Thursday, April 29, 2010

Do bears Shi’ite in the woods?

Religion, eh? Woooh. Tough one. In response to images of Mohammed in a bear suit being snipped from South Park, artist Molly Norris created this:

but then had a change of heart, which she attempted to explain with this:

Now, the most reductive explanation was that she was scared of decapitation, which was the implied threat that had led the South Park episode to get cut. But it’s all a bit more complex than that. Norris’s whimsically satirical suggestion for a ‘Draw Mohammed Day’ was intended to be a statement of support to the beleaguered South Park creators, and a statement of support for free speech; but inevitably it also attracted a fair share of people who just hate Muslims, which made her feel uncomfortable. So in the end she did this:

I wouldn’t presume to tell Molly Norris what she should and shouldn’t do with her pictures; an artists doesn’t necessarily have any social or moral obligations. But I might point out that it can sometimes be more effective to avoid statements altogether, and just to ask questions. Questions such as: “Why are you scared of cartoons?” for example.

Thanks to Dick Headley for flagging this one up. On vaguely related lines, and to show it isn’t just Muslims who suffer from humour fatigue, here’s Cristina Odone claiming that the BBC has it in for Catholics after she was harangued by a stand-up comedian; and yet the self-same organisation tuts at a different stand-up for comparing Palestine to a cake “being punched to pieces by a very angry Jew”. Now, I’d argue that (leaving aside for the moment the uncomfortable status of the word ‘Jew’, as opposed to ‘Jewish person’) Boyle’s line is worthy of TS Eliot, and a far more successful piece of art than the South Park bear or Norris’s doodles or the shrill hectoring of either Hughes or Odone. And one or two Muslims might agree with me. But does that make it OK?

As I said, tricky one.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Sound and vision

Just when I was getting despondent about blogging, or maybe just this blog, a couple of gimmicks come along to make it all seem, if not better, then more amusing. First, I am indebted to David Quinn, who directed me to the Geocities-izer, intended to “make any webpage look like it was made by a 13-year-old in 1996”. Here’s Clinton-era Cultural Snow for ya!

And then there’s Codeorgan, which generates a soundtrack for your URL. The sound of CS is the theme tune for a news magazine programme for funeral directors, which is good. Hat-tip to Very Short List for this one.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

“Good writing dies at the hands of Search Engine Optimisation”

Chris Weingarten says little new about the toxic effect of the internet on music journalism, but he expresses it more cogently (and with a few more rudenesses) than most have managed. I also dislike his hat. But he’s worth a listen; I suspect his observations apply to many other forms of media. There’s some crossover with what Andrew Keen says, but Weingarten actually seems to understand what he’s talking about; it’s not the amateurs themselves who are the enemy, but the conformist hive culture that Web 2.0 business models have spawned.

Thanks to Everett True for the link.

Monday, April 19, 2010

A load of number twos

I knew the update of The Prisoner would disappoint, and I wasn’t disappointed. I’m not a purist, and I don’t believe that remakes and cover versions are inherently inferior to the original, but surely producers must have noticed that the most successful franchise revivals (such as Star Trek and Dr Who) are those that have continued the narrative, rather than gone back to the beginning. A new series of Prisoner, that imagines what happened to Numbers Two and Six (plus the Butler) following the flatbed trip to London, could have been intriguing.

Instead, we had a reboot, with a less good actor than Patrick McGoohan finding himself in a less weird location than Portmeirion, a sort of Namibian Butlins. One of the key elements of the original was that although you sympathised with the desire of McGoohan’s Number Six to escape, you didn’t actually need to like him. He had after all resigned, so in his previous life he had presumably been involved in the political machinations that keep the Village running, and thus at least had the potential to be a nasty piece of work. Jim Caviezel, by contrast, is all moist eyes and confusion, like a travelling salesman prevented by volcanic ash from attending his daughter’s birthday party.

Ian McKellen plays Number Two throughout; he’s good, of course, but the trick of having a different actor in nearly every episode was more than a chance to give employment to as many character performers as possible. You always knew that Number Two’s grasp on power was tenuous, which added a level of vulnerability to the role. Like a member of Stalin’s Politburo, he could be airbrushed at any minute. In the remake, by contrast, McKellen is in control, and is allowed some kind of back story, even a family. Perversely, he is Not A Number.

Perhaps I’d be more charitable if this farrago weren’t presuming to be The Prisoner; if it were just a late arrival on the Lost/Life On Mars/Heroes bandwagon. But they keep just enough elements of the original to remind you of what this is trying to be, and failing: the Village; Rover; names replaced by numbers, although Caviezel is Six rather than Number Six, for those of us with really short attention spans. Maybe if they quietly dropped these remaining links to McGoohan’s masterwork, diluting the show until it became something else entirely, the new version would work better. Homeopathic TV, anyone?

Thursday, April 15, 2010

“...a sausage roll with custard over it”

When I heard that Malcolm McLaren had died, and his long-term antagonist John Lydon spoke of him with some degree of affection, I tweeted:
When Simon Cowell dies, will Joe McElderry order us to miss him?
The point I was trying to make is that there’s not that much *moral* difference between McLaren’s quasi-Situationist shenanigans with the Sex Pistols, and Cowell’s pimpery to the proles of airbrushed eunuchs like little Joe; it’s just that in the 70s, the music was better.

But I was wrong. Of course I was wrong. Here’s a video of Malcolm last year, already clearly unwell, railing against the karaoke culture of Cowell and Blair and their ilk. If anyone was going to blame him for SuBo and Jedward, he wasn’t going to take the rap. There’s also a great riff about the sexuality of wine-tasting, as well as rock ‘n’ roll, William Morris, failure and much more.

Sorry, Malcolm.

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Putting up selves

Something that Dick Headley said about Malcolm McLaren kicked off a slightly rhizomatic thought process that ended up at Nabokov’s Pnin:
I do not know if it has ever been noted before that one of the main characteristics of life is discreteness. Unless a film of flesh envelopes us, we die. Man exists only insofar as he is separated from his surroundings. The cranium is a space-traveller’s helmet. Stay inside or you perish. Death is divestment, death is communion. It may be wonderful to mix with the landscape, but to do so is the end of the tender ego.

Friday, April 09, 2010

His son makes pants now

So BWT wanted a response... In 1976, when all that wondrous unpleasantness started happening, the notion that someone such as Malcolm McLaren might deserve an obituary in the Daily Telegraph would have seemed utterly preposterous. Now that it’s happened, I can’t decide whether it represents McLaren’s triumph, or his ultimate failure. Did he win, or was he just absorbed? In Situationist terms, do the plaudits that accompany his passing represent a dĂ©tournement, or a recuperation? Did Jordan breed Jordan? Qui a tuĂ© Bambi?

Monday, April 05, 2010

I know a song that'll get on your nerves

I think I can understand why, when the decision was taken to adapt Sapphire’s novel Push for the big screen, they decided to change the title to Precious, the name of the central character. I presume it was at the insistence of the author that the original title still hung onto the movie by its fingertips, so that the full title of the movie is in fact Precious: Based on the Novel "Push" by Sapphire, a phrase as obese and inarticulate as the story’s heroine. But was it really necessary, when republishing the original book to tie in with the movie, to follow the same branding guidelines, so that the novel is now apparently called Precious: Based on the Novel "Push" by Sapphire as well? Could the author insist that the film should be retitled Precious: Based on the Novel Precious: Based on the Novel "Push" by Sapphire? Which would presumably also be the title of the next edition of the book, and then... it doesn’t bear thinking about.