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Charlie Brooker's list of words of 2012:
Chadult Movies (chah-dult moo-veez) noun. Big-budget motion pictures featuring children's characters and infantile themes that are nevertheless popular with adults on account of either their quasi-ironic appeal (Marvel Avengers) or dark and pretentious stylings (The Dark Knight Rises). Following the success of the chadult movie version of Batman, McDonald's is to relaunch its mascot Ronald McDonald as "The Vermillion Harlequin: a brooding, psychologically disturbed jester whose noble attempts to feed mechanically-separated meat to the population of McDonaldland are perpetually hampered by disfigured criminal Hamburglar".
Cry Troll (crye troll) verb. Of a celebrity, to claim any member of the public uttering even the mildest criticism is nothing but an attention-seeking "troll" whose pitiful so-called existence is several rungs below that of the lowliest silverfish. See also Freedom of Screech.
Paedosavile (peedo-sah-vill) noun. 1. A threat cunningly disguised as an unbelievably obvious threat, eg a creepy old man with a sparkly tracksuit, gold chain, bleached hair and cigar leering down the lens like a Glam Rock Freddy Krueger. 2. Any entertainer from the 1970s who provokes even the faintest schofeeling (qv).
The Olympics are nigh upon London, and their shadow falls heavily over the people of the capital. The stadiums are going up in the East End and the unsightly poor are being cleansed to make way for residents with more disposable income. Further afield, signs of the mass spectacle are appearing all over London, as if dropped from Mount Olympus itself by the gods to the grateful mortals below. (The mortals are grateful and in good cheer because that is the law, and the penalties, both civil and criminal, for being off-message have been subtly explained; these Olympics are, ultimately, a very understatedly British take on the totalitarian mass spectacle that the modern Olympics' Fascist originators had in mind—not so much the iron fist in the velvet glove, as the iron fist in a glove of brightly coloured, vaguely hip-hop-styled plastic foam, shipped by the containerload from China.)
Now, it has emerged that the Ministry of Defence will be billeting surface-to-air missiles on the roofs of apartment buildings in East London; one journalist who lives in the area received a leaflet notifying him of this; the Ministry of Defence has confirmed that it is considering missile deployments.
Having surface-to-air missiles deployed to defend an urban environment is a somewhat sketchy proposition at best; should the missiles be fired, whatever they shoot down will cause a lot of damage when it hits the ground (and if they miss, they themselves will cause some damage). The Whitehouse, famously, has a SAM battery on the roof (Dick Cheney reportedly ordered it as a red-meat-conservative replacement for Bill Clinton's unacceptably liberal solar cells); the implicit message being that the lives of those inside the Whitehouse are worth trading the lives of those around it for. Whether this reasoning transfers from the Commander-in-Chief of the Free World to a stadium full of spectators at a corporate promotional event is another question. (The Queen, the head of state of Britain, does not have a SAM battery defending Buckingham Palace and threatening to send any rogue aircraft down in flames onto the posh digs of Belgravia.) Meanwhile, Charlie Stross extrapolates on the possible unintended consequences:
Hmm. It's a good thing I'm a novelist who dabbles in technothrillers, not a terrorist. If I was a terrorist I'd be licking my lips, trying to work out how to trigger a missile launch. Using a motor-powered model aircraft, free flight design (no radio controls to jam) aimed vaguely towards the Olympic stadium, with a nice radio beacon or some sort of infra-red source (a flare, perhaps) on its tail to make it easy to track? These missiles will be the close-in option, because we know the RAF will already be flying combat air patrols over London; they won't have much time to evaluate threats or respond intelligently. So launch from the back of a panel van, like the IRA mortar attacks on places like Heathrow or 10 Downing Street. The twist in the scheme would be to aim past the missile launchers along a vector that would attract a hail of hypervelocity missile launches in the direction of, say, a DLR station at rush hour.Meanwhile, Stephen Graham (professor of cities and society at Newcastle University, and author of Cities Under Siege: The New Military Urbanism) has an article on the security lockdown being imposed on London for the Olympics, much of it to protect the brand image of corporate sponsors:
Beyond these security spectaculars, more stealthy changes are underway. New, punitive and potentially invasive laws such as the London Olympic Games Act 2006 are in force. These legitimise the use of force, potentially by private security companies, to proscribe Occupy-style protests. They also allow Olympic security personnel to deal forcibly with the display of any commercial material that is deemed to challenge the complete management of London as a "clean city" to be branded for the global TV audience wholly by prime corporate sponsors (including McDonald's, Visa and Dow Chemical).
