The Null Device
Posts matching tags 'media'
Websites asking contributors to write for free (“for exposure”) is old-hat, it seems, now supplanted by websites allowing contributors to write for them, in return for a fee; i.e., the old vanity-press business model, now refurbished by Mumsnet (best known as the online forum of “penis beaker” fame):
‘Webchats are actually something Mumsnet often charges for, because they’re such an effective way of promoting things; they tend to get many thousands, if not hundreds of thousands, of page views. In other circumstances (as we were thinking here) we do them on a no-cost basis (on either side) because it’s an issue our audience is interested in, and people who want to campaign on something or drum up interest see it as an opportunity to get their message out.’This blurring of the lines between editorial and advertising (hint: look at the direction the money flows to see which is which) is apparently a symptom of the New Gilded Age; the hollowing-out of the middle class and the erection of a new privileged stratum above its straitened remnants, a stratum differentiated from the unworthy rabble below by the ability to pay to unlock doors and elbow one's way in (see also: the unpaid internships required to start careers in the media and other industries; or, indeed, the abolition of free university education coupled with a bachelor degree becoming the minimum requirement for any work from secretarial work (now rebranded as “PA”) upward). So, naturally, if the indicator of which stratum in society one belongs in is one's (or one's parents') ability to pay, it makes perfect sense for the invisible hand of the free market to raise itself, palm forward, in the faces of the jumped-up serfs who have the temerity to think they have a right to be heard:
Readers suffer because British writing is no longer a meritocracy but becoming a vast system of vanity publishing. Editors are not nurturing talent, but looking for passengers who can pay their own way. As Julie Burchill says, ‘once rich daddies bought their daughters ponies now they buy them newspaper columns’. For all the babble about ‘diversity’, an ever-narrower class of people dominates journalism, broadcasting, drama and publishing.
Rupert Murdoch's star may have fallen slightly in Britain, but in Australia, it seems, he's still the boss. As the Tories coast towards victory on the back of press coverage, provided by Murdoch's near-monopoly in crucial states, that straddles the line between hagiography and fellatio, the First Mate's influence is being felt not just in what's being said but in what's not being heard: Australia's three commercial TV networks have refused to air an ad criticising the Murdoch press's election coverage, put together by progressive activist group GetUP. Whether it took phone calls from News Corp. to get the ads banned from the mainstream media, or merely the hint that the boss would be displeased, and there'd be consequences, it's clear that one does not challenge Murdoch in his fiefdom.
Meanwhile, Murdoch's tabloids seem to be sitting on reviews of a satirical play about the magnate's rise to power; a minor thing, to be sure, but emblematic of the entitled arrogance of one who claims ownership of public discourse.
(via Zoë, David)
Rupert Murdoch, the patriarch of the Right in the English-speaking world over the past few decades, has bought 5% of VICE, the hipster magazine/record label/documentary producer:
Fox, which was spun off from News Corp earlier this year, confirmed the $70m (£45m) deal, which marks the latest stage in the evolution of Vice from an off-beat Canadian magazine into a global brand frequently dubbed the hipsters' bible.One does wonder what Murdoch's motivation is: is this a purely business decision, that of the last of the old broadcast-age newspapermen seeing his original world's time running out and trying to break into the new paradigm, either from scratch (the ill-fated Daily iPad magazine) or by buying his way in (MySpace, and now VICE)? Or is it Murdoch, the quintessential right-wing ideological warrior, responding to a different shift—namely, the political Right's electoral and opinion-forming base being set to shrink as the scared old people eventually die and their ranks aren't replenished by younger people who aren't sufficiently scared of gays, boats, gays on boats, atheism, socialism, uppity sheilas or brown people to pick up on watching FOX News or agreeing wholeheartedly with the Rush Limbaughs and Andrew Bolts of this world that everything's going to hell. (And if they agree that everything's going to hell, they'd be more likely to pin the cause on being neoliberalism and regulatory capture by sociopathic elites than foreigners, feminism or the decline in traditional values, which is not quite the message Murdoch and his ilk would approve of.)
As such, what if the purchase of a stake in VICE is the first stage in creating a means of selling the values of the Murdochian Right to the sorts of nominally socially progressive trend-seeking young urbanites—let's call them “hipsters”—who typically regard the Tories/Republicans with disdain, or if that's a bridge too far, of instilling a cynical contempt for leftist idealism, that places it behind the (obviously uncool) old Right among those in the know.
The positional good of Cool that is the currency of hipsters and the readership of VICE has a number of paradoxical properties, which emerge from it being not an absolute quest for truth or an ideal for living, but a positional good in the marketplace of status. One of these properties is that anything that's too obviously right on, and thus must, to a novice, be obviously cool is not really cool. (Imagine, if you will, a provincial teenager from a small village somewhere obsessively studying the classics of cool, and then, one day, moving to the big city and gravitating to the epicentre of hipness they have read about—say, to Dalston or Williamsburg, Newtown or Neukölln, or the equivalent in your city of choice. He spends some weeks hanging around bars, posing in his meticulously styled clothes and hairstyle, looking dishevelled and insouciant in precisely the right way, before being noticed and getting invited to a warehouse party. At that party, another hipster (about the same age, equally sharply styled, though having been in town for six months longer) asks him what music he's into, and as he reels off a curriculum vitæ of classically cool and credible bands—say, Joy Division, the Velvet Underground, the Smiths, Neutral Milk Hotel—you can almost hear her eyes rolling back, over the sound of the DJ segueing from Hall & Oates into a hard-wonky mashup of an old Michael Bolton track.) So for cool to function as a peacock-tail-style proof of connectedness, it must be disconnected, at least to some extent, from anything objectively inferable from first principles, and consist at least partially of arbitrary conventions, and furthermore, it must not be possible to fake knowledge by merely going by what is commonly known to be cool and reeling off a list of the classics.
One side-effect of this is that cool is not intrinsically connected to earnestness or principles, whether it's the inherent authenticity of post-punk guitar rock or the principles of the New Left; it can ride with such principles while they're outside of the mainstream (and function as a shibboleth in themselves), but no further. Sooner or later, major recording labels will discover grunge rock and “alternative music” and flood the market with authentically rough-sounding bands; soon after that, the hipsters will cede that territory, abandoning the equation of roughness with authenticity and look elsewhere, an then we get electroclash, Yacht Rock and new waves of Italo-disco made by hardcore punks. The same can go with ideals, no matter how lofty. The cool kids were all vegans who boycotted Nike sweatshops once, but once vegetarianism and anti-sweatshop campaigns went mainstream, they're more likely to be artisanal carnivores with meticulously curated vintage Nike collections. Conspicuously boycotting meat and sweatshop-made trainers is like showing up at a loft party in Bushwick and enthusing about this awesome band named The Pixies whom you've just discovered.
Assuming that someone like Rupert Murdoch wants to sell right-wing politics (or at least cynicism of, and disengagement from, the ideals of the progressive Left) to hip urbanites, the help of VICE Magazine could be indispensable. The wilfully contrarian tone VICE has often adopted is not too far from downward-punching conservative humorists like P.J. O'Rourke and Jeremy Clarkson, and with a bit of guidance could be put to use against overly earnest progressives. Granted, actually selling membership to the Conservative Party (or its equivalent) would be a stretch too far, though it's conceivable that, with a few strategically dissembling attack pieces, a Murdoch-guided VICE could, for example, hole the Australian Greens (whom Murdoch has said must be “destroyed at the ballot box”) below the waterline amongst crucial inner-city demographics. (A piece about how the dreams of “leftist utopians” like Stalin, Mao and Guevara have caused vast amounts of suffering, with an insinuation that that's what the Greens would have in store if they ever came to power, may be enough; similar calumnies have worked remarkably well among older demographics in the Australian.) In Britain, meanwhile, while saying nice things about David Cameron may be a dead loss, subtly building up Boris Johnson could be doable, as could attacking the critiques of Bullingdonian privilege often brought to bear against blue-blooded Tory politicians. Indeed, a sort of “hipster Bullingdonianism”, a celebration of privilege à la Vampire Weekend and rejection of the by now mainstream idea that soaring inequality is bad or dangerous, could be not too far from a Murdochian Vice.
As Ding Dong The Witch Is Dead stays stubbornly in the charts, the BBC, eager to not appear censorious and yet under sustained assault from its perennial foes in the Murdoch press and Daily Mail, has decided to half-heartedly censor it. A five-second excerpt of the song will be played, along with an explanation of sorts. Chances are the explanation will not be a list of grievances against Thatcher (the immiseration of the British working class, support for the Pinochet dictatorship and the South African apartheid regime, Section 28, a few getting rich on the suffering of many, Spandau Ballet, &c.), but instead saying something like that it got there as a silly internet prank piggy-backing on something a lunatic-fringe group said two decades earlier. Bonus points if they can mention Thatcher having been the first woman PM and insinuate an unreformed 1970s-vintage misogyny on the part of the original organisers.
