Wednesday, July 28, 2021

About dictators

For the second time in as many weeks, Facebook has decreed that something I posted goes against its community standards. The odd thing is that this time it's taken them the best part of three years to get all Mary Whitehouse on me. And whereas before I could see the potential for offence being taken in the depiction of Mr Firework-Up-The-Bum, I’m not entirely sure what the problem is now. The fact that I was displaying pictures of dictators; or the fact that I was implicitly mocking the wonky orthography of funny foreigners? We shall never know.

Monday, July 26, 2021

About the Olympics

Something I wrote in 2012

In 20 years’ time, will athletes be fencing and diving and underclad-volleyballing in near-empty stadia, accompanied only by the tap-tap-tap of a few accredited live tweeters?

(And that was only nine years ago.)

Saturday, July 24, 2021

About Robert Hughes

It’s the academic equivalent of l’esprit d’escalier, I suppose. I delivered my MA dissertation nearly two years ago, and still I keep coming across bits and bobs that could have gone in there. The latest is from the Australian critic Robert Hughes, who in his 1993 book The Culture of Complaint attempted to carve out some middle ground between the relativists who said that the canon was as dead as the white males who (over)populated it, and the conservatives who insisted on its perfect immutability. What’s even more annoying is that I read Hughes’s book when it came out, and then entirely forgot about it, which probably says something about my own personal canon.

Anyway, the passage that would have fitted, and will undoubtedly be resurrected for the 20th anniversary box set, including previously unheard demos, live tracks and astonishingly banal studio chatter, is as follows:

The quarrel over the Canon reflects the sturdy assumption that works of art are or ought to be therapeutic. Imbibe the Republic or Phaedo at nineteen, and you will be one kind of person; study Jane Eyre or Mrs Dalloway or the poetry of Aphra Behn, and you will be another; read Amiri Baraka or The Color Purple or the writings of Wole Soyinka, and you will be a third... For in the literary zero-sum game of Canon talk, if you read X it means that you don’t read Y.

Tuesday, July 20, 2021

About the weather

This weekend, I visited a Hindu temple. I don’t think I’m likely to be persuaded as to the divine attributes of Shiva and Ganesh but the cool marble interiors did provide a welcome respite from the brutal heat, not to mention the Ballardian grimness of the nearby North Circular.

And if shelter from the swelter is a way to lead us to God, why not to art as well?

Monday, July 19, 2021

About Amazon reviews

I wonder if there’d be mileage in an analysis of the content and meaning of Amazon reviews. Many of them are indeed, reviews in the conventional sense, telling you what the purchaser thought of the book or shoes or artisan gin or garden hose under discussion. Did it live up to expectations? Was it good value for money? Five stars, or only three?

But many others are reviews not of the product, but of the transaction, of the vendor. Variants on “arrived on time, as described” abound, often garnished with the full five stars, as if this basic fulfilment of the contract is somehow something to be celebrated with fireworks and hosannas. 

But my favourite reviews are the ones that offer a flicker of insight into the purchaser’s life, like a fragment of overheard conversation, something that, deprived of context, becomes so banal it achieves a kind of Zen profundity; the sort of comment that makes you wonder why they went to all the effort of posting it, but you’re delighted they did. This, for example:

And only the three stars as well.

Thursday, July 15, 2021

About staycation

An example, if any were needed, of how fast language changes, and with it our attitudes. When I first heard the word “staycation”, meaning spending one’s holiday in and around one’s own home, I probably grimaced more than a little. But now I find myself wanting to protect the clunky, ugly neologism from a new meaning being applied by tabloid sub-editors, which is simply a holiday in one’s own country. Although I suppose I’m old enough to remember when the word for this was simply “holiday”.

Sunday, July 11, 2021

About the football

It’s the big match tonight and yet again, it’s not the idiot being an idiot that intrigues; it’s the idiots filming the idiot. 

(And when I take to Google to determine whether Baudrillard or McLuhan or Berger might best explain the conundrum, I discover that the latter provided the voices for twin villains in an iteration of the Grand Theft Auto game. And call me an effete elitist, but I find that more intriguing than the fireworks or even the football.)

PS: When I posted the above picture on Facebook, the Zuckergods deemed it indecent. But in The Guardian, the brilliant David Squires makes it cleaner, and at the same time more brutal. 

Sunday, July 04, 2021

About bad art

I assumed at first that the One Britain One Nation project was meant to form part of this weird culture war we’re currently embroiled in; a bear trap for bien-pensant liberals who instinctively giggle at any ostentatious expression of patriotism and are then immediately tarred as sneering quinoa-munching metropolitans, out of touch with the stout yeomen of Albion, yada yada yada...

If that’s the case, though, the whole thing seems to have backfired. Not (just) because of a general revulsion against drilling young minds into ostentatious demonstrations of sentimental patriotism – a practice with which even arch-Imperialists such as Kipling were uneasy – but because ultimately, it was a bad song, a banal dirge with vapid lyrics. Those who might stand by the sentiments will flinch at singing along with something so cruddy. “Tear him for his bad verses,” as the luckless Cinna’s assassins yelled.

And similarly, we can side-step another cultural skirmish, about whether or not a hereditary monarchy is more trouble than it’s worth in the 21st century, when we consider the merits of otherwise of the new statue of Diana, Princess of Wales. As Jonathan Jones puts it, “Perhaps not even for Diana’s sincerest believers, for the statue group’s emotive symbolism is undermined by its aesthetic awfulness.” It’s dreadful. That is all.

That said, of course, since we have a governing class that seems intent on sidelining what we’re supposed to call the creative industries (less a war between cultures, more like a war on culture in general), maybe simply expressing any kind of critical/aesthetic evaluation is just as subversive and dangerous as mocking patriotism or the monarchy...

Friday, July 02, 2021

About Alexa

You don’t choose your name but it can shape you, not necessarily in a good way. When I was at school, and for years after, people thought it was hilarious that I shared a forename with the central character (played by Ronnie Corbett) in the inexplicably popular sitcom Sorry! and the phrase “Language, Timothy!” would follow me down many a corridor. Now parents of children called Alexa are calling on Amazon to replace the brand identity of its digital assistant with “a non-human name”, because their kids are being teased. Which sounds sensible – until you ask what, in an interconnected, multi-lingual, multi-cultural world, a non-human name really is. Pretty much any combination of syllables can be used to name a human somewhere in the world (although not so much in New Zealand), so protecting little Alexa will necessitate dumping on some other poor kid. I bet they call it Timothy...

Thursday, July 01, 2021

About nothing

Tom Miller, an American artist who created a sculpture called ‘Nothing’, consisting of nothing, is suing an Italian who’s done something – or, indeed, nothing – similar. “If you Google ‘Tom Miller Nothing’,” he claims, “you can easily see I had this whole paradigm sorted out before before Salvatore Garau ever even thought of doing a sculpture of nothing.”

In fact, if you Google ‘Tom Miller Nothing’, the first thing that comes up is a news story about his law suit.