The final point is how the security operations of Olympics have major long-term legacies for their host cities and nations. The security preoccupations of Olympics present unprecedented opportunities to push through highly elitist, authoritarian and speculative urban planning efforts that otherwise would be much more heavily contested – especially in democracies. These often work to "purify" or "cleanse" diverse and messy realities of city life and portray existing places as "waste" or "derelict" spaces to be transformed by mysterious "trickle-down effects". The scale and nature of evictions and the clearance of streets of those deemed not to befit such events can seem like systematic ethnic or social cleansing. To make way for the Beijing Games, 1.5 million were evicted; clearances of local businesses and residents in London, though more stealthy, have been marked.
Looking at these various points together shows one thing: contemporary Olympics are society on steroids. They exaggerate wider trends. Far removed from their notional or founding ideals, these events dramatically embody changes in the wider world: fast-increasing inequality, growing corporate power, the rise of the homeland security complex, and the shift toward much more authoritarian styles of governance utterly obsessed by the global gaze and prestige of media spectacles.The permanent legacy of the authoritarian measures in the Olympic enabling laws mandated by the IOC cannot be emphasised enough; in Sydney, for example, restrictions on civil liberties passed for the 2000 Olympics were used, years later, to crack down on protests against the Catholic Church's “World Youth Day”, and remain on the books to this day.
And some are saying that the levels of brand policing, imposing criminal sanctions on the display of non-sponsor logos (to say nothing of political protests) within an Olympic zone and severely restricting the use of words such as “London” and “2012” by non-sponsors, will have an adverse effect on the alleged economic benefits of the Olympics, which are touted as much much of the rationale for putting up with all this in the first place.
Finally, Charlie Brooker weighs in:
Oral-B's official Olympic toothbrush exists because its parent company, Procter & Gamble, has a sponsorship deal enabling it to associate all its products with the Games. That's why if you look up Viakal limescale remover on a supermarket website, the famous five interlocking rings pop up alongside it. This in no way cheapens the Olympic emblem, which traditionally symbolises global unity, peaceful competition and gleaming stainless steel shower baskets.
Long-time video-game enthusiast Charlie Brooker visits Japan, comes away slightly disappointed that how much the rest of the world has caught up, and the gadgetland of Akihabara is no longer as much of a novelty:
I'd been looking forward to browsing the shelves for zany gadgets, but the reality was slightly disappointing. Smartphone apps have replaced many of the charmingly pointless Japanese gizmos that used to be pop up on late-90s travel shows. More significantly, the west has become overtly tech-obsessed too. At home, we're routinely battered over the head with so many miraculous widgets, a sort of amazement fatigue has set in. So while in Japan you can easily stumble across a remote-control tissue box or a battery-operated planetarium for your bathroom (by which I mean a waterproof Saturn-shaped orb that floats in the bath and projects the entire visible universe onto the ceiling), the sense of surrounding novelty has diminished. It's less "WTF", more "yeah, that figures". Touring the electronic shops is still an entertainment in itself: I was merely surprised to discover I didn't actually want to buy anything.
Charlie Brooker writes about Nick Clegg, the Good Cop of the Coalition behind the deepest economic cuts since 1918, in his inimitable style:
It's hard not to detect an air of crushed self-delusion about all this. At times Clegg sounds like a once-respected stage actor who's taken the Hollywood dollar and now finds himself sitting at a press junket, patiently telling a reporter that while, yes, on the face of it, his role as the Fartmonster in Guff Ditch III: Fartmonster's Revenge may look like a cultural step down from his previous work with the Royal Shakespeare Company, if you look beyond all the scenes of topless women being dissolved by clouds of acrid methane, the Guff Ditch trilogy actually contains more intellectual sustenance than King Lear, and that all the critics who've seen the film and are loudly claiming otherwise are misguided, partisan naysayers hell- bent on cynically misleading the public – which is ethically wrong.
