Monday, December 31, 2018

About Bandersnatch

I have just watched Bandersnatch, the interactive offering from the behemoth that is Black Mirror. At least I think I have.

If you didn’t know, Bandersnatch aims to subvert the vanilla TV-watching experience with the illusion/delusion of choice that runs through video games, and before that, those adventure books that allowed readers to turn to different pages according to what twist they wanted the narrative to follow next. So I made a character kill or not kill, jump or not jump, pour tea on a computer or not, choose the Thompson Twins or Frosties or anti-depressants.

My question is, how many times do I have to watch Bandersnatch, and in how many different permutations of breakfast cereal, before I’m allowed to say that I’ve *seen* it, in the way I’ve seen (or not seen), say, the latest Star Wars movie?

Frumious, huh?

Friday, December 28, 2018

About comments

I was wondering whether to write about the Anni Albers show at Tate Modern but, as is so often the case, it’s more fun to write about what other people have written. For example this, left on the comments board (in the gift shop, naturally).

Some thoughts:

1. What exactly is the objection to taking photographs in an exhibition? I can see there may be copyright issues, and it might have an impact on, say, postcard sales, but surely that’s a problem for the gallery, not a visitor. It’s not as if people are lugging around tripods and flash guns; someone taking a photo of a picture with a phone is no more intrusive than someone simply looking. It is pretty much impossible these days to market any kind of arts event without using social media (there was a notice up asking us to use the hashtag #AnniAlbers) so exhibitors should be seeking to embrace the form; last year’s Selfie to Self-Expression show at the Saatchi being a case in point.

2. If, for some reason, you object to being in proximity to people taking photos, I can’t imagine that counting them does much to soothe your troubled soul. It’s almost as if you want to be offended, and somehow need to quantify your degree of offence.

3. Oh dear. Those exclamation marks. Really.

PS: Vaguely related: A cheerful update to the Monkey Christ fiasco.

Monday, December 24, 2018

About drones

There I was, wondering whether to write something about the Gatwick drone, but it looks as if I don’t need to.

Thursday, December 20, 2018

About intellectuals

New definition of an intellectual: one who devotes much time and energy to an online argument over whether Eyes Wide Shut is a Christmas movie.

Monday, December 17, 2018

About The Damned

I wrote several months ago about the fuzzy line between art and graffiti, and which of them carries within it more value and/or credibility. I suggested that the gradual eradication of an image of Croydon punk pioneers The Damned is strangely appropriate to the movement’s aesthetic. Now I’ve found a tweet by the original artist who seems to view the process with a sort of shrugging fatalism, but crucially he regards his own work not as “graffiti” but as a “cartoon”, which – I infer – is considered to be somehow better.

March this year:

A few days ago:

Thursday, December 13, 2018

About Foucault

Found, on the cover of a Foucault collection in the Birkbeck library, the Steven Campbell painting A Life in Letters: Idealized Portrait of the Wig’d Foucault. So idealized, in fact, (not to mention wig’d) that it looks totally unlike the polo-necked author of Discipline and Punish; if anything, more like the Daddy of Deconstruction Jacques Derrida.

What can it all mean? 

[Strokes chin.]

Wednesday, December 12, 2018

About funny

A comedian intending to perform at a benefit gig at SOAS has been asked to sign a behavioural agreement form that commits him to abjuring “racism, sexism, classism, ageism, ableism, homophobia, biphobia, transphobia, xenophobia, Islamophobia or anti-religion or anti-atheism”. This is [adopts Fotherington-Tomas voice] “to ensure an environment where joy, love and acceptance are reciprocated by all.”

Wouldn’t the only permissible funny thing left be to go on stage and read out that form? 

PS: It sounds as if that’s what he did...

Monday, December 10, 2018

About Shakespeare

The new Kenneth Branagh movie All is True is described in its IMDB entry as “A look at the final days in the life of renowned playwright William Shakespeare.” Now, leaving aside for a second my own longstanding-to-the-point-of-tiresomeness advice to writers to steer clear of words such as “renowned” or “famous” (because if they’re true they’re not necessary and if they’re necessary they’re not true), I have to ask why anyone who didn’t know who William Shakespeare was or what he did for a living would want to go and see a film about William Shakespeare.

Saturday, December 08, 2018

About old-school blogging

This will only mean something to those few of you who used to hang around here in the glory days of blogging when it was a thing but the blessed Patroclus is BACK!!!

(Unfortunately, it’s about bloody Brexit, but hey, whatever.)

