Posts from 9th September 2003

9
Sep 03

Student qualifies as pop star.

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Student qualifies as pop star. Heart-warming tale about how Mickey Mouse degree student has gone straight out of the classroom and into the charts. Hooray, pop music degrees really teach our kids how to be pop stars. Unless of course you have noticed the band he is in. Speedway. Releasers of the ‘cover’ of a Stroke Of Genie-ous, here admittedly a straight punky cover of Genie In The Bottle.

So he hasn’t learnt anything at all at college, except how to copy. Well, he was a student…

WHILE WE’RE AT IT – THE THEME FROM CHEERS

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WHILE WE’RE AT IT – THE THEME FROM CHEERS

Locals, I like locals. Indeed I like locals so much there are very few locales in which I don’t have local. Which is why I always hated Cheers, the popular television program supposedly set in an American bar. Local my arse. Let us examine the theme tune to the program to see why it is so hateful:
‘Making your way in the world today, takes everything you’ve got
Taking a break from all your worries, sure would help a lot’

Already a complete misunderstanding of my perfect bar. I don’t want a place peopled with furrowed brows moaning about their shitty little office job. Come over to me and tell me how Brian in accounts is really doing your head in and you are liable to get a gin soaked swizzle stick in your eye.

‘Wouldn’t you like to get away,
Sometimes you want to go – where everybody knows your name…’

Of course I don’t want to go where everyone knows my name. I’ve never been to a pub where I’ve allowed more than five people to learn my name. Last thing I want is people asking me to buy them drinks for the mere reason of name knowledge. I shudder if I hear someone shout ‘Your round Tanya’ – not because I am not the soul of generosity but it is altogether too presumptious. By all means buy me a drink, but we are not entering into any social contract here.

Let us look at those words again. ‘Wouldn’t you like to get away?’ What are you getting away from. I fear this is made clear by the next line. You see there is only one place I can think of where everybody knows your name. And that my friend is PRISON. And certainly you would like to Getaway rather than go to prison. Or, in this case, a false fronted TV sanitised idea of a bar peopled by halfwits, quarterwits and that intellectual genius that is Woody Harrelson.

Chelsea Headhunt Kenyon – so far so boring

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Chelsea Headhunt Kenyon: so far so boring. Global brand, best in the business, carry on, nothing to see here. Except I think, though I’m not sure, that Chelsea’s outgoing Chief Executive, Trevor Birch, was the fellow I heard the other night (I write it up a few posts down) suggesting that Chelsea fans should stop worrying and learn to love the bomb their new owner is spending. Wonder how he’s feeling about the Chelsea revolution now?

I hope that doesn’t sound like gloating, having your job messed around with is horrible. There is a joke here (at which The Guardian sensibly only hints) about the Chelsea Headhunters, though.

Phantom Power, the new album by the Super Furry Animals

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Phantom Power, the new album by the Super Furry Animals is named after a switch you see on lots of mini-amps. It is a switch, and associated light, which has also beguiled me. What is this phantom power, how can it seemingly power the amp to greater heights? Is there some kind of eldritch tap into a parallel spirit world where tortured souls are squeezed dry for drops of electricity Could we run the National Grid on this (could the West Coast of the US already be using this system). Or is it some sort of David Blainesque sleight of hand trick to make the unit think it is getting more juice from somewhere when no such thing is happening. Prestidigitation of the ampere – electrickery if you will*.

The truth is actually a lot more mundane (though the picture of the Phantom in the article peps it up a touch. Equally the album by the Super Furries is exactly what you would expect; it has a few pop fizzles, sounds a bit more like Pink Floyd in places than they used to, but generally rather nice. They were a band I was happy to rave about and they have now grown older gracefully. There is no novelty in Gruff’s odd voice anymore, just craft and we are supposed to hate that around here – right? Well sometimes comfort is all you want, and perhaps Phantom Power is running on empty, using what is left of their skills exactly where they need it, but it’ll sit happily in my CD Walkman for a couple of weeks.

*My debt to Catweazle for this joke is duly noted.

The eight ways of drinking (female variety)

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I was having a sniff around for information on Punch Taverns, who are Britain’s second biggest pub owners but who don’t brand their pubs as aggressively as do Wetherspoons. I was doing this because Wetherspoons’ latest results are poor (yay!) whereas Punch’s are on the up. Anyway the shadowy PT organisation remains so, but I did stumble upon this, an old CAMRA industry overview.