Personally, I think that the BBC missed a trick by deciding to actually play a five second excerpt, rather than finding one of the actors hired to voice statements by Sinn Féin in the 1980s and bringing them in to recite the words. That would have made a more powerful statement about the absurdity of the situation.
Meanwhile, a small group of Tories have decided to fight market forces with market forces and launched a counter-campaign to get a different song into the charts; or, in the words of highly visible former Tory MP, successful popular novelist and somewhat less successful social media entrepreneur Louise Mensch:
Good morning! Are we all doing it #GranthamStyle today? Download #ImInLoveWithMargaretThatcher on ITunes and Amazon - see RTs for linksThe song in question is, “I'm In Love With Margaret Thatcher” by punk band The Notsensibles; as you have probably guessed, it's not exactly a defiant statement of Conservative Party nostrums. '#GranthamStyle', of course, is a take-off of Gangnam Style, originally a song taking the piss out of rich twats living in a gated community in Seoul.
At time of writing, “Ding Dong The Witch Is Dead” is at #1 on the iTunes charts, and “I'm In Love With Margaret Thatcher” is at #8. For what it's worth, incidentally, the Wizard of Oz soundtrack is owned by 20th Century Fox, so this is one anti-Thatcherite protest Rupert Murdoch profits from.
A day after the death of an elderly, long-retired Margaret Thatcher, the reactions in Britain have been varied. The national news media have generally been lavish in their hagiography, at most conceding that Thatcher “polarised opinion” or was “controversial”; the implication being that all sides, from the yuppies whom made out like bandits during the Big Bang to the miners who were kicked in the teeth, had, over time, put their differences aside. (The BBC has been particularly fawning, careful to avoid giving a voice to anyone who may say anything remotely critical, or in any way shatter the illusion that the PM who smashed the miners' unions, immiserated the North and began the dismantling of the post-WW2 social contract may well have been a much loved and thoroughly apolitical member of the Royal Family. Between that and their silence on the privatisation of the NHS, one suspects that they are betting that, maybe if they cooperate enthusiastically, the Tories won't dismember them and sell the bits off to Rupert Murdoch before the next election.) Even the Guardian, whilst publishing a mildly condemnatory editorial, hedged its bets, as not to offend those of its readers who vote Conservative (and presumably there are some). Regional newspapers have been somewhat less equivocal, especially those in places like Sheffield, Newcastle and Wales. Meanwhile, television schedules have been cleared to make room for turgid memorial programming.
Last night, after her death was announced, spontaneous celebrations did erupt in parts of Britain; as of yesterday afternoon, the centre of Liverpool reportedly looked “like bonfire night on Endor”, and other celebrations took place in Glasgow, Bristol, Brixton and Republican areas of Northern Ireland. Elsewhere, the manager of an Oddbins was suspended after announcing a special on champagne “in case anyone wanted to celebrate for any reason”.
Other than that, there have been few signs of public jubilation in London; no red bunting bedecking streets, no spontaneous street parties around portable stereos blaring out Billy Bragg songs, no jubilant signs in windows, not even an uncanny sense of euphoria in the air. And, when one thinks about it, it's hardly surprising, as there's precious little to celebrate. An old, frail woman, whose actions caused considerable suffering for many (and, for a few, great fortune) a quarter-century ago, died at an advanced age, amidst luxury; and, short of being borne to Valhalla on the wings of valkyries, there could scarcely be a more victorious way to exit life. If she was aware of anything in her last days, it would have been of the triumph of her views and the utter vanquishment of all opposition. The welfare state has been dismantled to an extent she dared not imagine, trade unions are all but extinct, and neo-Thatcherism is the backbone of all admissible political parties. Other than there still being homosexuals and trains in Britain, there could have been little to disappoint her. Thatcher may be dead, but Thatcherism is stronger than ever. If anyone has reason to be popping the corks on those bottles of champagne, it would be the Conservative Party faithful and perhaps the Blairite wing of Labour, paying tribute to the end of a triumphant life.
While she may have been victorious, that is not to say that her victory was accepted. Perhaps telling are official shows of respect which were not called for, in case lack of observance says too much. For instance, football matches will not be observing a minute's silence. There will also be no state funeral, which would have required both a parliamentary vote (and the spectacle of Labour backbenchers defying the whip and Sinn Fein members being ejected from the chamber would have been somewhat insalubrious) and a national minute's silence. The funeral itself will be one step short of a state funeral, and the first Prime Minister's funeral attended by the Queen since Churchill's state funeral; it will be held next Wednesday, with central London under lockdown and a heavy police presence; one imagines that Thatcher wouldn't have wanted it any other way.
Finally, at the time of writing, Judy Garland is enjoying an uncanny career resurgence in the British pop charts; Ding Dong The Witch Is Dead is at number 2 on the iTunes chart and number 1 on the Amazon MP3 chart. Yay for slacktivism!
Australia's mainstream press landscape has, for a while, been a somewhat depressing sight. For one, most of it is owned by Rupert Murdoch, and is nakedly biased in a way that the Times and the WSJ would never dare be. The major non-Murdoch papers are owned by the Fairfax group, and have spent the last few years trying to boost their circulation by ramping up the tabloid sensationalism; a cursory glance at the front page of The Age reveals a surfeit of celebrity/sex-life/body-image stories more worthy of a free commuters' daily. (Fairfax' other titles hardly fare better; a few years ago, the top article on the WA Today website was “Man gets penis stuck in pasta jar”). And there's always the spectre of Australia's right-wing mining oligarchs, concerned that they may, at some point, stop getting their way, buying up the remaining non-Murdoch papers.
Which is why the recent rumour of The Guardian, the centre-left-leaning British quality daily of note, setting up an Australian joint venture has me excited. The Guardian already has a US online-only venture, which publishes US reportage and columnists (some of whom started off online in the 1990s, like former suck.com writer Ana Marie Cox) from a broadly progressive perspective, and, of course, the UK newspaper's output is readable for free on its website. If anything, there is probably more need for such a publication in Australia than in the US, where that space overlaps with existing titles such as the New York Times.
The Guardian haven't confirmed this rumour, though the article in the Evening Standard suggests that it will be headed by Saturday Guardian editor Katherine Viner (who is moving to Australia to run it) and will be a joint venture with Australian philanthropist Graeme Wood (who has set up a non-profit media site, the Global Mail.
The big hope will be that the Guardian's brand as a media outlet, and experience with running a mainstream paper, will be act as enough of a catalyst to forge a progressive media voice with broader reach than the various eddies and skerries of the inner-urban online commentariat (think Crikey or New Matilda), which are easy to dismiss by people who don't live in Fitzroy or Newtown as something you have to vote Green or own a bicycle to read. There are quite a few journalists and commentators in Australia whom such a venture could recruit from such media. And if Gina Rinehart does fill the Fairfax papers with right-wing demagogues, there may be a ready audience willing to jump ship.
William Gibson talks about how the internet changed the idea of “bohemia” by eliminating the scarcity and locality of subcultures and scenes, instead replacing it with everything, everywhere, all the time:
(If punk emerged today:) You’d pull it up on YouTube, as soon as it was played. It would go up on YouTube among the kazillion other things that went up on YouTube that day. And then how would you find it? How would it become a thing, as we used to say? I think that’s one of the ways in which things are really different today. How can you distinguish your communal new thing — how can that happen? Bohemia used to be self-imposed backwaters of a sort. They were other countries within the landscape of Western industrial civilization. They were countries that most people would never see — mysterious places. You’d pay a price, potentially, for going there. That’s always cool and exciting. Now, where are they? Where can you do that? How are people transacting that today? I am pretty sure that they are, but I don’t have that much firsthand experience of it. But they have to do it in a different way.Meanwhile, Justin Moyer of the band El Guapo writes about the Brooklynisation of indie music, and how a vaguely Williamsburg-flavoured global hipsterism has displaced the myriad different, wildly divergent local scenes that used to exist, literally or metaphorically “over the mountains”:
Regional music scenes differentiate Hill Country blues from Delta blues and New York hardcore from Orange County hardcore from harDCore. RMSes draw lines between KRS-One and MC Shan, Louis Armstrong and Charlie Parker, Merseybeat and The Kinks, Satie and Wagner. RMSes are why I would almost never play a show that wasn’t all ages in D.C., but would only play Joe’s Bar in Marfa, Texas. RMSes make you think differently.
