive and well on TV even then.

Thursday, March 01, 2007

The future's orang

I loathe anthropomorphism, or any kind of wet sentimentality about animals. Not only is it demeaning to the animals, it pushes humans into a sickly, soft-brained second childhood, where they decorate their desks with bad watercolours of kittens, and place obituary notices in pet magazines, pledging that they will meet their deceased mutts "at the Rainbow Bridge".

On the other hand...