On being the middle segment of a "human centipede": "I've heard a lot of people say, "urgh, Nick, have you seen that film The Human Centipede, where the mad scientist joins three people together by stitching them rectum-to-mouth? Can you imagine how disgusting that'd be in real life?" And I can see how they might leap to that conclusion. But real life is about compromise – sometimes we simply have to swallow a few unpleasant things in the name of pragmatism. In many ways, the coalition is a human centipede – a group of united individuals, all pulling together in one direction – and let me tell you, from the inside, it's surprisingly cosy."It looks like being associated with the Tories is doing to the Liberal Democrats what being associated with the Bush administration did to New Labour; in the recent Tower Hamlets election, the Lib Dem candidate polled only slightly better than the Greens. Mind you, in that case, he was the Bad Cop; while the Tory put on a nondescriptly conciliatory platform, desperately trying to evade any lingering associations with Thatcher's Nasty Party, the Lib Dem went out and promised to shut down arts centres and other such wasteful activities.
Charlie Brooker's latest column is a dig at the Apple iPad. The most interesting part of it is towards the end, where Charlie, who, last year, declared his allegiance to the Windows PC platform, comparing it to the stench of urine in an underpass or living in a Communist country in 1981, but nonetheless declaring it better than becoming one of those smug Mac-using twats (or, even worse, one of those Linux weirdos), declares that he's considering buying a MacBook. Not because of it'll make him cool, but because his current Windows laptop, one of the Sony Vaios (they're the nice-looking Windows laptops, the ones sort of like MacBooks for people who couldn't stand to be seen as one of those Mac users) is driving him up the wall:
Yes, I was a dyed-in-the-wool Mac sceptic for years. Yes, I've written screeds bemoaning the infuriating breed of smug Apple monks who treat all PC owners with condescending pity. But being chained to a Sony Vaio for the last few weeks has convinced me that I'd rather use a laptop that just works, rather than one that's so ponderous, stuttering and irritating I find myself perpetually on the verge of running outside and hurling it into traffic.
I just hope buying a MacBook won't turn me into an iPrick. I want a machine that essentially makes itself invisible, not a rectangular bragging stone. If, 10 minutes after buying it, I start burbling on about how it's left me more fulfilled as a human being, or find myself perched at a tiny Starbucks table stroking its glowing Apple with one hand while demonstratively tapping away with the other in the hope that passersby will assume I'm working on a screenplay, it's going straight in the bin.
Charlie Brooker presents a self-referential analysis of the visual language of TV news segments (or, at least, of BBC news segments; your mileage may vary):
Let it not be said that Microsoft and Windows don't have sincere supporters: Charlie Brooker is one, albeit in a backhanded sort of way:
I know Windows is awful. Everyone knows Windows is awful. Windows is like the faint smell of piss in a subway: it's there, and there's nothing you can do about it. OK, OK: I know other operating systems are available. But their advocates seem even creepier, snootier and more insistent than Mac owners. The harder they try to convince me, the more I'm repelled. To them, I'm a sheep. And they're right. I'm a helpless, stupid, lazy sheep. I'm also a masochist. And that's why I continue to use Windows – horrible Windows – even though I hate every second of it. It's grim, it's slow, everything's badly designed and nothing really works properly: using Windows is like living in a communist bloc nation circa 1981. And I wouldn't change it for the world, because I'm an abject bloody idiot and I hate myself, and this is what I deserve: to be sentenced to Windows for life.
That's why Windows works for me. But I'd never recommend it to anybody else, ever. This puts me in line with roughly everybody else in the world. No one has ever earnestly turned to a fellow human being and said, "Hey, have you considered Windows?" Not in the real world at any rate.Of course, the reason he prefers Windows is because it doesn't have evangelists.
Wikileaks has posted what appears to be the British National Party's "Language & Concepts Discipline Manual, a set of guidelines for party activists to ensure that they don't appear, you know, racist or anything. A few choice excerpts:
Rule #1: The BNP is not a ‘racist’ or ‘racial’ or ‘racialist’ or ‘race-conscious’ or ‘white’ or ‘whitepeople’s’ party. It should never be referred to as such by BNP activists, and anyone else who does so must be politely but firmly corrected. The precisely correct description of what we are, in the standard terminology of international comparative politics, is an ‘ethno-nationalist’ party. That is, we espouse, like many political parties all over the world, the interests of the particular ethnic groups to which we belong. There is nothing fascistic or unusual about this, and we don’t have to apologise for it. If we must describe our attitude towards race, it is ‘racial realism,’ as no-one can admit being against realism.