Like accents, RMSes are disappearing. Sure, record stores and record labels are dead or living on borrowed time. Sure, smart clubowners can’t afford to book a show for an unknown, out-of-town band instead of an ’80s dance party. But money’s not the problem—or, at least, not the only problem. RMSes are disappearing because everyone is starting to sound like everyone else.The opposite of the regional music scenes is the globalised Brooklyn, based loosely though not entirely on the real Brooklyn, a place where the sheer concentration of hip, creative young people and potential collaborators absorbs talent from other areas, absorbing it into a melting-pot monoculture where everything is linked to everything else and there are no secrets:
Do not confuse Brooklyn with, well, Brooklyn—the New York borough that sits about 230 miles from Washington on the southwest end of Long Island over the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge off of I-278. There are many Brooklyns. Los Angeles is Brooklyn. Chicago is Brooklyn. Berlin and London are Brooklyn. Babylon was the Brooklyn of the ancient world. In the 1990s, Seattle was Brooklyn. Young Chinese punks challenging Communism risk prison to make Beijing the Brooklyn of tomorrow. Some Brooklyns aren’t even places. MySpace is Brooklyn. YouTube is Brooklyn. Facebook is Brooklyn. Spotify and iTunes are perversely, horribly, unapologetically, maddeningly Brooklyn.
What this essay is saying: In Brooklyn, there is too much input.
What this essay is saying: If music wasn’t better before Brooklyn, it was, at least, weirder.
What this essay is saying: In Brooklyn, music comes too cheap. (Please note: “too cheap” doesn’t refer to price.)
What this essay is saying: A melting pot is not an aesthetic. Neither is a salad bar.
What this essay is saying: There is a tidal wave of generic, mushy, apolitical, featureless, Brooklynish music infiltrating the world’s stereos.
What this essay is saying: Beware what you put on your iPod. It might not be dangerous.
(via The Secret History)
The record collection of another legendary British DJ been made available for fans to peruse online; this time, it's that of effervescent radio and TV personality Fearne Cotton, a collection with over seven records:
‘There’ll be information about all the records, including whether or not Fearne rated the album,’ explained a spokesman. ‘Cotton famously employed a meticulous 5-star rating system for her music, and every item in the collection was awarded the full 5 stars. Albums are accompanied by Fearne’s additional superlatives such as ‘mega’, ‘massive’, ‘most awesomest ever’, ‘cool’ and ‘really, really cool’.’
The virtual museum includes such rare curiosities as a first pressing of Mis-Teeq’s 2004 hit ‘Scandalous’, a Foo Fighters greatest hits compilation, and some stuff by The Kooks. It’s not all obscurities though, as the trend-setting DJ also found room for plenty of U2 and Coldplay.
Cracked's David Wong has a list of five telltale indicators of a bullshit political story; in this case, a “bullshit political story” is one which ignores the actual issues and treats politics as a sporting event, appealing to the audience's identification with one team or other:
The answer is that many (if not most) people don't follow politics in order to find out who to vote for as part of their duty as citizens living in a democracy. They follow it purely as a form of entertainment. They're like sports fans, rooting for their "team" to win. And as you're going to find out, virtually all political news coverage is written to appeal to those people. They're the most rabid "consumers" of news, and their traffic is the most reliable, so the news is tailored to appeal to them. In the business, they derisively call it "horse race journalism," where the stories focus purely on the "sport" of politics rather than the consequences.The telltale signs are stories with the word “gaffe” in the headline (generally some content-free event giving one half of the stadium cause to hoot and jeer at what dumbasses the other side are), anything about a politician “blasting” the other side (which appeals to the audience's inner wrestling fan), weasel-worded headlines asking a question (the answer to which is generally “probably not”), headlines attempting to escalate random low-ranking members of one political side, generally with non-mainstream opinions, to the status of “lawmakers” or “advisors” and demanding that the leadership take responsibility for them, and real-world political issues being framed as a “blow to” one political side or other:
That's where the gaffe stories come in. See, in this game, your "team" scores a point each time the other team says something stupid. It lets all of the supporters of your team mock and humiliate the supporters of the opposing team, on Internet message boards and around water coolers and in coffee shops nationwide. "Haha! The supposed 'genius' Obama thinks there are 57 states in the U.S.!" "Oh, yeah? Well, your last president said he was going to help terrorists plan their next attack!"
Hey, did you know that Barack Obama is an out-of-touch elitist because he puts fancy Dijon mustard on his hamburgers? Did you know that Mitt Romney is an insane sociopath because he once made his pet dog ride on top of his car 26 years ago? Did you know John Kerry can't relate to the average person because he puts Swiss cheese on his Philly cheese steaks? Did you know that George W. Bush hates foreigners so much that he wiped his hand after shaking hands with a Haitian? Did you know that all of this is petty schoolyard bullshit that wastes valuable time and energy that you'll never get back?
And, as smarter commentators have pointed out, there's an even bigger problem with this: It actually implies that the issue itself is completely unimportant. For instance, if the courts overturn some regulation about mercury in the water or Congress blocks car mileage standards, it always gets reported as "A Blow to Environmentalists." Oh, no, it's not a blow to the people who have to drink the water or breathe the air, or the taxpayers who have to fund the regulations, or the businesses that lose jobs over it. It's either a "blow to environmentalists" or it's not. They specifically make it sound like the effects extend purely to some fringe special interest group and absolutely no one else.
I'm telling you from experience, watching political races this way is addictive as shit. You have thousands of years of violent tribal instincts pumping through your veins, itching for a fight. That makes you an easy tool for manipulation, and every good politician and pundit knows how to push those buttons to make people march neatly in formation. Don't succumb. Or else you'll start supporting the most bullshit legislation just because your guy is for it. Or you'll start knee-jerk rejecting anything the other "team" proposes. Not because it's bad for the country, but because you want to deny them a "win."
Following the recent Spiegel piece on punk rock and dissent in Burma, music journalist John Harris has an article on parts of the world where punk and its offshoots are still dangerous:
It's been a long time since the term "punk rock" could strike fear into the British establishment. The Sex Pistols' John Lydon – aka Johnny Rotten – was long ago transformed into a pantomimic national institution, and now advertises Country Life butter; it's 16 years since Tony Blair admiringly mentioned the Clash in a speech at the Brit awards. The spiky-topped punk look is as harmless a part of vernacular British style as Harris tweed; the concert nostalgia circuit is now home to any number of ageing punk groups, from the Buzzcocks to Sham 69.
The last few months, however, have brought news from abroad suggesting that in many places, punk's combination of splenetic dissent, loud guitars and outre attire can cause as much disquiet and outrage as ever. The stories concerned take in Indonesia, Burma, Iraq and Russia – and most highlight one big difference between the hoo-hah kicked up by punk in the US and Britain of the late 70s, and the reactions it now stirs thousands of miles from its places of birth. Back then, being a punk rocker might invite occasional attacks in the street, a ban on your records, and the odd difficulty finding somewhere to play. Now, if you pursue a love of punk in the wrong political circumstances, you may well experience oppression at its most brutal: torture, imprisonment, what one regime calls "moral rehabilitation" and even death.The ways that punk-influenced subcultures are colliding with the local establishments differ for each place. In Iraq, Islamists are stoning youths to death for wearing clothes and haircuts associated with “emo” (which originated as an offshoot of DC hardcore punk, though in the affluent first world, has long since degenerated into Hot Topic merchandise lines and highly commercial bands making whimpering songs complaining about girls not putting out, Fake Emo having displaced Fake Goth as the bad joke of teenage angst some time in the 00s). In Iraq, however, emo is still seen as a threat to Islamic values and traditional norms of masculinity:
One thing is definitely true: figures for emo-related killings are blurring into those for homophobic murders (put at up to 58 in the last six weeks alone), reflecting a widespread perception in Iraq that emo is a byword not just for devil-worship, but homosexuality. A leaflet distributed in east Baghdad gave any local emo fans four days to "leave this filthy work", under pain of "the punishment of God … at the hand of the Mujahideen". At least two lists of intended victims have been posted online, and tattoo parlours in the city have reported terrified young people asking for their punk-esque body-art to be removed.Hard rock and the Islamic world have come into collision before: Malaysia reportedly had its own issue with “Satanist” heavy-metal fans, and in Indonesia's conservative Aceh province, officials detained punk rock fans at an event, shaved their heads and subjected them to “moral reeducation”. This action, intended as a show of strength by local political figures, resulted in protests outside Indonesian embassies across the world.