About Sissy Spacek

An excellent overview by Ryan Gilbey of Sissy Spacek’s career, including the delicious description of her stance as she wields her telekinetic powers, “like a mix of kabuki and voguing”. I reckon he’s had that in his back pocket for years, waiting for just the right moment.

Thursday, December 06, 2018

About EXP Edition

I’ll shortly need to commit to a subject for my MA dissertation, but I may as well give up now because the best one’s already been taken – the student at Columbia whose master’s dissertation was the creation of a K-Pop band.

Tuesday, December 04, 2018

About Tumblr

I was alerted by my venerable friend Barnaby Edwards to the fact that the image-sharing site Tumblr is attempting rid itself of “adult content”. And, unsurprisingly, nobody seems to know what that means. Tumblr reassures us that “artistic, educational, newsworthy, or political content featuring nudity are fine” but the results don’t seem to bear that out.

So, I tested it out, with a pop-up Tumblr of my own. And apparently these images are “adult”:

Whereas these are... well, whatever the opposite of adult may be. Childish? In any case, Tumblr appears to see no ill in them, not even the one of a severed head. Which is surely worse than bosoms and willies, isn’t it?

PS: There were rumours that a lot of the censorship betrayed an element of anti-gay bias, so I posted this as well, but nobody complained, so that’s OK then.

PPS: But then they blocked this:

PPPS: And because you’re all desperate to know, they’ve passed everything except the Courbet and the Michelangelo.

Thursday, November 29, 2018

About writing

By CS Lewis, of all people. Stolen from Twitter. I heartily endorse, etc.

Wednesday, November 28, 2018

About Harry Leslie Smith

Harry Leslie Smith has died. Well, the real, meat-and-mucus Harry Leslie Smith, the war veteran and political campaigner, has died in a Canadian hospital at the age of 95, but the Harry Leslie Smith known from the @Harryslaststand Twitter account transcends such banal considerations.

Most of us are aware that lots of celebrities’ social media accounts are in fact run by PR acolytes who churn out the sort of things we expect said celebrities to say, just as “their” autobiographies and other books are ghosted by people who can actually write. We only point and laugh when it becomes obvious that the celeb in question hasn't even bothered to read the bloody thing.

The problem comes when a celebrity’s USP is his or her “authenticity”. @Harryslaststand rather blurred the distinction, as most people were aware that Harry’s son John was doing the heavy lifting on the account, although it generally represented Harry’s views. There were rumours that certain political entities – dear old Momentum was the main suspect – had more influence than might have been clear from “Harry”’s impassioned jeremiads against austerity and the like. But we bumbled along, not willing to interrogate any apparent anomalies, because the guy was 95 and still quite feisty, a sort of lefty David Attenborough, and it would have seemed mean.

Of course, in his last few days, when the whole point of him was that he was dying in hospital and really not up to explaining why Trump was such a bastard, the pretence was unsustainable. Smith Jr came into his own, taking advantage of the sad circumstances to cue up some jibes against the effect of austerity policies on health services in the UK and Ontario. It was a bit like the reveal in a late Ian McEwan novel, when the real author lifts off the mask and mutters that s/he would have got away with it if it weren’t for you pesky Booker judges. 

Unfortunately, the other thing that came to mind as Harry slid to his inevitable end in full view of us all, was the protracted demise of another figure whose relationship to reality was fuzzy at best (and whose socio-political views were similarly forthright), the lamented Jade Goody.

What a pity Harry never launched his own perfume range.

Friday, November 23, 2018

About Maxwell Perkins

I keep coming back to the little dance that all writers and other purveyors of fact must dance, between going over the heads of their intended audience and insulting their intelligence. As I suggested in relation to Barthes, it’s ultimately subjective: OK, maybe I know who Isaac Newton is, but not Bachelard or Hjemslev, but that doesn’t apply universally. Except... seriously? I mean, I’m sure there are plenty of Pointless contestants who don’t know who wrote the Principia, but what proportion of those are on top of French epistemology and/or Danish linguistics in the mid-20th century? (And, yes, I had to Google those.)

And here’s another example. In the New Yorker, Jordan Orlando offers yet another bloody article about The White Album in which he introduces George Martin as “the Beatles’ Maxwell Perkins”. To be honest, I think Orlando’s choice is a little less preposterous than that of Barthes; there will be very few people who know the editor of Hemingway and Fitzgerald, but not the Beatles’ producer, but I suspect there are more than those who know Hjemslev but not Newton. And, because this is all about knowing your audience, I reckon all of them read the New Yorker.

And that just gives me the perfect opportunity to remind you of the work of Rutherford Chang.

PS: And this is interesting too: she even has a stab at Revolution #9.

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.

PS: This, by Stewart Lee.

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.