Rule #15. BNP activists and writers should never refer to ‘black Britons’ or ‘Asian Britons’ etc, for the simple reason that such persons do not exist. These people are ‘black residents’ of the UK etc, and are no more British than an Englishman living in Hong Kong is Chinese. Collectively, foreign residents of other races should be referred to as ‘racial foreigners’, a non-pejorative term that makes clear the distinction needing to be drawn. The key in such matters is above all to maintain necessary distinctions while avoiding provocation and insult.
Rule #17. Britain does not have ‘immigrants,’ a term proper for use in settler societies like Canada, Argentina, and the USA. It has ‘guest workers,’ ‘foreign workers,’ or ‘descendants of foreign workers.’ They are, depending on who they are, ‘racial foreigners,’ ‘religious foreigners’ or ‘persons of foreign religion,’ or ‘ethnic foreigners.’ The last term is meant to apply to persons racially similar to Britons, but ethnically dissimilar, like Dutchmen.Meanwhile, Charlie Brooker tears into the BNP's ugly campaign materials:
The other day, the BNP had a political broadcast on the box. I wasn't in my beloved homeland at the time, but I heard about it, via internet chuckles of derision. Fellow geeky types tweeting about the poor production values. I looked it up on YouTube. Sure enough, it was badly made. No surprise there. Extremist material of any kind always looks gaudy and cheap, like a bad pizza menu. Not because they can't afford decent computers - these days you can knock up a professional CD cover on a pay-as-you-go mobile - but because anyone who's good at graphic design is likely to be a thoughtful, inquisitive sort by nature. And thoughtful, inquisitive sorts tend to think fascism is a bit shit, to be honest. If the BNP really were the greatest British party, they'd have the greatest British designer working for them - Jonathan Ive, perhaps, the man who designed the iPod. But they don't. They've got someone who tries to stab your eyes out with primary colours.
Texan Cyberpunk sci-fi author turned father of the Viridian pro-green design/technology movement turned Belgrade-based design theorist Bruce Sterling gives his annual state-of-the-world address to the Inkwell forum. It's focussed mostly on the economic cataclysm in progress, and it's full of the sorts of apposite powder-dry black humour you'd expect from him:
Do we HAVE to talk about the economy this year? I'm wondering what conceivable event could overshadow the fiscal crisis. Maybe a cozy little nuclear war? An Indo-Pakistani nuclear war might conceivably take a *back page* to the fiscal crisis.
I'm a bohemian type, so I could scarcely be bothered to do anything "financially sound" in my entire adult life. Last year was the first year when I've felt genuinely sorry for responsible, well-to-do people. Suddenly they've got the precariousness of creatives, of the underclass, without that gleeful experience of decades spent living-it-up.
If the straights were not "prone to hostility" before that experience, they might well be so after it, because they've got a new host of excellent reasons. The sheer galling come-down of watching the Bottom Line, the Almighty Dollar, revealed as a papier-mache pinata. It's like somebody burned their church.After indulging in terriblisma for a while, Sterling turns his attention to Dmitry Orlov's prediction of the US disintegrating, and ideas for a "new localism" that might arise in the event of catastrophic collapse:
In any case, after eight glum years of watching Bush and his neocons methodically wreck the Republic, both Kunstler and Robb have gotten really big on American localism -- "resilient" localism. Kunstler has this painterly, small-town-America, Thoreauvian thing going on, kinda locavore voluntary simplicity, with lots of time for... I dunno, group chorale singing. Kunstler seems kinda hung up on the singing effort, somehow... Whereas Robb has a military background and is more into a gated-community, bug-out-bag, militia rapid-response thing.
Certainly neither of these American visions look anything like what happened to Russia. As Orlov accurately points out, in the Russian collapse, if you were on a farm or in some small neighborly town, you were toast. The hustlers in the cities were the ones with inventive opportunities, so they were the ones getting by.
