Sunday, August 30, 2020

About You're Dead To Me

On the face of it, the Radio 4 show/podcast You’re Dead To Me meets all those cosy Reithian criteria about informing, educating and entertaining. It’s essentially a history lesson for people who think they don’t like history, fronted by Greg Jenner, who has acted as a consultant for the Horrible Histories TV series. The format, however, is closer to the long-running In Our Time; a historical subject (the Mughal Empire, Eleanor of Aquitaine, the Victorian Christmas, etc) is on the agenda, with Jenner taking the Melvyn Bragg role of an informed host, asking questions of an expert. (IOT usually offers more than one expert, which sometimes provokes a bit of friction, but the dynamic is similar.)

All good so far, but YDTM introduces a new worm into the apple, in the form of a comic voice. And this, as far as I can work out, illustrates the key difference between the two shows; its assumptions about the listener. With IOT, Bragg is the representative of the audience, someone who may know a bit about the subject matter, or has at least taken the time to glance at the relevant Wikipedia page to acquire a rudimentary foundation upon which the experts can build. In YDTM, although Jenner is fine as a host and the academics are all well-chosen, the voice of the listener is the comic, who may just as well have been pulled in from the street at random.

One egregious example of this is the show about the American emigrĂ© performer Josephine Baker; a wise don, Michell Chresfield from the University of Birmingham, is regularly interrupted by the comedian Desiree Burch, whose contribution is essentially half an hour of not knowing, and letting us know it. And she’s not even terribly funny while she’s doing it.

The closest analogy is those unaccountably popular YouTube clips of people listening to a classic song for the first time; we are encouraged to be consumers of their performative ignorance, pretty much the antithesis of Reith. And I’m increasingly worried that You’re Dead To Me is being set up not simply as a variation on In Our Time, but as its replacement.

Oh well, we’ll always have Josephine.

Friday, August 28, 2020

About music journalism

Conor McNicholas, who edited the NME way back in the Noughties, interviewed by Mic Wright:
The moment paper music journalism ceased to matter was in 2006 when Pitchfork reviewed the second Jet album. They just put up a gif of a monkey pissing in its own mouth. It wasn’t about the nature of the criticism - it really was an utterly forgettable album - it was the manner in which it was delivered. It wasn’t the product of a subs desk trying to shape something into the NME-style or the Q-style, it wasn’t crafting words to communicate a devastating putdown. It was a uniquely contemporary digital response to a band that felt like it was from another age. It was a new age sticking two fingers up to a previous generation in a way that they couldn’t respond. It was something that could be shared on mobile phones. Print was fucked from that point.

Thursday, August 27, 2020

About Gen Z

I once came across an English Language school textbook from the mid-1960s. The author clearly wanted to make a connection with the new breed of teens who formed his audience and one of the tasks he set was to create some publicity material for a fictional new “Pop” (because I’m sure it was within quotes) Group formed by their school friends. He was even good enough to think up a name for the combo – “THE GAY SWINGERS”.

And, more than half a century later, it continues....

Monday, August 24, 2020

About age

One Jay Hulme, an “award winning performance poet” posted this earlier today. Poetic licence?

Thursday, August 20, 2020

About the canon

Apparently Blogger is enforcing its new interface from tomorrow and I can’t get it to work on my venerable laptop so there may be a bit of a hiatus. To keep you nourished in the meantime, here’s a first attempt at a 21st-century canon of literary fiction. Will such a concept (in fact, either concept, lit fic and/or the canon) survive to the 22nd?

(Incidentally, Murakami’s in there, which ties things up quite neatly.)

Saturday, August 15, 2020

About punctuation and masks

As is the way of such things, the above tweet prompted first healthy respectful discussion and disagreement and then within hours things got nasty and Ms Cosslett deleted the whole thing. My response was that yes, I’d become aware of this a few years ago when a younger colleague asked if she’d done something to annoy me. It turned out that my use of (what I thought was) correct punctuation had expressed grumpiness too her; as if I need a full stop to be grumpy.

Cosslett’s real point was that online communication is developing as a distinct linguistic ecosystem and rules that apply elsewhere don’t necessarily need to be used. But why, I wonder, do “younger people” get to call the shots? They didn’t invent the medium. I first sent a tweet in 2006, a text message in 2000, an e-mail in about 1992 and nobody back then told me I overpunctuated. I’ve learned not to call people out for their spelling/grammar infelicities (unless they’re criticising educational standards or the supposed poor English of immigrants, in which case they deserve both barrels) so I’m rather hostile to the idea that I might be called out for actually getting things right.

Is the problem, I wonder, that younger users perceive orthodox punctuation, sentence structure, capitalisation, etc as a passive-aggressive rebuke to their own, apparently more free-form language? Deep down they know they’re in the wrong, but they project their self-loathing outwards because it feels better that way. A bit like – in the context of the current pandemic – non-mask-wearers yelling abuse at those who cover up. As also happened to me yesterday, by a charming gentleman who wished to inform me that covid is a myth created by the Illuminati and something vaccine something Stonehenge blah blah sorry I can’t hear you with my mask on. And no full stops.

PS: More here, from proper academics and that.

Thursday, August 13, 2020

About Britpop

I’m back on Times Radio tomorrow morning (around 6.50, if you’re vaguely alive at that hour), discussing the 25th anniversary of the Battle of Britpop and trying not to sound or feel too ancient.

Saturday, August 08, 2020

About Brain of Britain

BBC Radio 4’s Brain of Britain returns from lockdown this coming Monday, August 10 at 3pm. I’m not taking part this time round but you may indulge in a knowing chuckle at about the half-way point. Listen again and all that jazz available here.

Sunday, August 02, 2020

About bad people

Adam Rutherford, regarding the murky legacy of eugenicists such as Francis Galton and their ghostly presence in modern academia, expresses an attitude that could equally be applied in the arts and elsewhere:
I think Galton’s a shit, but he’s also a shit who’s a genius, whose legacy we absolutely rely on... We’ve got to be mature enough at a university to recognise that people can be both brilliant and awful at the same time.