Wednesday, July 31, 2019

About stickers

Gilbert Adair, along with Greil Marcus, Morley/Penman and, strangely enough, James Burke, was one of the people who really got me thinking about stuff that would lead me towards this whole cultural theory malarkey; I picked up Adair’s book Myths and Memories in a remainder shop some time in the late 80s, then followed the skein of influence back to Roland Barthes and I was hooked.

However, although he owes a methodological debt to Barthes, his style is rather different; for a start, in contrast to than Barthes’s own droll, sometimes quasi-Martian view of the physical manifestations of modern life, Adair often let his own prejudices burst through and they’re not always pretty. For one thing, he hated pop music and everything associated with it with a passion. In a later collection, The Postmodernist Always Rings Twice, he describes staring at a wall plastered with posters advertising record releases, almost revelling in the fact that he has no idea which bits of text are the bands, which are the titles. And while that flash of ignorance led him to some interesting ponderings on Eco and Malevich, I felt sure that I’d never find myself so baffled by the modern world.

Analogue posters still adorn the walls of London and other cities, even in this digital world and although these days I probably wouldn’t recognise most of the music they advertise, I’ve got at least a vague idea what’s going on. However one thing, on a smaller scale, does now put me in a state of Adairian bafflement - and that’s the invasion of stickers on walls and lamp-posts and bins and the few remaining phone boxes. Obviously there are still stickers advertising political opinions and commercial sex but these are something different, closer to adhesive street art, suggesting some sort of coded meaning that’s permanently closed off to me. But I don’t exult in not knowing, not getting the joke. I just gaze, feeling a bit disconnected, and old. Although, like Adair, I could let it all lead to Eco:
Today in Pompeii tourists are visiting murals depicting Romans with huge penises; originally meant as adverts for brothels, they are now considered great art. In the eighteenth century Telemann was thought a greater composer than Bach; in the nineteenth Eugene Sue a greater writer than Balzac. In 200 years we may consider Picasso inferior to the man currently responsible for the Coca-Cola commercials... So we should never be afraid to analyse marginal or inferior manifestations of our culture.
So, analyse away.

Thursday, July 25, 2019

About tattoos

News comes of a gentleman from Seattle who, his former enthusiasm for Mr Morrissey rather tainted by the singer’s recent toxic outbursts, resolves to do something about his own celebratory tattoo. But instead of having it removed entirely, he has a line put through it and another performer’s – Sheryl Crow in this case but it could be anyone – above. The good memories of what Morrissey offered aren’t wiped out, but his sins are acknowledged. And, of course, if in the coming years Ms Crow should turn into a bumptious old bigot, the same fate could befall her.

I do wonder if this if this might be the answer to all our mithering about representations of people who were once lauded but later turn out to be arses; and also to the existing cultural products of the same. We don’t actually need to tear down the statues of colonialist exploiters or Confederate generals; nor do we remove the works of artists whose behaviours or attitudes transgressed what we now deem to be right and proper, and yes, I’m thinking of the Eric Gill carvings on Broadcasting House. We simply, literally or metaphorically, put a line through them. A small plaque would do, a sticker, an announcement before a performance, a bit of text before a film. If nothing else, it’s a gentle reminder that our own activities (eating meat, using plastic bottles, driving cars, maybe something that today seems so utterly unexceptional that it would seem seriously daft to pick it as an example) will make us look like complete and utter shitbuckets to our descendants. But perhaps, rather than burning our effigies, they’ll be just a little kinder, and add the equivalent of a rueful “tut tut” to what – if anything – we leave behind.

Tuesday, July 23, 2019

About German magazines

In the past few days, two German magazines have put out covers depicting two right-wing foreign leaders in highly unflattering guises. That said, the difference in tone suggests that one of the countries in question, as awful as its current boss might be, still needs to be taken seriously. The other, perhaps not so much.

PS: More stuff:

PPS: “ the others must see the faker...”

PPPS: And, by David Foldvari:

Sunday, July 21, 2019

About Cats

Much bandwidth has been devoted over the past few days to discussion of the trailer for the movie version of Cats, which has been described variously as creepy, demented, drug-addled and uh-why-would-a-cat-need-a-fur-coat? To be honest, I don’t get the horrified reaction; surely the whole point of CGI is to create things that cannot be in an analogue world, rather than just to form a simulacrum of our meat-and-bones existence, but to do it quicker and faster. But then my favourite Marvel movie is the utterly barmy Doctor Strange, so what would I know?