So the model polity for local urban resilience isn't Russia. I'm inclined to think the model there is Italy. Italy has had calamitous Bush-levels of national incompetence during almost its entire 150-year national existence.Meanwhile, Clay Shirky gives his predictions for 2009. Whether or not we're all toast, a lot of the old media, such as newspapers, seem to be:
The great misfortune of newspapers in this era is that they were such a good idea for such a long time that people felt the newspaper business model was part of a deep truth about the world, rather than just the way things happened to be. It's like the fall of communism, where a lot of the eastern European satellite states had an easier time because there were still people alive who remembered life before the Soviet Union - nobody in Russia remembered it. Newspaper people are like Russians, in a way.
Why pay for it at all? The steady loss of advertising revenue, accelerated by the recession, has normalised the idea that it's acceptable to move to the web. Even if we have the shallowest recession and advertising comes back as it inevitably does, more of it will go to the web. I think that's it for newspapers. What we saw happen to the Christian Science Monitor [the international paper shifted its daily news operation online] is going to happen three or four dozen times (globally) in the next year. The 500-year-old accident of economics occasioned by the printing press - high upfront cost and filtering happening at the source of publication - is over. But will the New York Times still exist on paper? Of course, because people will hit the print button.Shirky's not one for terriblisma, so not much about social collapse, cannibalism or killer caravans marauding the post-apocalyptic landscape there. For that, you'll have to read Charlie Brooker's column:
Dim your lights. Here's the highlights reel. The worst recession in 60 years. Broken windows and artless graffiti. Howling winds blowing empty cans past boarded-up shopfronts. Feral children eating sloppy handfuls of decomposed-pigeon-and-baked-bean mulch scraped from the bottom of dustbins in a desperate bid to survive. The pound worth less than the acorn. The City worth less than the pound. Your house worth so little it'll collapse out of shame, crushing you in your bed. Not that you'll die peacefully in your sleep - no, you'll be wide awake with fear, worrying about the situation in the Middle East at the precise moment a chunk of ceiling plaster the size of a flagstone tumbles from on high to flatten your skull like a biscuit under a shoe, sending your brain twizzling out of your earholes like pink-grey toothpaste squeezed from a tube. All those language skills and precious memories splattered over your pillows. It'll ruin the bedclothes. And instead of buying expensive new ones, your grieving, impoverished relatives will have to handwash those bedclothes in cold water for six hours to shift the most upsetting stains before passing them down to your orphaned offspring, who are fated to sleep on them in a disused underground station for the rest of their lives, shivering in the dark as they hear bombs dipped in bird flu dropping on the shattered remains of the desiccated city above.
In today's Graun, British comedian Simon Pegg (of Shaun of the Dead fame) has an illuminating treatise on the history and mythology of zombies, of the horror-film variety:
I know it is absurd to debate the rules of a reality that does not exist, but this genuinely irks me. You cannot kill a vampire with an MDF stake; werewolves can't fly; zombies do not run. It's a misconception, a bastardisation that diminishes a classic movie monster. The best phantasmagoria uses reality to render the inconceivable conceivable. The speedy zombie seems implausible to me, even within the fantastic realm it inhabits. A biological agent, I'll buy. Some sort of super-virus? Sure, why not. But death? Death is a disability, not a superpower. It's hard to run with a cold, let alone the most debilitating malady of them all.
Another thing: speed simplifies the zombie, clarifying the threat and reducing any response to an emotional reflex. It's the difference between someone shouting "Boo!" and hearing the sound of the floorboards creaking in an upstairs room: a quick thrill at the expense of a more profound sense of dread. The absence of rage or aggression in slow zombies makes them oddly sympathetic, a detail that enabled Romero to project depth on to their blankness, to create tragic anti-heroes; his were figures to be pitied, empathised with, even rooted for. The moment they appear angry or petulant, the second they emit furious velociraptor screeches (as opposed to the correct mournful moans of longing), they cease to possess any ambiguity. They are simply mean.
To begin at the beginning, Haitian folklore tells of voodoo shamans, or bokors, who would use digitalis, derived from the foxglove plant, to induce somnambulant trances in individuals who would subsequently appear dead. Weeks later, relatives of the supposedly deceased would witness their lost loved ones in a soporific malaise, working in the fields of wealthy landowners, and assume them to be nzambi (a west African word for "spirit of the dead"). From the combination of nzambi and somnambulist ("sleepwalker") we get the word zombie.
