Posts from 13th May 2005

May 05

After The Ambulances Go

Blog 7Post a comment • 241 views

There are still political posters, all over town. I’ve not seen any in windows – but then I didn’t before the election. But on poster sites, yes. Labour’s “if you vote for it, value it” near Tooting station, a stern reminder. The Tories’ “This is your last chance to tell him what you think”, next to it, an impotent yelp. The Lib Dems, “We Oppose – We Propose”, on the way to Colliers Wood tube, more of a blog post than ever.

How long will they last? The most likely survivors are Unison’s “How can ’35 million cuts IMPROVE public services?”, because they’re all over the Unison building and so nobody can buy the space. The others? Not long now. At first I thought, oh, why don’t they take them down, naively imagining you could un-utter these statements as easily as they were made.

A Little Discrimination Goes A Long Way

The Brown WedgePost a comment • 188 views

Andrew Wheeler’s essay, The Sorry State Of Fans, talks broadly about the same things I did the other day – fan response to, for instance, the Dr Who TV series. Both Wheeler and I find fandom wanting, though for differing reasons: I’m annoyed by fan reviews for their pettiness, he rails at their “goodwill”, the free pass they give to a mediocre show. (We’ve obviously been reading different reviews, for one thing – my sense is that fandom is a lot more prepared to dislike Who and that it’s the wider media who have a measure of goodwill towards the show.)

But his article isn’t really about Dr.Who – it’s about how critics of anything subcultural hand out free passes like sweets. Why do fans make such lousy critics, Wheeler asks, and his answer is roughly, because they like things too much. Perhaps he has a point: to the committed fan, the energy and community of fandom is surely as important as what’s actually under discussion, and too much negativity undermines that community and saps that energy. The negativity is instead channeled into disdain for the ‘pabulum’ on offer outside the subculture: this is where Doctor Who fandom is in such a pickle right now as the mainstream has embraced the show wholeheartedly so the subculture has to reflect that, or redefine itself. But in any case a vast amount of good art and good ideas comes from within subcultures, so we should probably let them get on with it. As I’ve learned from experience, if you’re disenchanted with a thing walking away from it is often a better idea than wasting time trying to reform it: cultural energy is nomadic and so can you be.

But Wheeler’s article is about something broader, something I’ll express as a neat little essay question. Which is more important: that a critic is prepared to like something or that they are prepared to dislike it? If you say “both”, you’re probably right. Wheeler’s point of view is that the disliking bit is more important. My view is that the disliking bit is also a great deal easier. Singling out items for praise is generally considered to be part of a critic’s job – but what takes more effort, singling them out by explaining exactly how and why they work and why it matters*, or singling them out by painting their cultural context as so debased that they stand out by default?

Of course it’s tempting to show how discriminating you are by turning the contrast button up, but it often comes across as self-congratulatory, and besides I’m not sure how useful it is for the reader, who is effectively being encouraged to enjoy less.

(The Ninth Art, Wheeler’s website, is a comics site “for the discerning reader”. Comics are a curious critical case as they run on the memory of mass appeal rather than the thing itself. So broadly speaking comics discourse is a three way fight: a group who want to reclaim the mainstream, a group who want to remain and celebrate a fannish subculture, and a group that sees comics as a minority art form, a bit like poetry maybe, and disdains the general public as basically not clever enough for them. But I digress.)

* Perhaps ironically, in between starting this post in the morning and finishing it tonight, I read a particularly excellent example of this – Mike Morris on ‘Dalek’.

Spider-Man vs Teenage Pregnancy

The Brown WedgePost a comment • 366 views

Scott Shaw’s Oddball Comics is an entertaining read once a week, where all he does is uncover a really stupid comic from the past and retell it. There is very little side, or snide, but then there does not need to be. Take this weeks entry Spider-Man vs The Prodigy: a public information comic to inform kids about the danger of early pregnancies.

Yep, that’s right. 15-year-old girls are mainly reading and getting their advice from a bloke that shoots sticky spunk from his wrists.

The plot of said comic is a delight. The Prodigy, the bad guy, has the plan to get lots of young Americans pregnant so they can steal the babies for slave labour. Er, just steal the teens instead? Still the Prodigy is a tricky villain with a vacumn cleaner like voice: well I’ll let the comic tell you itself.

Note: The Prodigy’s voice took on its special magnetic powers when the rocket ship coming from his native planet, Intellectia, in the Andromeda galaxy, passed through the Earth’s ionosphere. Because of weak deflector shields, his vocal chords were exposed to intense heat and radiation. On Earth, his voice draws people to him like a vacuum cleaner.