If I were making a movie version of Cats (and I would remind you that when I put on a stage show in Edinburgh, I plastered the Scotsman reviewer’s reaction of “unbelievably atrocious” across the posters and audiences doubled in the second week, so I know how to weaponise visceral loathing), this is what I’d do:

1. Ditch most of the songs and most of the fluffy Americans and James bloody Corden, leaving just Dame Judi, Sir Ian and soon-to-Sir Idris on an otherwise empty stage. Bulk out the running time with bits of The Waste Land (including the notes), The Four Quartets, maybe even Notes Towards The Definition of Culture. (This version of The Waste Land set to the music of Anthony Burgess may give a few hints.) The greatest of Lloyd Webber’s many sins has been to encourage to notion that T.S. Eliot Should Be Fun. He’s got to hurt, people.

2. Don’t worry, there will be cats, but they won’t be actors with CGI fur and tails up their bums. Instead, I’d have inserts of old fashioned analogue frame-by-frame animation, based on the beautiful, often heartbreaking work of Louis Wain, whose art progressed from cute, anthropomorphic moggies to semi-abstract cat deities, mirroring the increasing fragility and ultimate collapse of his mental state. And if you think the current trailer is a bit creepy, you’ll be coughing up furballs of pure terror when this one happens.

Wednesday, July 17, 2019

About Brexit (sorry)

In his review of Rod Liddle’s new book, Fintan O'Toole sums up the gaping vacuum at the heart of arguments for Brexit:
Tellingly, Liddle specifies the moment of perfidy. The conspiracy, as he sees it, began as soon as “the establishment” started talking about a “hard Brexit” and a “soft Brexit”, “whereas hitherto we had simply been talking about Brexit”. In other words, the betrayal started as soon as “Brexit” acquired any actual content. Once “Brexit means Brexit” became “Brexit means this or that”, it was being sold out. There is here a kind of truth – the pure, unbetrayed Brexit could exist only in the abstract. To give it concrete meaning was to sully it. Nowhere does Liddle ever tell us what he himself actually thinks Brexit means in the real world. How could he, since by his own definition that would be an act of betrayal?
A concept so achingly pure, it becomes irredeemably tainted the moment it comes into contact with sunlight, fresh air, empirical reality. Schrödinger’s Brexit anyone?

Monday, July 08, 2019

About Love Island

An interesting piece about the dimness of contestants on Love Island, although the closing paragraph raises rather more questions than it answers:
All reality TV is a stage, and the men and women upon it are mere players. It is impossible to know whether the Love Island contestants know where Barcelona and Rome are, but are performing ignorance for the amusement of viewers, or if they really don’t know. It doesn’t matter. Are you not entertained?
Making yourself look stupid in order to be liked isn’t entirely a new idea, and in the current mood of anti-expert populism it almost certainly happens in circles other than reality TV; idiocy has become weaponised. But back to the adventures of the orange people in Majorca: couldn’t we have maybe one show per series where they all have to pretend to be cleverer than they are? Although, if we accept the findings of Messrs Dunning and Kruger, the main problem is that they probably don’t know how clever they are (or aren’t).

PS: Earlier vaguely relevant musings on the wondrous science of agnotology.

Wednesday, July 03, 2019

About Waters and SF

Two pieces to remind you that funny, clever journalism is still a thing, even in America; first, a Q&A with John Waters in Vulture:
Divine never dressed as a woman except when he was working. He had no desire to be a woman. He was fat. It was too hot to wear all that shit. He couldn’t wait to get that wig off. The tits were so hot. He hated it. He didn’t want to pass as a woman; he wanted to pass as a monster. He was thought up to scare hippies. And that’s what he wanted to do. He wanted to be Godzilla. Well, he wanted to be Elizabeth Taylor and Godzilla put together.
And from Hmmdaily, a (supposedly) AI-generated piece on San Francisco’s existential crisis:
List to become increasingly absurd until mention of either drones, food/laundry delivery robots, and half-joking/half-serious evocation of dystopian science fiction, including George Orwell’s 1984 (book), Blade Runner (movie), or Westworld (television program), including SEO-friendly mention of the premium cable network that produces it.