Charlie Brooker weighs in on the issue of product placement, with a modest proposal of his own:
Let's say you're trying to launch a new soft drink. Traditionally you'd have to spend millions on a commercial, and millions more booking airtime for it. Screw that. Here's what you do: put up one billboard. Just one. Somewhere on a route near Buckingham Palace or Downing Street. Point a camera at it 24/7. Then simply pay a sniper to assassinate someone of global importance when they pass in front of it. Bingo! The clip will run on an endless loop on every news channel in the world, for eternity. Even as viewers gasp in horror watching the victim's head explode like a watermelon, they'll simultaneously be thinking "What's that? New Plum-Flavoured Pepsi? Cool!" each time a chunk of skull flies past your logo.
Charlie Brooker weighs into the London mayoral election; he's voting for Ken Livingstone, if only to stop Boris Johnson from winning:
A few years back, during the run-up to the Nathan Barley TV series, my co-author Chris Morris and I briefly kicked around a storyline about an animated MP running for election. When I say "animated", I mean literally animated. He was a cartoon - the political equivalent of Gorillaz - fashioned from state-of-the-art computer-generated imagery so that he could move and talk in real time, like Max Headroom. His speech would be provided on-the-fly by a professional cartoon voice artist working in conjunction with a team of political advisers and comedy writers, so he'd have an impish personality not dissimilar to the genie in Disney's Aladdin. Debating against him would be impossible because he'd make outrageously goonish statements one minute and trot out cunning political platitudes the next. Because he wasn't real, he'd never age, die, or be bogged down in scandal - and huge swathes of the population would vote for him just because they found him cool or fun or different.
Fast-forward to now. On May 1 London chooses its mayor, and I've got a horrible feeling it might pick Boris Johnson for similar reasons. Johnson - or to give him his full name, Boris LOL!!!! what a legernd!! Johnson!!! - is a TV character loved by millions for his cheeky, bumbling persona. Unlike the cartoon MP, he's magnetically prone to scandal, but this somehow only makes him more adorable each time. Tee hee! Boris has had an affair! Arf! Now he's offended the whole of Liverpool! Crumbs! He used the word "picaninnies"! Yuk yuk! He's been caught on tape agreeing to give the address of a reporter to a friend who wants him beaten up! Ho ho! Look at his funny blond hair! HA HA BORIS LOL!!!! WHAT A LEGERND!!!!!!Brooker then suggests that, should Johnson win the mayorality and not end up destroying London, that could open the doors to all parties running novelty candidates in the following election:
Basil Brush would be a shoo-in. Churchill, the nodding dog from the car insurance ads - he'll do. Or if we're after the ironic vote, how about Gene Hunt from Life on Mars? Or Phil Mitchell? At least he's a Londoner.
Stephen Fry, who when he's not performing comedy is the Guardian's gadget columnist, is away, so in his stead, they've gotten Charlie Brooker to list his favourite video games of all time (or, at least, the first installment thereof):
Asteroids (1979, Atari) Of all the early monochrome classics, Asteroids was my favourite, because it's truly bleak. Rather than aliens or robots, your enemies are unthinking lumps of rock that are hurtling through space. Twirling somewhere in the middle of this cluttered void is your tiny, heartbreakingly fragile spaceship, armed only with a feeble electric peashooter. If Asteroids has a message, it's this: you are insignificant, the universe doesn't care about you, and you are definitely going to die. Brilliant.
Jet Set Willy (1984, Software Projects) Back in the day, you needed only a single programmer to create a game - and since said programmers were often geeked-out stoners, said games were often weird. Jet Set Willy's blend of flying pigs, in-jokes, Python and Freak Brothers references encapsulates the homebrew quirkiness of the cottage industry software scene of the early 80s. We shall not see their like again.
The Sentinel (1986, Firebird) You played a nomadic consciousness that had to absorb parts of the 3D landscape, then transfer itself inside a series of motionless avatars in order to travel - your goal being to ascend the highest peak before the ominous Sentinel stared you to death with his huge, cycloptic eye. In other words, it makes sense only when you play it.(I vaguely remember that on the Commodore 64. Mostly in the context of it being somewhat unsatisfying to play. I imagine that, recontextualised as an interactive art installation or similar, it could perhaps have been more fulfilling.)
