Wednesday, October 30, 2019

About #jokerstairs

I still haven’t seen Joker but it’s had so much coverage and analysis that I almost feel I don’t need to. It seems to have transcended its identity as a mere film and become a commentary on fragile masculinity, urban decay, Trumpism and, thanks to its explicit nods to Martin Scorsese (who has helpfully dissed the superhero movies that provide the mulch in which Joker grew), film itself.

In The Guardian, Arwa Mahdawi describes the tensions created by people (or, as she describes them, “influencers and imbeciles”) visiting a particular flight of stairs in the Bronx that features in the film, just to take selfies as part of a phenomenon that’s now known as “meme tourism”. I have no doubt that she’s right, if only because pretty much the same article has appeared in USA Today and Esquire and Vice and the Daily Mail and Wired and any number of other outlets, all falling over each other in a manner that’s no more dignified than the gawping phone-wielders currently attracting the derision (and eggs) of the locals.

Meme journalism, anyone?

PS: I’ve seen it now. It’s pretty good.

Wednesday, October 23, 2019

About Eluard and Bayard

Two accidental encounters yesterday. First, a fascinating radio documentary about surrealism in Ireland (isn’t this exactly what Radio 4 should be for?) reminded me of Paul Eluard’s map of the world, displaying the sizes of countries in proportion to how strange they are. (I love the Canada/Mexico border.)

And then my virtual friend Steph (who used to be Chaucer’s Bitch round these parts) posted a nugget from Susie Dent about the 17th-century word “bayard”, which apparently means an unshakeable self-confidence that’s rooted in ignorance. Which is all kinds of relevant to the modern world, but specifically reminds me of one of my favourite books of recent years:

Saturday, October 19, 2019

About Boris in the Forest

My old friend Robert Hackett has been creative again, and I urge you all to slurp from the puddle of his talent.

Friday, October 18, 2019

About Counterpoint

If anyone out there can be bothered to pretend to care, I’m on the BBC Radio 4 music quiz Counterpoint at 3pm UK time this coming Monday (available thereafter for a month or so on the BBC site).

Tuesday, October 15, 2019

About blogs (birthday edition)

Apparently blogging is 25 years old but the current landscape looks very different from what the pioneers came up with, or even what I encountered when Cultural Snow took its first baby steps in 2005. In The Guardian (the only British newspaper that really got its head round the idea, integrating blogging into its news/views mix at a very early stage), John Naughton looks at the early years through the idealised prism of Habermas’s public sphere and obviously there are still people keeping that faith.

But social media and, more significantly, money have combined to piss on old Jürgen’s chips. Blogs aren’t dead but the phenomenon got so mixed up with other digital platforms that you can’t really see the join. There’s now a magazine (Yes! Dead tree media! The very thing we were supposedly endangering!) called Blogosphere but it’s not about the sort of blogging I remember, where we’d collectively ponder the meaning existence, but also have time for complete gibberish like this. No, it’s “all about influencers and the influencer industry” which is essentially people with very white teeth and no perceptible body hair being paid to pretend to like things. I think if one of them had popped up 10 years ago we (Patroclus and Slaminsky and Billy and LC and RoMo and Spinny and many more) would have stomped them to death with the sheer force of our self-righteousness. And, y’know, I think we would have been right.

PS: A lesson in how to deal with influencers.

PPS: By Kathy Macleod:

Sunday, October 13, 2019

About Stephen Moore

The actor Stephen Moore has died. He enjoyed a varied and successful career but for me (and, I suppose, many others of my vintage) his greatest achievement was providing the voice of Marvin the Paranoid Android in the radio and TV versions of The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. As a teenager, I usually claimed that Morrissey was my spirit guide, but in reality it was Marvin, with that terrible pain in all the diodes down his left-hand side. And of course, it was Marvin who provided a title to the first single for a certain Radiohead album about which I wrote a book, blah, blah, blah...

Confession time, now. When I wrote the book, I blithely asserted that the OK Computer title itself was also a direct quotation from the Hitchhiker’s canon, but didn’t check at the time. Many times since I’ve seen this connection regurgitated, and often I’m quoted as the source. I suppose I could have gone back to the scripts or the novels or the towels or whatever, but I rather liked it being a sort of Schrödinger’s fact, neither true nor false, only ultimately verifiable if anyone could be arsed.

For some reason, Mr Moore’s demise encouraged me to finally open the box, and I found this line in an interview with Thom Yorke marking the 20th anniversary of the album (or indeed the 10th anniversary of my book):
At one point in 1996, the band was killing time in the bus by listening to an audio version of Douglas Adams’ classic 1979 sci-fi-comedy novel, A [sic] Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. Midway through the book, a spaceship computer says it’s incapable of fending off incoming missiles. “OK, computer,” responds galactic president Zaphod Beeblebrox, “I want full manual control now.” Yorke scribbled down the phrase – which marked the point in the narrative when humans saved themselves by reclaiming control from machines – in his bulging notebook of lyrics.
So I was right after all. Unless of course Yorke has retrospectively constructed his initial inspiration based on the meme that I coughed up a dozen years ago and we’re all implicated in some kind of paradoxical time loop between Douglas Adams and Radiohead and me.

What I don’t know is whether Stephen Moore ever expressed an opinion on ‘Paranoid Android’ the song. I think I’ll write another book, claiming he bloody hated it.

Saturday, October 12, 2019

About indie music

I’ve pondered the whole idea of the commodification of the alternative many times; is it a debasement of ethical principles, or the natural outcome of the individualism at the heart of the indie ethic? Is this poster by Dorothy, depicting indie classics in the form of commercial print adverts, a recuperation of rebellious instincts or a weary admission that pop music, however fragile and/or angry it has to be, is ultimately a cash-grabbing exercise?

Monday, October 07, 2019

About elites

Andrew Anthony on the elites who are allegedly to blame for the whole bloody mess we’re in:
It’s easy to mock metropolitan liberals for hypocrisy. After all, they’re often opposed to gentrification, while being the vanguard of gentrifiers. They’re the loudest proponents of multiculturalism while frequently maintaining a distinctly unicultural lifestyle. But even in this age of bovine anti-elitism, it would be the height of stupidity if people who like to visit bookshops come to be seen as the problem.

Saturday, October 05, 2019

About Greil Marcus and Camille Paglia

Last weekend, I retrieved several bundles of dead-tree matter from the parental loft, including a whole load of back issues of The Modern Review. Having a letter published earned one a free subscription, which is how I got to supply the punchline to a simmering feud between Greil Marcus and Camille Paglia:

Tuesday, October 01, 2019

About META

A very brief appearance on Radio 4’s Front Row tonight (at about the 11-minute mark), as part of the BBC National Short Story Awards. No, of course I didn’t win, but my Twitter story was offered up as a sort of amuse-bouche.

“Don’t be too meta,” he says. 
“You what?” she mutters, irritated. 
“Don’t make it a story about the process of writing a story.” 
“But people like that sort of thing,” she says. “It makes them feel clever.” 
“Only people who listen to Radio 4,” he sneers.

Well, John Wilson seemed to like it, even if it drew only polite sniggers from the punters.