I’m linking it because of the Whitbread study it mentions on women drinkers. I’m always a sucker for segmentation analyses (particularly having done a few so I can spot when the analysts are trying to cover up non-results – ‘being’ in this case) ‘ anyway here are the eight modes of female drinking, c.1999

shepherding (with kids, drink halves)
minx (drink PPL (premium packaged lagers))
princessing (wine, flavoured spirits)
hunting (lager, vodka)
bloking (pints)
being (solo, varying drinks)
indulging (liqueurs, g&t, wine)
bonding (Bridget Jones, gossip, buy rounds, share bottles)

Walking out of the cinema I tried to work out exactly

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Walking out of the cinema I tried to work out exactly what it was that made me dislike Man Of The Year (O Homem De Ano) so much. After all it was a nicely balanced tragic thriller, almost classical in range regarding an ordinary schmoe who ends up an assasin and then an organised crime boss in Brazil (or as someone aptly puts it on IMDB : The Accidental Scarface). Well acted, well directed and it looked pretty good. But I hated it. Why? Could it be:

a) The film wasn’t as good as City of God – the other big Brazillian film of the year? Surely not – this would be asking for impossibly high standards of course (I fully expect to see City Of God topping year end polls this Christmas).

b) The rampant violence and amorality of the story? Hmm, this would be ascribing levels of morality to my cinema going which have not hither too been tested. I watched all of Ichi The Killer after all.

c) Was it the suggestion that all it takes is a change of haircut to change a personality? Possibly not the greatest idea but it would not be the first film to posit a link between fashion and personality. Perhaps I objected to the idea that going blonde might make a man more aggressive, but again this doesn’t really come close to some of the more offensive bobbins I’ve put up from films like Shrek.

d) Or was I just in a bad mood?

On reflection I think all of these do come into play. I have seen a lot of Brazilian films this year, going back to Cinema Novo and Man Of The Year did not seem to have as strong a connection with them. Again no reason for me to hate it, but perhaps its flipside of City Of God stylings annoyed me. This is almost a middle-class slacker version of City of God, there is no imperative to crime here. The way the film disregards both of its main female characters also suggests that the misogeny is not just in the lead character. Indeed there is an implied racism in the whole thing too, which is supposed to make us dislike the corrupt route our lead character is taking, but is again a touch gratuitous. Is it the essence of blondeness, the non-blackness of this hair colour that now marks him out as an avenger for the middle class community? And how is casual racism a road to corruption when our hero has already at the start of the movie shot someone in cold blood for laughing at his hair.

I did not like Man Of The Year because I had absolutely no sympathy for the hero, but more cuttingly I had a lot less interest. Instead I was interested in his wife, the girlfriend he inherited from his first murder victim; I even liked his pig more. In the end though perhaps my prejudice stems from the fact that Claudia Abreu looks a bit like a blonde Russ Abbot.

CHEAP FOOD I LOVE No.2 ‘ The Kraft Cheese Slice

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CHEAP FOOD I LOVE No.2 ‘ The Kraft Cheese Slice

Individually wrapped! Cheese slices are a very tactile food, which is the secret of their since-childhood appeal to me. The peeling back of the wrap, the separation of slice from plastic, the smooth feel of the unbroken yellow square, then the folding ‘ twice lengthways or into quarters according to mood ‘ and then popping it into my mouth, where it clings to tooth and gum most comfortingly (and unhealthily).

It is relatively rare for a man to be openly mocked for his choice of snack but my love of cheese slices (Kraft brand only ‘ I’ve tried others and they don’t get it right) has always attracted much bemused and negative comment. They’re no more artificial and no less tasty than a crisp, and it’s as substitute crisps that I generally eat them ‘ one at a time, absent mindedly, with a book or PS2 controller on my lap. I think the deal breaking word for most people is ‘cheese’. If Kraft would only drop the pretence that their product is meant to taste like cheese, and call it Kraft Snaxquares or Kraft Dairymunch, they’d meet much less foodie hostility. The c-word though sets up expectations of subtlely and texture which the humble slice is quite unable to meet, and so its own distinct charms are of course overlooked.

(A disclosure: the last time I had these I was very disappointed. It might be that after 30 years my palate is finally sophisticated enough to dislike them. For services rendered though they deserve their entry!)

In the Ghetto-Elvis

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In the Ghetto-Elvis

Fat Elvis high on Secanol and fried chicken emotes for the african american children.

The sheer sincere chutzpah of the tune, the belief that he is doing good is so camp that its easy to laugh at it.