Almost good as the Spider-man toilet roll mentioned at the bottom of the article…

The Most Ironic Record Ever (#1)

FT + New York London Paris MunichPost a comment • 242 views

MP3 and write-up submitted by Martin Skidmore

Elder Beck – Rock And Roll Sermon

This is a thrilling and hilarious track. Elder Charles Beck had been recording all over the place for 25 years, for any label that would let him put his gospel message across. By the mid-’50s (his as well as the century’s), he could see a new target, a new enemy of righteousness. He makes it quite clear here that he sees rock ‘n’ roll as bringing down civilisation. Trouble is, his instincts were always those of a showman – you’ve got to excite your crowd, make them really feel it. I don’t know who is playing guitar on this (I’d love to know, if anyone can help – I’ve heard suggestions that he was playing it himself, but I doubt that), but although the style fits emotionally with the building fire of his sermon, there is a rather obvious thematic dichotomy, as you’ll hear…

Tasty Taz Toilets

Pumpkin PublogPost a comment • 277 views

I had a bite to eat in the newly opened Taz by the British Museum. I like the one on The Cut, though I have always found that Turkish tends to lend itself to large groups rather than just a couple. A huge soup bowl of hummus can be a little bit dispiriting if you have to destroy it all by yourself. Anyway, the food was fine, I regretted not having the nicely seared lamb, but the couscous was top hole even if my casserole was a bit dry.

Nevertheless this all pales when held against the magnificent toilets. Cool blue mosaic tiles in nice airy rooms. Not overscented, but very, very clean. Nice soap, water at perfect hand temperature. And paper towels only. Perhaps they lacked the novelty of the chocolate orange lavs in The Marlborough Arms, but these were lavs to die for. Almost worth getting stomach cramps for. The only note of caution were the male staff trying to clean and replenish the ladies at 9pm, causing embarrassment to themselves and the becubicled ladies.

Symmetry vs Sympathy in Brothers

Do You SeePost a comment • 384 views

Predictability and formula in films are often derogatory terms. Cinematic shorthand though allows a film-maker to concentrate much more on other nuances of the film. Equally plotting you can see coming a mile off in a film need not be bad if it feels right. Brothers (Brødre), the new Susanne Bier film is happy to plough a pretty predictable course for its plot, to spend a little bit more time on its characters. Problem is, the plot demands so much of a shift in the characters that this is not always convincing.

The plot is all about symmetry. Two brothers (not tigers): Michael the good one, and Jannick the bad one. Michael is in the army, is married with kids and everyone admires him. Jannick has got out of jail. Nice contrast right? Except when Michael is feared killed in Afghanistan, Jannick steps up to pick up all this responsibility. When Michael returns he is traumatized and starts being a bit of an arse. What ho – tragic consequences.

Problem is: Jannick’s arc makes sense, Michael’s doesn’t. We can believe that Michael is so traumatized that he ends up as such a bastard (we see what traumatized him) but since the film plays this against Jannick being nice we never really sympathise with Michael. He was dull before and now is nasty and dull. In the middle Connie Nielsen gets to stay still and take all the abuse. There are two films in Brothers: the one about how brothers affect each other is to the fore. But for the plot to work, the torture drama of Afghanistan needs to loom heavier. It probably tries to do too much. That said, the carefully judged balance of the brothers stories makes it work, even if it does bite of more than it can chew.

Dirty Sudoku

TMFD1 comment • 940 views

I said on an ILX thread yesterday that the main problem I have with Sudoku is the unacceptable difficulty of doing a filthy version. Andrew Farrell suggested the elegant solution of only using the numbers “6” and “9” but this still seems somehow limited.

The key of course is in understanding that Sudoku is not a maths puzzle. This is actually the heart of its appeal. It’s a simple and easily grasped logic game (though individual puzzles can be very difficult) which happens to use numbers. Except it doesn’t just happen to use them. Numbers = maths. Maths = hard. Therefore I = clever if I do a Sudoku puzzle. But the numbers could actually be any 9 different symbols: numerals are just easy to remember.

So for Dirty Sudoku all that needs to happen is to think of an obscene phrase made up of nine discrete letters. “O WIDE ANUS” say. This gives you the letters A,D,E,I,N,O,S,U and W. Take an existing solved Sudoku puzzle and write your phrase on one of the lines to allocate letters to numbers, then take the starting grid and replace the starting numbers with the allocated letters. The joy of the puzzle lies in unconvering the sliver of filth within!

Victory for Science

Proven By SciencePost a comment • 359 views

Reprinted in full from ad industry site WARC:

“Shampoo Ad Claims, ‘Not to be Taken Literally’ Insists P&G

Britain’s Advertising Standards Authority has administered a severe ‘tssssk’ to Procter & Gamble and its agency, the London unit of WPP’s Grey Global Group, telling the duo to stop running a misleading TV commercial for Pantene Pro-V shampoo.

The planet’s largest advertiser had been airing an ad claiming the brand enables users to “put back [into their hair] what life takes out”. Rapped by the ASA for misleading the public, P&G protested that the ambiguous claim was mere “advertising puffery that would not be taken literally”.

However, the ASA disagreed, not only with brand assertion but a gush of accompanying scientific gobbledygook about the benefits of “key” amino acids that would make hair “up to ten times stronger”.

P&G promptly produced ‘scientific evidence’ to support the claims for its heavily promoted brand. Confronted with this, the ASA called in its own scientific expert who rubbished the ‘evidence’ en bloc.

The brand, he said, could not replenish amino acids, and questioned the very use of the term. The expert opined that the two amino acids shown to be most lost from hair were not even present in the product – thereby refuting the “key” claim.

The ASA ruled the ad cannot be shown again in its current form.”