There are, he tells me, two kinds of punk in Indonesia. "One is what we think of as a poser: they adopt punk fashions." This group, he says, tend to be "street kids" who fall into begging and petty crime, and thereby provoke the authorities. "The other punks are part of a community that has developed since the late 80s – a moral, ideological type of community," he says. "They're totally different. But the government and society thinks that if you have a Mohawk and boots, you are a punk, and all punks are the same." The kids arrested in Aceh, he thinks, are likely to be the genuine article, because they were arrested at a gig, a reasonably sure sign of true believers.Meanwhile, in Russia, a feminist punk movement influenced by riot grrrl is forming part of the growing resistance to the Putin regime, the ex-KGB siloviki and the oligarchs, and their plans for a tightly managed democracy:
In Moscow, a court ruling on Wednesday marked the latest chapter in the story of an all-female band called Pussy Riot, two of whom were arrested last month after they illicitly took over the pulpit in a Moscow church, and attempted to recite a "punk prayer" written in opposition to Vladimir Putin. Pussy Riot's music is scratchy, unhinged stuff that takes its lead from a fleeting genre known as riot grrrl – once again traceable, at least in part, to Washington DC, and brought to fruition nearly 20 years ago by such groups as Bikini Kill, and a British band called Huggy Bear. Their music was clearly derived from punk's basic idea, but took its lead from such feminist groups as the Slits and the Au Pairs rather than the Clash and the Pistols: apart from anything else, the controversy around Pussy Riot has at least served as a reminder of this overlooked strand of punk history.
"We somehow developed what [those groups] did in the 1990s, although in an absolutely different context and with an exaggerated political stance," one band member called Garadzha Matveyeva has explained, "which leads to all of our performances being illegal – we'll never give a gig in a club or in any special musical space. That's an important principle for us." The band, who always perform in identity-concealing balaclavas, has a free-floating membership that can number up to 15 people – it amounts to "a pulsating and growing body", as Matveyeva sees it.In all these cases, the common theme is how punk, a dated subculture of generational rebellion, now often reduced to a grab-bag of clichés and commodified kitsch, has come to signify vastly more in considerably more desperate straits, without losing the decidedly foreign and awkwardly specific semiotics of someone else's adolescent rebellion in a distant country, long ago. So the image of punk comes, mediated via layers of marketing, commodification and nostalgia, to the developing world, where a Burmese dissident finds a copy of NME with a heritage-rock cover in the bins of the British Embassy, or an Iraqi teenager sees a Fall Out Boy video on a satellite video channel, and a chimera is born:
"You hear a lot about the clash of civilizations," [Ole Reitov, of Copenhagen-based freedom-of-expression advocacy group Freemuse] tells me, "but often, these things, they reflect a clash within civilizations. You're seeing the same symptoms in all kinds of countries: it's a matter of what you do if you feel you're powerless. You can only be extreme, relative to so-called normality. He thinks all this will only increase given two parallel developments: the rise of religious fundamentalism, and the increase in networked communications, which means that every aspect of a subculture can be globally spread at speed. "Think back 50 years," he says. "People didn't necessarily know what the Shadows or the Beatles looked like. These days, you immediately know. Someone in Ulan Bator immediately knows the body language that comes with rap music; in Iraq, the young people who've been killed knew how to dress a certain way."
The musical soundtrack of the post-WW2 baby boom generation's adolescence, rock'n'roll was associated with youth. Now its generation has inevitably moved into old age but held onto its musical tastes, and today's actual youth have a different soundtrack not handed down from their forebears. Rock, with its guitar riffs and themes of adolescent testosteronal swagger, is adjusting to being the sound of mature age, of experience and regret and the awareness of one's mortality and the inexorable passage of time, with all the weirdness that that entails:
The avowedly clean-living Ringo Starr will soon be 72. Bob Dylan is 71. Further down the age range, John Lydon, aka Johnny Rotten, has just celebrated his 56th birthday – which makes him old enough (just) to be George Osborne's dad. Even the Britpop generation is now greying fast: when Blur performs at tomorrow night's Brit awards, the drums will be played by Dave Rowntree – who, at 47, is two years older than the prime minister.
All of which proves two things: that rock music and the culture it spawned are getting on a bit; and that anyone who can convincingly call themselves young will want nothing to do with either. In the face of mounting evidence, I remain a firm believer that the electric guitar is the embodiment of excitement and the four-piece band as close to the Platonic ideal of the gang as anyone has ever managed. But these illusions are now largely confined to those of us over 40, while the young understandably seek their musical thrills elsewhere.And while today's youth eschew the sound and style of rock (or occasionally partake of it as tourists, in packages of retro-styled nostalgia meticulously footnoted with references to its influences—today's cool indie-rock bands take their duties as stylistic mediums/interpreters with an almost Japanese level of fidelity, a far cry from the Dionysiac abandon of rock's young years), the genre maintains its relevance for listeners of a certain age, and is gradually beginning to shift its themes to those more relevant to a far later stage in life:
As all this happens themes of age and experience are finally entering the music. Grinderman, the project led by the Australian singer Nick Cave (54), was purposely created as an outlet for the angst of advancing years, as evidenced by the charmingly titled No Pussy Blues: "I changed the sheets on my bed / I combed the hairs across my head / I sucked in my gut / And still she said / That she just didn't want to." The impressive new single by Paul Weller (53) is called That Dangerous Age, and opens thus: "When he wakes up in the morning / It takes him time to adjust." Less cartoonishly, when I watched the eternally great Sinead O'Connor (45) perform a new single called The Wolf Is Getting Married on Graham Norton's show, I wasn't looking for the perspective of a twentysomething: she was singing about craving security, and there was something in the midst of it all that was worldly, and overwhelmingly mature. From PJ Harvey to a Dylan who wheezes and croaks his insights, this is what the best rock music is now – stuff by and for the ageing and old.Meanwhile, in another sign of generational change, printed music publications' circulations are in freefall.
Australia has a new media oligarch: super-rich mining magnate Gina Rinehart has just bought A$192m of shares in Fairfax, the newspaper company which controls most of the non-Murdoch papers in Australia and has, until now, mostly straddled the political centre to centre-left. It is likely that the purchase, which gives her a seat on the board of the media group, was to allow her to gain more influence over public discourse in Australia, which given her reported views, could be alarming news indeed:
Rinehart inherited more than father Lang Hancock's mining company; she took on his politics, too. Hancock was described by one journalist as "a swashbuckling right-winger who believed people and governments should bow to his will". On workers' rights, WA secession and special deals for mining, Gina is her father's daughter. John Singleton, who has been close to both, said ''a conversation with Gina was a conversation with Lang. They both had the same fanaticism.''
Last year she helped fund the Australian tour of Lord Christopher Monckton, who argues that climate science is a communist conspiracy to establish centralised world government in Europe. Monckton is a fantasist whose repeated claim to be a member of the House of Lords prompted the sitting Lords to write a public letter demanding that he "cease and desist". He also claims to have won the Nobel prize. He is better known in this country for putting a swastika next to a photo of Ross Garnaut. None of this dents Monckton's credibility in Rinehart's eyes. So she invited him to give the Lang Hancock Memorial Lecture in Perth last year.This isn't Rinehart's first foray into media ownership; last year, she bought a slice of the Channel Ten TV network; shortly afterward, Ten gave hard-right demagogue Andrew Bolt (think Australia's answer to Glenn Beck or Bill O'Reilly) a talk show.
Meanwhile, GetUp has a video of the aforementioned British climate-denialist Christopher Monckton advising mining industry insiders that Australia needs a Fox News-style right-wing propaganda channel:
"That is the way to do it," Monckton continued. "You have to capture the high ground on what are still the major media and I think will remain so for some time and until we crack that one both in the UK and Australia, we are going to suffer from a disadvantage over and against the more libertarian-minded right-thinking people in the US who have got Fox News and therefore have got things like the Tea Party movement and therefore have at last put some lead into the pencil of the Republican party.It'll be interesting to see whether Fairfax editorial policy changes, and how. Will there be a purge of left-leaning commentators? A raft of nakedly propagandistic articles? Will the propaganda be limited to things that affect the mining industry's bottom line (i.e., denouncing and destroying the Greens, cutting taxes and environmental regulations, rolling back workers' rights, removing those pesky aborigines) or will they attempt a broader programme to transform Australian society in a reactionary, conformistic, Bjelke-Petersonian direction? In any case, Australians may soon wake up to find the Murdoch papers at the leftmost extent of their public discourse.
While this is happening, the Australian Government is in the early stages of an inquiry into media diversity. If you're an Australian citizen, you can write a letter to the communications minister, urging him to prevent further media concentration.
A short guide to lazy EU journalism, in the vein of Britain's tabloids:
1. Not sure how the EU works or what institutions are involved? –> Just write “Brussels”.
2. Germany is generally seen as important in EU politics and journalists know how to frame it: If Germany is active in a certain policy domain just write something about “German dominance” and if you work for British newspaper add some subtle references to the war. If Germany is passive in a given policy area just write that Germany abandons the EU and it clearly adopted a unilateral strategy, if you work for a British newspaper you could add something about the war.
9. Use “EU bureaucrats” or “Brussels bureaucrats” as often as possible. A more experienced lazy journalist would simply refer to ‘Eurocrats‘. (Thanks Gawain) Useful adjectives in this context include “unelected”, “unaccountable”, “corrupt”, “highly-paid”, “highly-pensioned”, “lazy”. This list is not exhaustive and be adapted to your journalistic needs.