Country still does this though, Martina McBride’s Loves the Only Weapon is the most recent example and uses the same kind of racial tourism for social concern and soultions that are not soultions that Mr Presly does. The strange thing is how much it moves me. Like all cheap tunes do.

Go Ape Crazy! – 24 Notes On Apes

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The ape is our era’s creature, we know this now – from Freud who led our animal selves into metaphor and Darwin who led our metaphorical selves into the animal. This history I have written is a re-orienting of the origin ape of Freud (who had a baboon fetish laying closest to his right hand) and Darwin (who wrote about monkeys, but never really studied them.) That ape in the closet tells of sex, race, culture, biology, and our ever-so-serious entertainments. In these 24 thoughts I attempt to chart a course through colonial waters.

  1. Jane Goodall is an evangelist for the apes, not making them more then they are, but giving them credit for what they deserve. For Goodall, apes are animals that resemble humans, have emotions and perhaps thoughts – but in her dozens of years in the jungles, her relationship is one of steward and ward. She gives them names, but cries against apes as actors, as clowns, as entertainment. When she presents these creatures, it is with a populist didacticism. Her thick grey hair and clipped tones, in addition to a sly bemusement and general distance indicate that she is not a mother for her chimps, but a nanny whose job it is to broker peace between the “civilised” world and the “natural” one.
  2. Dianne Fossey was sexier then Goodall, American too. This meant brashness, and more concern with action then documentation. She wanted Silverback Mountain Gorillas to exist beyond a generation. (Notice the size and aggression of gorillas versus chimps and the personalities of Goodall and Fossey: each chose the species that matched.) Goodall has completed a series of powerful gestures over a long life, in rain forests, seeking private solitude. Fossey pushed poachers obsessively, taking each death personally – for this she was honoured with the hagiography of a Hollywood movie, starring an attractive and tough lead. (Sigourney Weaver, who perfected the butch maternal in the Alien movies, the difference being that in Gorillas In The Mist the mother didn’t have a gun.)
  3. Ape environments are being destroyed. They are being poached for trophies and bushmeat. More gorillas live in zoos then out of them, but in zoos they are a danger to themselves and others. Even the zookeepers, who claim the parks as new found arks, have noticed social orders disintegrating resulting in reduced rates of fecundity and fertility
  4. Some see the history of western democracy as a snowball of individual rights, starting with white male property owners, then swallowing other identity sets when the public response became loud enough. Jews, then women, then Africans and the First Nations, then working classes, and – tentatively – sexual others have been claimed as liberated, one after the other. The physiologist Jared Diamond and the biologist Richard Dawkins have begun this process for apes, arguing that a certain amount of intelligence and 98 per cent of the same DNA should guarantee a place at the rights table. Are apes just lesser humans? If we are descendants of monkeys, should monkeys be allowed into our trough? How do we judge the intelligence of non verbal animals – the claims of memory retention, vocabulary and cognitive distance made for caged gorillas have been made for macaws, African grey parrots, pot bellied pigs and ravens. There seems to be an element of Orwell here. All animals are equal but some are more equal then others.
  5. We can see ourselves as apes: in the opposable thumb, the hairless palm, the bipedal motion, in the glee of an orang-utang swinging, the mischievousness of a chimpanzee playing, in the alpha male presentation of gorillas. This awareness is often followed by a list of differences, invoking our innate superiority – for example logic, freedom, social codes, legal systems and what we create. The ape question is a question of tension, between how much in us are primate, and how much in us is something better.
  6. It started, like most of the things that we assume to be eternal, in the 19th century. That was when the future and the past coincided. For every adventure story where progress was a goal (the white rabbit in Alice in Wonderland) there was a story that moves back to an arcadian past (The Secret Garden). HG Wells wrote about dinosaurs and superfuture catastrophe in the same book. This looking forward/backward applies to the first giant ape epic – Tarzan, which manages to combine class warfare with a nostalgia for a golden age of masculinity. Lord Greystoke would become, in all of his forms, a prediction of what was expected in a decades’ men (from the vibrant athleticism of Johnny Weissmuller in the 1930s to the whippet grace of Tony Hawk in Disney’s 1990 animated disaster).