Kato Chan And Ken Chan (1988, Hudson Soft) An import-only title for the PC Engine (a tiny Japanese console), Chan And Chan was a below-average platform game - but one that revolved, startlingly, around shitting, farting and pissing. The point at which I first grasped the illicit joy of off-kilter Japanese imports. (Also for the PC Engine: Toilet Kids, a shoot-em-up in which you fired turds at flying penises.)
Charlie Brooker gets stuck into Brain Gym, a set of alleged brain-enhancing exercises with scant connection to any verifiable reality, which has nonetheless managed to get into the British school system (presumably because the line of bullshit it shills sounds like "fun"):
Brain Gym, y'see, is an "educational kinesiology" programme designed to improve kiddywink performance. It's essentially a series of simple exercises lumbered with names that make you want to steer a barbed wire bus into its creator's face. One manoeuvre, in which you massage the muscles round the jaw, is called the "energy yawn". Another involves activating your "brain buttons" by forming a "C" shape with one hand and pressing it either side of the collarbone while simultaneously touching your stomach with the other hand.
If we mistrust the real world so much that we're prepared to fill the next generation's heads with a load of gibbering crap about "brain buttons", why stop there? Why not spice up maths by telling kids the number five was born in Greece and invented biscuits? Replace history lessons with screenings of the Star Wars trilogy? Teach them how to whistle in French? Let's just issue the kids with blinkers.
Because we, the adults, don't just gleefully pull the wool over our own eyes - we knit permanent blindfolds. We've decided we hate facts. Hate, hate, hate them. Everywhere you look, we're down on our knees, gleefully lapping up neckful after neckful of steaming, cloddish bullshit in all its forms. From crackpot conspiracy theories to fairytale nutritional advice, from alternative medicine to energy yawns - we just can't get enough of that musky, mudlike taste. Brain Gym is just one small tile in an immense and frightening mosaic of fantasy.
Charlie Brooker takes on another part of the blight affecting contemporary Britain: computer-generated shop signage, in particular singling out its crimes against typography and sensible use of colour:
[W]e live in a cluttered optical hell of carelessly stretched-and-squashed typefaces and colour schemes that clash so violently they give you vertigo. Stroll down the average high street and it is like being assailed by gaudy pop-ups on the internet. It makes your eyes want to spin inward and puke down their own sockets.
As if thoughtless font abuse were not enough, some signs even incorporate scanned photographs; a garish snap of some glistening meat surrounded by a yellow Photoshop "haze" effect, hovering over an electric blue background, flanked by the words KEBAB DUNGEON in bright red, foot-high Comic Sans crushed to 75% of its usual width. Jesus. Why not just punch me in the face and have done with it?
Something has got to be done because it is only going to get worse. You know what will be coming next: animated shop signs with moving "wallpaper" backgrounds. Storefronts resembling god-awful homepages from 1998. Row upon row of them. Visual bedlam wherever you turn. Two months of that and our cities are going to be over-run with screaming maniac gangs; hitherto law-abiding citizens driven insane without knowing why, like the demented hordes from 28 Days Later.He's right, you know. On Britain's high streets, many of the shops which are neither corporate franchises (which is part of another curse, the "clone high street") nor premium boutique affairs tend to stick to the value-for-money school of image management. Why mess around hiring expensive designers, decorators and image professionals when it's so much cheaper to get a computer-printed PVC sign, with your shop's name in bright yellow Helvetica on bright red, stretched to fit the length of the sign (which is also backlit with neon tubes). With the advancement of computer technology, meaning that anyone can be a designer without knowing anything about the rules of design, you can even stick in a scanned photograph or some clip-art.
One frequent subcategory of offenders here are fast-food shops, a good proportion of which are fried chicken shops named after varying US states ("New Hampshire Fried Chicken", anyone?) or words associated with the idea of America, and more often than not feature anthropomorphised animal mascots, usually chickens in Wild West sheriffs' hats or some variant of the theme.