How Rupert Murdoch has changed the world. Mostly US-centric, though a lot of the points apply similarly across the Anglosphere:
He has ridiculed and raised doubts about global catastrophes, and about science itself, while elevating absurd theories and hyping minor matters. For example, his outlets have played a leading role in dismissing and deriding scientific consensus on climate change, while creating hysteria about false issues like President Obama’s place of birth.
He has undermined liberty: His outlets led the drumbeat for restriction or elimination of certain fundamental rights, including those under the US Fourth Amendment, while at the same time supporting unrestrained wiretapping, the harsh treatment of suspects who may have done nothing wrong, and fueling panic justifying the build-up of the national surveillance state.
He has propagandized for many of society’s worst instincts. Whether it involves advancing subtle racism or stoking greed, Murdoch and his minions have been out front. Fox News and the New York Post are best known for this in the US, but examples of various magnitudes may be found in almost all of his properties.
Recently, a right-wing extremist massacred close to 100 people in Norway, first setting a remotely detonated car bomb near government offices in Oslo. Then, as police combed through the wreckage, he made his way to the nearby island of Utøya, where the Labour Party's youth wing were having a camp, attired in a police uniform. For an hour or two, he roamed the island, gunning down teenagers as if in a video game, only surrendering when the police arrived.
This post is not so much about the events as they happened (there is no point in picking over the gruesome details of an atrocity), nor about the murderer's political beliefs and agenda (which should be regarded with the contempt they deserve, and not dignified with a place in the arena of debate), but rather about the media response; in particular, the immediate assumption, and wild speculation, that the massacre was the work of Islamic terrorist groups. From the first reports of the explosion, there was an immediate flurry of speculation: why are the Muslims attacking Norway (is it support for an Israeli-Palestinian peace process? reprinting of Danish newspaper cartoons? Or just because nobody expects an attack on Norway?) Even when reports came in of a gunman attacking a Labour Party camp, the media didn't twig to the fact that, from the point of view of al-Qaeda-style jihadists, restricting one's attacks to one political faction of infidels rather than going for maximum carnage made little sense, and that it looked more like the motive of some kind of neo-Nazi or far-right group.
The Murdoch empire, bloodied but unbowed by its recent lapse of control over Britain's (and possibly America's) political establishment, led the charge, not unlike the corpse of El Cid lashed to his horse. The Sun quickly rushed out a front page blaming al-Qaeda, though then hurriedly pulped it when the facts came in. Not to be outdone, on the other side of the Atlantic where they do things differently, Fox News played true to character, announcing that the massacre was the first incident of non-Islamic terrorism since 1995. Terrorism, you see, is a pathology peculiar to the foul Mohammedans, or at least to threatening-looking brown-skinned people who eat funny-smelling food.
Meanwhile, as the details of the murderer's beliefs emerged, so did an entirely different picture. Rather than the work of the Islamic other, the atrocity was the result of a pathological reaction against the fear of the other. The murderer turned out to be a right-wing psychopath, who set out to strike at the "cultural Marxists" (a term used by the far right to apply to anything they find disagreeable, from feminism to bad posture). He styled himself, presumably for purposes of expediency, as a Christian Fundamentalist (though claimed in his manifesto the particularly Randian view that religion is a crutch for the weak) and cultivated ties with contemporary far-right groups such as the English Defence League and the US Tea Party, as well as other anti-Muslim hate groups. (Ironically enough, he also expressed staunchly pro-Israeli opinions; I say ironically, because chances are, had he been born ten years earlier, he'd probably have been more likely to have been fire-bombing synagogues than supporting a Jewish anything. After all, the position occupied by the Muslim in the demonology of the European/American far right was, well within living memory, occupied by the Jew. In reality, of course, the Other is a McGuffin; it doesn't matter what name they go by or whether anyone has met one, as long as there is something sufficiently different to hate and fear.) Incidentally, his manifesto approvingly quoted Tory bully-boy humorist Jeremy Clarkson; make of that what you will.
Meanwhile, here is Glenn Greenwald's examination of the "terrorists-are-Muslims" subtext in news reports:
That Terrorism means nothing more than violence committed by Muslims whom the West dislikes has been proven repeatedly. When an airplane was flown into an IRS building in Austin, Texas, it was immediately proclaimed to be Terrorism, until it was revealed that the attacker was a white, non-Muslim, American anti-tax advocate with a series of domestic political grievances. The U.S. and its allies can, by definition, never commit Terrorism even when it is beyond question that the purpose of their violence is to terrorize civilian populations into submission. Conversely, Muslims who attack purely military targets -- even if the target is an invading army in their own countries -- are, by definition, Terrorists. That is why, as NYU's Remi Brulin has extensively documented, Terrorism is the most meaningless, and therefore the most manipulated, word in the English language. Yesterday provided yet another sterling example.And here is Charlie Brooker's take; somewhat more solemn than his usual column, though no less incisive.
The latest dispatches from what may be the Fall of the House of Murdoch: the weekend edition of the Guardian has a piece from Marina Hyde, a former Murdoch employee, about the toxic culture of corruption and patronage that permeated the leaden decades of the Murdocracy:
What a country we do live in. My apologies for repeating sentiments voiced in this column many times – as a recovering Murdoch employee, my sponsor insists I share thrice-weekly – but this is a land where a change in prime ministers constitutes the mere shuffling of Rupert's junior personnel. Anyone in doubt as to exactly how dirty a little secret Murdoch has always been is reminded that despite Margaret Thatcher being so close that they repeatedly Christmassed together at Chequers, she does not once even mention him in her memoirs. Not once! Like Voldemort, he must not be named.
[H]istorians assessing this period will find even cabinet papers infinitely less revealing than guest lists. Within the placements of cosy parties in the Cotswolds lie many unpalatable answers. Perhaps they will ask themselves why tragedy-stricken Gordon Brown felt he had to invite a clutch of tabloid editors to the funeral of his baby daughter. If they find that conundrum too ghastly to contemplate, they might question quite why Brown asked the then Sun columnist Richard Littlejohn to his wedding. Fear, presumably. It certainly isn't Richard's charm.The Guardian also has a piece on fault lines within the Murdoch family. Meanwhile, Channel 4 has an illuminating diagram of the network of social ties around Rebekah Brooks, the former News Of The World chief on whose watch the phone hacking is alleged to have happened. Or, as Meg Pickard put it: Rumours have it that email and USB ports have been disabled in the News Of The World offices, presumably to ensure that any of the staff who are being cut loose don't take any incriminating evidence with them.) Not that News will be without a Sunday tabloid; the company registered the domain sunonsunday.co.uk on the day that the scandal broke, and had been meaning to consolidate their titles for a while; the scandal may have just forced their hand.
However, all that may not be enough; Murdoch's bid for BSkyB seems to be in serious trouble, and James Murdoch may face criminal charges on both sides of the Atlantic (the US authorities come down hard on US-listed corporations bribing police officers, as is alleged to have happened, and tend to prosecute the executives).
News International, the British arm of Murdoch’s media empire, “has always worked on the principle of omertà: ‘Do not say anything to anybody outside the family, and we will look after you,’ ” notes a former Murdoch editor who knows the system well. “Now they are hanging people out to dry. The moment you do that, the omertà is gone, and people are going to talk. It looks like a circular firing squad.”And more from Keith Olbermann.
So it looks like the dam has broken and News Corp.'s troubles are just beginning. Though it may be premature to write Murdoch off just yet. He undoubtedly has numerous favours to call in and arms to twist, and there are many nights before any inquiry can take place.
Yesterday's revelations of the ghoulish new lows that Murdoch's tabloid hacks have sunk to, and the promise that deleting messages from a murdered schoolgirl's phone may not have been the worst, seem to have ignited a crisis in Britain's political establishment. This morning, it emerged that News Of The World have been intercepting the voicemail messages of the families of victims of the 7/7 terrorist bombing, like some sorts of grief vampires. Meanwhile, advertisers including Ford, Orange/T-Mobile and npower have started boycotting the News Of The World.
The forces of the Wapping Pact, the alliance forged by Thatcher and Murdoch in the 1980s, and renewed by every prime minister since, have dug their heels in. Murdoch has spoken out in defence of Rebekah Brooks, his CEO, on whose watch the "phone hacking" occurred, and David Cameron, Emperor Murdoch's viceroy at Number 10, has ruled out reversing the government's decision to allow News Corp. to buy the 61% of BSkyB it doesn't own. Other parliamentarians, however, have managed to get an extraordinary parliamentary session called over the incidents, with all parties laying into the Wapping Pact:
Zac Goldsmith, a Conservative, said the Murdoch empire had become too powerful: "We have seen, I would say, systemic abuse of almost unprecedented power. There is nothing noble in what these newspapers have been doing. Rupert Murdoch is clearly a very, very talented businessman, he's possibly even a genius, but his organisation has grown too powerful and has abused that power. It has systematically corrupted the police and in my view has gelded this Parliament to our shame."Cameron is also under pressure to call a public inquiry into the incident. Which he might end up doing, though there will be a lot of pressure to keep the terms as narrow as possible and to ensure that it does not cause too much embarrassment for his masters. Meanwhile, the public outrage builds up; 38 Degrees' petition has over 70,000 signatures, and Avaaz' one (albeit a global one) has, at time of posting, 374,170. Both petitions are due in on Friday.