  7. Monkeys accompany robots. In pop culture, the other that terrifies is either bestial or mechanical – Fritz Lang quickly followed the robot overlords of Metropolis with the beastly child murderer in M. In America King Kong, an evil exported from unmapped lands to terrify America, shocked in the same way as War Of The Worlds’ metal-shelled aliens. They were both dangerous unknowns. 40 years later, technology run amok pieces like The Omega Man rub up against the immensely popular Planet of the Apes series. But as these others become more familiar the use of them is made ironic – see for example indie stalwart James Kochalka’s absurd gem Monkey versus Robot.
  8. Charlton Heston has seen the end of the world more times than most, but his roles in Omega Man and Planet of the Apes might shed some light here. The 70s were a good time for apocalypses – a blossoming of fears about ecology, new sexual mores, and over population led to thoughts of the earth returning to a stripped desert planet, where human beings descended the evolutionary ladder. In the Planet of the Apes the destruction of New York comes as a surprise, and is a literalization of terror of the other. This other is more vicious, uncaring of human values, with no loyalty to America – who are the apes supposed to resemble?
  9. If the apes destroy civilization in Planet of the Apes, then it is a subtle and clear twist on King Kong, where all sorts of human methods attempt to control Kong. He almost defeats all of them, in the process climbing the representation of capitalist striving. What defeats him is fighter planes. Acting as an apology for military might, and as a case study for how to put down insurgents when the life of citizens is at risk, Kong foresaw later world wars, as he looked back on the First.
  10. In between Planet and Kong is 2001, an attempt for Stanley Kubrick to teach us in his words, that we “are not fallen angels but risen apes”. In its first scene apish neanderthals attempt to communicate with a large black monolith (an airplane emergency system? an embodiment of the modernist aesthetic? a time-lost Sakrah, where new Haji could flock? or something else entirely?) – they knock it down, fight over it and with it. It finally blesses them with knowledge and foresight. When one of them throws a bone up, it becomes a space ship. Ape, Man and Machine are one.
  11. Humanity descended from one family in Ethiopia, if certain anthropologists are to be believed. Our mother, Lucy, was black. Some Western liberals use this as an example of universalism – a common origin leading to a common goal. They sharpen the line between monkey and human that overt racists prefer to blur and move. Everything we have talked about so far has been a white echo of that African diaspora -Tarzan, Goodall, Fossey, the Great Apes Project, Kubrick’s Apes, even Kong from his Africa-analogue Skull Island. The racist code linking apeness to blackness remains on some European soccer terraces, where overt slurs can be replaced by the less easily policed ‘monkey noises’.
  12. How might King Kong use this code? Maybe King Kong is a slave narrative – Kong, powerful and strong, is taken from outside ‘civilisation’ in manacles, made to work for nothing. Maybe King Kong is the 800 pound elephant shitting in North America’s collective living room, and everyone knows the piles, and they step in it anyway. Maybe King Kong is a miscegenation scare story – a black man falls in love with a white girl, and perhaps the white girl falls in love with the man. In either case the tragedy of King Kong is a coded tragedy of race (the founding American tragedy). By presenting himself at the place of power Kong allows justice and injustice to be meted out.
  13. The last time they tried to make anything like King Kong it bombed. Congo, filmed in 1996, was a B List cast on an A List budget. It was on most critics worst-of lists that year, and Rotten Tomatoes gives it a score of ten percent. More people objected to the depictions of race in the movie, and were bothered by depictions of Africans as savage. Has the code become clearer or are we, as audiences, better at noticing it? There was a Planet of the Apes Remake in 2001, it didn’t make much money and had critical pans, mostly because the ending changed. The interesting thing about the remake though is the love subplot between one of the apes and one of the humans. Some of the newspapers tried to figure out exactly what taboos were being violated, if any.
  14. In Cabaret, the emcee sings a duet with a woman in a gorilla costume. It is a plea for understanding, a refusal to apologize for sexual freedom. Cabaret is as much about the time it was made then the Weimar republic, and it was made in the midst of gay liberation – the last line of the song: “she doesn’t Look Jewish at all” could easily be translated as “He doesn’t look queer at all”. Kong was a side long glance at sexual taboos, this number was a full frontal ogle.
  15. We have touched on race, and sexuality, but not on class. If we look at Tarzan and Mowgli, we can begin to understand how becoming close to wilderness is to reverse class barriers and how this reversal needs to be restored to its natural order. Mowgli, raised by the animals of the jungle, is wild, and almost achieves a super-intelligent ape-state, but when he comes of age he is returned to a human village. Tarzan is recivilized by the love of a good woman. Jane makes him an Englishman again, by training him to read, write, and have tea. This is made most clear in Greystoke:Legend of Tarzan, the 1984 film by Chariot of Fire director, Hugh Hudson: she takes him back to the home country, restoring his place in London society. He remains animal only in the bedroom.