And then there is the "fish bar" phenomenon. Those two words feature in the name of every other fish-and-chips shop in Britain, though to the best of my knowledge, are never used as a common noun in regular conversation. Has anybody ever said, for example, "let's go to a fish bar"?
Charlie "TV Go Home" Brooker rips into Sandi Thom, the bland, suspiciously manufactured-looking "grass-roots Internet sensation" who sings some inane load of bollocks about wishing she was a punk rocker with flowers in her hair or something:
All I hear is that telltale, indefinable something that immediately marks it out as something that's bypassed the soul completely: consumable noise for people who don't like music but know listening to it is "the done thing" - like mutant imposters mimicking the behaviour of humans. I can't relate. It doesn't go. I'm being alienated by the replicants.
There's a word for this sort of thing. It's not "art", it's "content".
Sometimes I can ALMOST see where content is coming from. Take Angels by Robbie Williams. It's a massively popular piece of content, beloved by millions. If I strain really hard, I can just about make out some genuine emotion. Just a speck or two - but enough to make its huge success at least vaguely explicable. Compared with anything that has any semblance of balls whatsoever, Angels is a bowl of cold mud - but next to most content, it's a towering emotional epic. It almost makes you feel something. No wonder it's become the official theme tune for thick people's funerals.Brooker then goes on:
As luck would have it, while typing this article, I've just heard I Wish I Was a Punk Rocker (With Bollocks in My Mouth) on the radio, and the real braintwister is the lyric, in which she yearns for a time "when accountants didn't have control and the media couldn't buy your soul". It's a boneheaded plea for authenticity, sung in the most Tupperware tones imaginable: a fake paean to a pre-fake era. It's giving me vertigo.Which sounds like the totality of the Sandi Thom phenomenon (the song, the soullessly plastic paean to authenticity, the backstory with its transparent contrivedness) could almost be a work of conceptual art in itself. Perhaps it was created by Bill Drummond or some other prankster (much like the Pete Doherty sideshow is said by some to have been; I have heard rumours that the glamorous rock'n'roll nihilist was originally a small-town Buddy Holly impersonator who had been discovered and manufactured into the New Sid Vicious for a prank/art project).
Of course, the problem with creating a work of art such as the manufacture of a transparently, cynically plastic "authentic" pop star is that it is difficult if not impossible to distinguish it from the way a big part of the recording industry normally operates, guided by nothing more self-aware than the cold, insectile logic of marketing and demographic modelling. If some neo-Situationist prankster manufactures a perfectly plastic pop star, indistinguishable from the normal products of the entertainment machine, is it still art?
A copy of the Nathan Barley DVD showed up in the post today. At first glimpse, it's pretty good; it has the six episodes plus a variety of deleted scenes, galleries of much of the artwork (SugaRAPE covers, gig posters (the one with "DVD Pausing Wankers" or something similar was amusing) and mockups of T-shirts worn by fashion victims), and all the TV Go Home "Cunt" columns that gave rise to the Nathan Barley character. It didn't have a video of Bad Uncle or Flesh Police that I could find, but you can't have everything. And it did have some junkie-choir footage (of them doing a version of Grandmaster Flash's White Lines, like a Pete Doherty-fronted Polyphonic Spree) in the extras menus. There's also a Shockwave-ish DVD-ROM section, and it's all Region 0.
The DVD comes in a posterised, Designers Republic-referencing cover, the inside of which contains the disc and a small, thick black booklet:
Look familiar? Yes, they're ripping off the look of Banksy's Banging Your Head Against A Brick Wall and Existencilism (there's even a page with the heading "Websistentialism"), down to the cocky soundbites and autobiographical paragraphs in Courier. In fact, every page that's not comprised of material from the series is a textbook Banksyism. Not that they try in any way to hide this:
I just watched an episode of Nathan Barley. It's rather amusing; a sitcom set among a bunch of obnoxious coolsie wide-boys in some trendy part of London. They run in-your-face web sites and magazines (there's one named RAPE, which may or may not be a reference to Vice, present employers of Jim "Answer Me!" Goad), rap Streets-style over distorted beats, either take lots of drugs or act like it, wear ridiculous clothes and generally go around being insufferable twats to all concerned. It's written by Chris Morris, who also did controversial satirical TV series Brass Eye and wrote the lyrics to Stereolab's Nothing To Do With Me.
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