Meanwhile, the Independent's Matthew Norman writes that this may be a once-in-a-lifetime chance to finally break Murdoch's corrupting grip on the British political system:
When Margaret Thatcher made her Faustian pact with Mr Murdoch in the 1980s, granting him his every heart's desire in return for his unwavering slavish support, she hastened the creation of the monster we see revealed in all its gruesome hideosity today. In general terms, she gifted him the preposterous media market share he expertly parlayed into a stranglehold over the political elite. In a country without a written constitution, bereft of checks and balances and devoid of oversight, the levers of power are there to be seized by the most ruthless buccaneer in town. This he did with wonted dark genius, coaxing and cajoling, bullying and bribing, to inculcate the near universally received wisdom that without his approval, no party can be elected or prosper in power for long. Once Thatcher had established the precedent of obeisance, it was rigidly and cringingly adhered to thereafter by Mr Tony Blair, the successor but one she begat, and now by his self-styled heir David Cameron.
Specifically, meanwhile, she politicised the police by using them as a political truncheon at Wapping as with the simultaneous miners' strike. In so doing, she placed them in Mr Murdoch's pocket, where they have snugly remained ever since.
It would take cross-party unity on a scale seldom witnessed outside time of war, with all three leaders agreeing that this, finally, is the moment to take up Vince Cable's rallying cry and go to war with Murdoch to break his dominion. A full independent inquiry into News Corp's internal workings should be as automatic as one into the Met's scandalous collusion by lethargy. So, needless to add, should an instant reversal of the green light on the BSkyB deal. It beggars all belief that the take-over might still be permitted. It will be a staggering, transcendent disgrace, after this, if it is.Could the year of the Arab Spring have brought a belated British Spring, during which a more subtle regime falls from power?
Meanwhile, echoes of the scandal are being felt as far as Australia, where it may threaten a Murdoch-led consortium's bid for a contract to operate a national TV broadcasting network.
In 2002, Surrey schoolgirl Milly Dowler was abducted and murdered. Her family believed for six months that she was alive, on the basis that her voicemail messages were being deleted (and presumably listened to). It has turned out that staff from News Of The World, a Murdoch tabloid, had gotten into her voicemail and were deleting her messages, in order to free up space for more messages and keep the story profitably on the boil:
Apparently thirsty for more information from more voicemails, the paper intervened – and deleted the messages that had been left in the first few days after her disappearance. According to one source, this had a devastating effect: when her friends and family called again and discovered that her voicemail had been cleared, they concluded that this must have been done by Milly herself and, therefore, that she must still be alive. But she was not. The interference created false hope and extra agony for those who were misled by it.
The deletion of the messages also caused difficulties for the police by confusing the picture when they had few leads to pursue. It also potentially destroyed valuable evidence.The editor of the NotW at the time was Rebekah Brooks, who now is Murdoch's CEO in the UK; the deputy editor, Andy Coulsdon, was, until January, Prime Minister David Cameron's media advisor.
In other, unrelated, news, the UK government has approved Murdoch's bid to take over the remainder of cable-TV operation BSkyB. There is a petition against it here.
In a few days' time, Britain will have its first Royal Wedding since 1981; though, while it's big news in some places (such as the US), Britain seems somewhat more apathetic about the whole thing, particularly compared to Charles and Diana's nuptials:
The street party response has been disappointing – many fewer than 1981 and a more markedly southern retro- flavour to those that are planned. But 1981 was practically BC in terms of the changes to the kinds of communities that have street parties – company towns, motor towns, mining villages, the lot. After all, 1981 was the year of the Specials' "Ghost Town" and every famous riot going, but there were still communities to fight for. Now it's all grassed over for Call Centre and Office Park Britain. Gone. How could you expect cheery knees-ups everywhere?
What sociologists call our "reference groups" have changed. For the UK over-class, it's their global-rich peers (they compare themselves to Wall Street, Silicon Valley or Shanghai). And for the uniquely durable British underclass, it's Lottery winners, football players and entertainers, people in the low-end celebrity press, Fickle Fingers of Fate people. To stay relevant, royal people and styles have both to acknowledge all this, yet still stay aloof from it.Which is not to say Britain doesn't have communities with cohesion—one of them just rioted against the opening of a Tesco—but they're not the sorts of places that put up the bunting of Royalism, except perhaps in the most backhandedly sarcastic way (at the markets of Hackney, they're flogging boxing-match-flyer-style tea towels and commemorative mugs with the wrong prince printed on them to the bohemians and avant-bourgeoisie). Meanwhile, in the harrumphingly blue-ribboned Tory shires, they're probably too cosseted in their SUVs and too busy with serious business to spend much time putting up bunting and organising egg-and-spoon races; it's not really the sort of thing you can hire some Polish and/or Lithuanian workers to do either. Meanwhile, everybody else thanks the two young people for a long weekend to fly to Spain for and/or commiserates Ms. Middleton on the impending end of her life as a private individual.
Science blogger Ben Goldacre points us to an interesting psychology paper (unfortunately paywalled), analysing changes over the past few decades in the subject matter of popular song lyrics:
The current research fills this gap by testing the hypothesis that one cultural product—word use in popular song lyrics—changes over time in harmony with cultural changes in individualistic traits. Linguistic analyses of the most popular songs from 1980–2007 demonstrated changes in word use that mirror psychological change. Over time, use of words related to self-focus and antisocial behavior increased, whereas words related to other-focus, social interactions, and positive emotion decreased. These findings offer novel evidence regarding the need to investigate how changes in the tangible artifacts of the sociocultural environment can provide a window into understanding cultural changes in psychological processes.Compare and contrast: Hypebot's analysis of 2010 commercial pop lyrics, coming up with an example of perfectly generic pop lyrics, circa 2010:
Oh baby, yeah, Imma rock your body hard—like damnI wonder how much of this is actually emblematic of a deeper cultural shift towards short-term values. A world in which everything is a dynamic market of novelty and possibility, and "love" just means a temporary arrangement for mutually negotiated gratification.
Chick I wanna know, cause I get around now—like bad
Love gonna stop, Imma rock your body hard—like damn
Had enough tonight, I wanna break the love—like bad
In today's great political surprise, Rupert Murdoch is set to further tighten his grip on Britain's media landscape and political system, as Tory minister Jeremy Hunt (who has, in the past, spoken approvingly of News Corp.) approved his bid to take over the remainder of BSkyB, Britain's dominant TV broadcaster. There is the usual editorial-independence proviso for Sky News, but nothing Murdoch hasn't dealt with before (see also: The Times, the Wall Street Journal). Furthermore, unlike the US, news channels are governed by rules of strict impartiality, making a Sun-flavoured FOXNews UK ("now with more paedo gypsy asylum seekers!") impossible; well, at least until some future government decides to relax the regulatory regime, for reasons, of course, entirely unconnected to owing favours to sympathetic media proprietors.
All may not be lost, though; Murdoch's bid has attracted a lot of opposition, and even now, while it is not yet finalised, this is continuing. If you're a UK resident and concerned with this, you can write to your MP, and urge them to ask some hard questions in Parliament.
Rupert Murdoch: A Portrait of Satan. Culled from BBC reportage of Murdoch's business dealings over the past four decades, it paints an illuminating picture of the machiavellian media player who is now trying to convince the (largely sympathetic) government to let him have total control of BSkyB.