  16. There are other kinds of movies with monkeys, silly kid movies like Most Valuable Primate (and its sequels) or Bedtime for Bonzo, where the creature makes a monkey out of adults and bands together with kids. The animals are dressed as an attempt to humanify, but those clothes become more and more absurd. Reagan and Bonzo in matching pyjamas, the chimp in MVP in brightly coloured shorts and t-shirts. They make the animal a man, but only in a very limited sense. They make them an infant or child, someone at the very base level of culture.
  17. Then there is Michael Jackson and Bubbles. At first an example of general eccentricity, as his Peter Pan fantasies grew, the rumours that surrounded Jackson and the chimp became weirder. There was talk of constant resupply: as each Bubbles grew older, he was replaced with a younger model (could this be a precedent for the constant changes to personal appearance?) Then there was talk of the monkeys in the bed of the singer. Then there was the tabloid hack biography by Christopher Anderson, where he talks of an incident with the first Bubbles, where the monkey was brought downstairs to meet company with certain key parts shaved. When the guests noticed what Michael had done, he responded with giggles, saying “I’ve been a bad boy”. No one knows how self aware Jackson is: are the monkeys furthering Childhood or are they substitutes for something else?
  18. Sometimes a monkey is just a monkey. On Friends, in the first couple of seasons, a lemur named Marcel interrupted scenes with an abandon that human actors usually lack. It was later revealed that the simian was fired for throwing things, missing his cues and disappearing when cameras where about to roll, as well as being abusive to others on the set. The prototypical difficult actor, except for a while, with Marcel, the shit throwing became literal.
  19. In the zoos, the throwing of objects is related to compulsive masturbating: both act as stress reliving exercises , especially in the contexts of limited space. Snowball, an albino gorilla, had a 24 year career with the Barcelona Zoo, becoming a mascot for that city. He spent the last years of his life wanking and throwing shit. His death was prolonged, painful and unique – the skin cancer that was his undoing was thought only to be limited to pigs and humans.
  20. Snowball was also famous for being on the cover of Rooty, an album by Basement Jaxx, and most of my research about Snowball was done for me by the London hipster mailing list Pop Bitch. His white colour made him unusual: pure, cute, twee and more loveable, for the same reasons baby seals win more support then hagfish, or Pandas have become so close to our cultural radars, while worms and snails have not. That, and his naughty reputation had a certain schoolboy charm.
  21. There was a gag, near the end of an episode of Murphy Brown, around the time Dan Quayle blurred real and TV moralities. In this gag the hard and professional television journalist Brown is forced to do station promotions with an uncooperative chimpanzee, after claiming that the new fall season on her networks was not nearly highbrow enough. It was a perfect example of a series being smart enough to get a cultural joke before most of their viewers did.
  22. Sometimes it goes other ways. There is an ape called Koko, who apparently speaks human, with an added cyborg twist: she cannot vocalize, and uses a board hooked to a computer to “speak”. This board translates animal to human. This artificial speech means that she can go between human intellect and animal instinct, through training and intercessors, to communicate as she loses what is natural to her.
  23. Peter Hoeg wrote a novel, The Women and The Ape, about an ape who is made intelligent by artificial means – the logical extension of the Koko paradigm. The ape can talk like us, think like us, and is human scale. He falls in love with a woman, or more accurately, a girl falls in love with him. Technology redeems Kong, makes him more human, shrinks him into an accessible presence, but that presence remains a problem. Hoeg asks us what it means to be human, and then what it means to be other. He also aesthicises, there are passages in the book where what makes the creature non human is what makes him erotic–the blue skin, the thing fine ever present hair that marks sex instead of repulsion.
  24. The ape is our symbol for animalistic destruction, for the baser elements of our nature and for some of the baser elements of our culture. It is easy for racists to use the imagery as ammunition, because it is so much a part of a bedrock mythology that the armaments are laid out for them. The ape is us, and we are the ape. Michael Ondaatje wrote a poem once, comparing Wallace Stevens and King Kong as parts of his poetic nature. I have King Kong in me, that great martyr for love, his corpse clogging the arteries of American commerce. I have Wallace Stevens in me, being hidden under three piece suits, selling insurance and writing of Key West in the same brain. This is the beginnings of an attempt to reconcile the two, for me and for others like me.

(Editor’s Note: Ondaatje’s poem can be found here)