Mark Dery critically examines at the relentlessly upbeat politics of enthusiasm in the age of the Tumblr blog and the Like button:
At its brainiest, this sensibility expresses itself in the group blog Boing Boing, a self-described “directory of wonderful things.” Tellingly, the trope “just look at this!,” a transport of rapture at the wonderfulness of whatever it is, has become a refrain on the site, as in: ”Just look at this awesome underwear made from banana fibers. Just look at it.” Or: “Just look at this awesome steampunk bananagun. Just look at it.” Or: “Just look at this bad-ass volcano.” Or: “Just look at this illustration of an ancient carnivorous whale.” Because that’s what the curators of wunderkammern do—draw back the curtain, like Charles Willson Peale in “The Artist in His Museum,” exposing a world of “wonderful things,” natural (bad-ass volcanoes, carnivorous whales) and unnatural (steampunk bananaguns, banana-fiber underwear), calculated to make us marvel.Of course, there is a downside to this relentless boosterism: the positive becomes the norm (how many things can you "favourite"?); meanwhile, critical thought becomes delegitimised. When everybody's building shrines to their likes, any expression of negativity is an attack on someone's personal taste, making one a "hater" (a term originally from hip-hop culture which, tellingly, gained mainstream currency in the past decade). From this relentlessly upbeat point of view, critics are no more legitimate than griefers, the players in multi-player games who destroy others' achievements motivated by sadism:
At their wound-licking, hater-hatin’ worst, the politics of enthusiasm bespeak the intellectual flaccidity of a victim culture that sees even reasoned critiques as a mean-spirited assault on the believer, rather than an intellectual challenge to his beliefs. Journal writer Christopher John Farley is worth quoting again: dodging the argument by smearing the critic, the term “hater” tars “all criticism—no matter the merits—as the product of hateful minds.” No matter the merits.The culture of enthusiasm, and the culture of disenthusiasm (which Dery mentions), seems to be founded on the assumption that we are defined by the things we like and dislike. It's a form of commodity fetishism taken into the cultural sphere, though one step removed from the accumulation of material goods, rather dealing with approval and disapproval. Not surprisingly, it's often associated with youth subcultures; take, for example, punks' leather jackets; the names which appear on the back, and those omitted for obviousness or inauthenticity, signal their wearers' authenticity and legitimacy in the culture. (Hipsters take it further, into the realm of irony, where one's status is measured by how close one can surf to the void of kitsch; being into, say, Hall & Oates or M.C. Hammer, is worth more than safe choices like Joy Division and the Velvet Underground, which are so obvious a part of every civilised person's background that trumpeting one's enthusiasm for them is immediately suspect.)
However, likes and dislikes, when worn as badges of identity, can become mere totemism. Do you like, say, The Strokes or Barack Obama, because you find them interesting, or because you wish to be identified as the kind of person who does? Or, as A Softer World put it:
Cultural products (a term which encompasses everything from pop stars to public intellectuals, from comic books to politicians) can fulil two functions: they can be valued for their content or function (does this band rock? Is this book interesting?), or for their function as establishing the consumer's identity. Much like vinyl record sleeves framed on trendy apartment walls by people who don't own turntables to project an aura of cool, favourite books or movies or bands or public figures can be trotted out to buttress one's public image, without ever being fully digested. (Witness, for example, the outspokenly religious American "Conservatives" who idolise Ayn Rand, a strident atheist who expressed a Nietzschean contempt for religion.) Likes and dislike, in other words, are like flags, saluted or burned often out of habit or social obligation as much as any intrinsic value they may hold.
At the end, Dery points out that, far more interesting and telling than what we like or dislike are the things we both like and dislike, or else find fascinating; things which compel us with a mixture of fascination and repulsion, in whatever quantities, rather than neatly falling into one side or the other of the love/hate binary.
Freed from the confining binary of loving versus loathing, Facebook Like-ing versus hateration, we can imagine an index of obsessions, an inventory of intrigues that more accurately traces the chalk outline of who we truly are.
Imagine a more anarchic politics of enthusiasm, poetically embodied in a simulacrum of the self that preserves our repulsive attractions and attractive repulsions, reducing us not to our Favorites, nor even to our likes and dislikes, but to our obscure obsessions, our recurrent themes, the passing fixations that briefly grip us, then are gone—not our favorite things, but the things that Favorite us, whether we like it, or even know it, or not.
In major news stories recently:
- Couple who met at university to marry, as the Caledonian Mercury's refreshingly unhyperbolic coverage puts it:
William Windsor (or possibly Wales or possibly Saxe-Coburg-Gotha) and Kate Middleton, both 28, met at St Andrews University eight years ago.
Mr Windsor is a Flight Lieutenant in the RAF – and also a prince.
Wall-to-wall, dewy-eyed hysterical coverage can be found in every other media outlet.
- The latest thing from Apple is not the long-awaited multitasking iPad OS, nor any shiny new gadget, but that iTunes will finally sell the albums of a band who broke up 40 years ago. Granted, the Beatles were significant, but were they really in a whole godlike league above a lot of other artists, such as, let's say randomly, Led Zeppelin or Michael Jackson? (Indeed, I've seen an argument that they were only the second most influential pop group, after Kraftwerk.)
Meanwhile, Fox News broke the news that Apple would be distributing "Manchester's favourite mopheads". I wonder whether that's a mistake or something they deliberately put in to maintain their carefully crafted image of not giving a shit about offending foreign sensibilities.
A Berlin-based advertising agency has created some clever ads for the International Society for Human Rights' press freedom campaign:
A team in Germany has developed software which can edit objects out of live video in real time. Termed, catchily, "Diminished Reality", the software works a bit like Photoshop's content-aware fill, but is able to track, and eliminate, objects in moving video. The team from the Technische Universität Ilmenau are planning to release an Android port, so you too can be Stalin.
Perhaps even more interesting is software from the Max Planck Institute which can alter the body shapes of actors in video. The software contains data obtained from 3D scans of 120 naked people of different body types, apparently using a machine-learning algorithm, to form a 3D body model with a number of controllable attributes, such as height, muscularity and waist girth. The system can pick out human figures in video (in some conditions, anyway), map them to the model, adjust it, and then rerender the video with the adjusted model. The team have demonstrated this with a clip from the old TV series Baywatch, in which the male lead is given Conan The Barbarian-style musculature.
The article gives a number of potential applications for such technologies:
The technology has obvious applications in films like Raging Bull, for which Robert de Niro put on 27 kilograms in two months to portray his character. "The actor wouldn't need to go to all that trouble," says Theobalt. It could also be a cost-saver for advertising companies. Because standards of beauty vary across cultures, it is the norm to shoot several adverts for a single product. With the new software, firms could make one film and tweak the model's dimensions to suit different countries.The possibilities don't, of course, stop there. In the market-driven entertainment ecosystem, film and TV companies are competing for the attention (and money and/or eyeballs to sell to advertisers) of a public, a large segment of which is captivated by spectacle. With improved special-effects technology comes "awesomeness inflation", where yesterday's blockbusters look boring compared to the latest; so anything that can capture the eyeballs of the sensation-hungry, compulsively channel-surfing consumer (whom William Gibson memorably described as "something the size of a baby hippo, the color of a week-old boiled potato, that lives by itself, in the dark, in a double-wide on the outskirts of Topeka. It's covered with eyes and it sweats constantly. The sweat runs into those eyes and makes them sting. It has no mouth... no genitals, and can only express its mute extremes of murderous rage and infantile desire by changing the channels on a universal remote") could give a film studio or TV network the edge; that extra average five seconds before the viewer changes the channel which, aggregated over an audience of hundreds of millions, means a lot of ad revenue.
It's perhaps obvious that film studios will use the software as another computer effect, making their actors more cartoonishly exaggerated, more punchily extreme, with taller, more ruggedly muscular action heroes, more exaggerated comic short/fat/skinny guys, leading ladies/love interests whose waists could not physically support their breasts, and so on. Eventually the public will get used to this, and the old films with realistically physiqued (by Hollywood standards) actors will look as shabbily unattractive as those films from the 70s they're always remaking because the pace's too slow, the scenes look crappy (didn't the ancients even know about orange and teal colour grading?) and there aren't enough awesome explosions and sex scenes. If the software's cheap enough (as it will eventually be), though, they won't even need to remake things: imagine, for example, a channel that shows reruns of popular old series, "digitally remastered for extra awesomeness". And so, every year, the stars in yesteryear's classic serials become that bit more like animated action figures and/or anime schoolgirls, culminating in a 8-foot, musclebound Jack Bauer who can shoot laser beams from his eyes. (The remastering process would also quicken the pace, by speeding up scenes and cutting out pauses, which would both hold the audience's attention for longer and leave more time for ad breaks.) Meanwhile, Criterion sell box sets of the original, unretouched versions in tasteful packaging; these become a highbrow affectation, a signifier of refined taste, and end up featured on Stuff White People Like.
Of course, in this universe, there'd be an epidemic of body-image disorders, with large numbers of deaths from anorexia, steroid overdoses and black-market plastic surgery. At least until physique augmentation ends up as a universal feature of compact cameras and/or Facebook uploading software, and gradually the survivors come to accept that it's OK to look imperfect, as long as you don't do so on film or video.
The rumours of the Australian Labor government's mandatory national internet censorship firewall being dead may be premature: the government is still planning to put the legislation forward in parliament. Of course, the numbers seem to be against them: the independents who hold the balance of power in the lower house will oppose it, as will the Greens in the Senate.
The Coalition, which has among its number many social conservatives who would welcome such a scheme (not least of all its leader, an authoritarian paternalist of the first water), has opposed it, vowing to whip its MPs to vote against it as well. However, now that it no longer needs to woo Labor voters, there is the possibility of the party changing its mind, and either supporting the filter or leaving it to a conscience vote. In either case, a whipped Labor government plus a handful of Liberal/National social conservatives could be enough to get such a filter through both houses, regardless of what the Greens, those uppity independents and the majority of the Australian public have to say.
Of course, the question remains of whether Labor would keep its faith in censorship after it no longer had to deal with a religious fundamentalist in the Senate. One theory is that Labor's pro-censorship zeal is all an act to keep Fielding on-side and get its budgets through, though in this case, it's an act which is approaching its use-by date, if not past it already. (Fielding does not have a vote on any supply bills, which won't appear until the new Senate, with Greens holding the balance of power, is in place, and while he could be petulant and uphold other legislation, it would be a bit pathetic.) Others speculate that the Great Firewall of Australia has now got a purpose beyond placating a few cranky wowsers; one theory is that, while it's ostensibly going to block illegal pornography, suicide instructions and content banned in Australia, its real purpose is to block sites used for sharing copyrighted materials. Though given that the US Government, which is pushing for a War On Copying on the scale of Nixon/Reagan's War On Drugs, has criticised the filter might count against this theory. Any others?
While we're in Australia, News Limited (roughly one half of the oligopoly which controls the Australian media) has declared open war on the Greens, with the Australian vowing to destroy them at the ballot box; the culture war against the progressive elements in Australian society is on again, if Rupert Murdoch has his way. And, with a fragile minority government in power, some are predicting all sorts of hijinks, including possibly a Murdoch-sponsored Tea Party-style right-wing protest movement.
A new study has shown that older people enjoy reading news stories that portray younger people negatively:
All the adults in the study were shown what they were led to believe was a test version of a new online news magazine. They were also given a limited time to look over either a negative and positive version of 10 pre-selected articles. Each story was also paired with a photograph depicting someone of either the younger or the older age group. The researchers found that older people were more likely to choose to read negative articles about those younger than themselves. They also tended to show less interest in articles about older people, whether negative or positive.The study concluded that this is a result of a youth-centric society, and that stories which take young people down a few notches serve to boost the self-esteem of older readers.
I wonder whether this factor, plus the aging of the baby boom cohort and the populist bent of the market-driven media, could be behind so many beatups in the news, from scare stories about killer hoodies to dire warnings about internet addiction, shrinking attention spans and the imminent collapse of civilisation as we know it. (And whether, historically, the same factor has played a part in fuelling moral panics about youth-oriented trends such as rock'n'roll music, comic books, swing dancing, and so on.)
The latest casualty of the rise of the internet and digital media: the print edition of the (full) Oxford English Dictionary; it comes in 20 volumes, weighs a third of a tonne, costs US$1,165 and, unsurprisingly, isn't selling very well, given that OED provides all its content in a subscription-based web service. As of next year, there may not be a paper edition at all.
Tom Ewing's Poptimist column in Pitchfork has an A to Z of discourse in music criticism, which illuminates the current state of flux in the production and consumption of music quite tellingly:
E is for Excess: Not the rock'n'roll lifestyle, alas, but the sense we live in a time of musical glut-- reissues of old LPs now stretched across three CDs, legal download dumps of hundreds of tracks, even musicians getting in on the act (Wiley just gave 11 CD-Rs worth of tunes away). What's interesting to me isn't the decadence so much as how social listening strategies are evolving to cope-- the task of processing all this stuff is devolved to fans as a group, a sharp break from the single artwork meets single pair of ears model we've been used to for so long.
N is for Novelty: Novelty records-- gimmick dances, comedy songs, et al.-- regularly turn up in "worst song ever"-type polls. Their decline should have been a canary in the record industry coalmine, though: A track like "Macarena" got big by appealing to people who didn't usually buy records, which made them an index of the extent to which buying a record was seen as a normal thing to do. The market for novelties hasn't gone away, of course-- it simply relocated to YouTube.
P is for Pleasure: The "no such thing as a guilty pleasure" line ends up at a kind of naturism of pop, where the happiest state of being is to display one's tastes unaltered to the world. But the barriers to naturism aren't just shame and poor body image, it's also that clothes are awesome and look great. Performing taste-- played-up guilt and all-- is as delightful and meaningful as dressing well and makes the world a more colorful place. (This still isn't the full story, though-- see V for Virtue).
Y is for Year Zero: Grunge killed hair metal. Acid house changed everything. Punk saw off progressive rock. These dividing-line stories are always attractive, always useful for a while-- and then always revised. The grandfather of them all, though, has proved harder to shift-- the idea that something happened in the early-to-mid-fifties to mark a change of era and fix a boundary of relevance. The next 10 or 20 years, as the 60s slip deeper into unlived collective memory, will be crucial and fascinating (for historians, anyway!).
Some good news: the BBC Trust has rejected plans to close 6 Music, the BBC's non-commercially-driven music channel.
Reality-TV chart-pop svengali Simon Cowell: "Hey kids! Love celebrities and fashion? Vote Tory."
One thing I've noticed is that the stereotype about young people (i.e., those south of a dividing line somewhere between the mid-20s and property-owning parenthood) tending to be more progressive and politically engaged is not entirely true, or rather that it applies mostly to a minority of culturally engaged young people. Being into "pop culture" is not a good predictor of leftist ideals or concern about issues; from my encounters, the majority of consumers of mainstream pop culture (by which I mean top-40 pop/landfill indie, Hollywood movies and celebrity gossip) tend to lean towards the mainstream right of politics. This includes both Australian bogans voting Liberal (and wearing flags as capes to Big Day Out) and Generation Living TV rallying behind David Cameron in the UK. There could be a number of reasons for this: the zeitgeist of mainstream culture having shifted to the right in the past few decades, the residual affluence of the age of cheap credit instilling an empathy with the status quo, or, with rock'n'roll in its geriatric twilight, punk rock in late middle age and hip indie bands licensing their music to car commercials, pop culture/youth culture no longer being connected to any sort of meaningful rebellion against any sort of contemporary status quo, and in fact, having been fully rendered down to an innocuous ritual of target marketing, of the youth tribes in their colourful costumes jumping into niche boxes set up by their corporate lords. And besides which, if Rupert Murdoch gave us 24 and Sky Sports, he can't be that bad, right?
Of course, we'll see how the coming age of grim austerity Britain faces will affect this. When the cheap credit runs out and there are no more plasma screens, iPods or trips to Ibiza, will we (with the exception of a few "weird" and/or "pretentious" people) all still be neo-Thatcherites?
The decline of physical media continues, as one of Melbourne's larger and more long-lived independent labels abandons the CD format; from now on, Rubber Records (home to Underground Lovers, among other acts) won't actually sell records but only digital downloads.
“Physical retail distribution is dictated by a business model that no longer works for either the customer, the artist or the label,” Rubber MD David Vodicka said in a statement. “It’s also anti-competitive. We can’t sell-in direct to the biggest national retailer JB Hi Fi, we have to go through a third party distributor with an account. Distributors take a minimum cut of 25 percent, and we have to pass that onto the consumer. There’s no point in engaging in this model as it currently stands. We’ll consider it in the future, but only if it works for us."A final liquidation of stock is planned for 15 May.
Kevin Anderson, recently Digital Research Editor of the Guardian, on the old media's delusional iPad app pricing, in the hope that Steve Jobs' locked-down walled garden will usher in a new era of double-digit profit margins for content owners:
Looking at the iPad app rollout, you can easily separate the digital wheat from the chaff in the content industries, and you can see those who are developing digital businesses and those who are trying to protect print margins and who see the iPad as a vertical, closed model to control and monetise content.Examples of this include magazines like Time charging $4.99 a week (the price of a paper copy) for access to their iPad-formatted content. The price of a magazine, as Anderson points out, includes the costs of printing and distribution, whereas on the iPad it's almost pure profit. Of course, the customers get something for their shekel, namely "Unique interactivity including landscape and portrait mode, scroll navigation and customizable font size":
Oh, I’ve never seen that in a mobile web browser, I say with incalculable levels of sarcasm. That’s like morons in the 90s having Java animation that you actually couldn’t do anything with and calling that interactivity. You think that’s insane and delusional, just wait, it gets even better! No content sharing on the app, which I’m assuming means you can’t bookmark or Tweet your favourite stories, and You’ll have to buy and download the app every single week. There is also no indication that they will charge for their now free iPod app or their website.
Note to Time digital strategists: Sorry caching your site so I can take it with me when I’m on the move isn’t a feature worth your premium pricing. I do that now, and have done it for years, with an open-source app called Plucker and an aging Palm T3. I’m truly sorry. Do you actually use the internet or digital devices or do you just indulge your bosses’ angry fantasies about the good old days?And then there's Rupert Murdoch's inspired unilateral offensive against free news. News Corp. currently charges $2 per week for access to the Wall Street Journal, but aims to extract $17.29 a month from iPad users. Murdoch is also moving aggressively on the web, having announced that, in a few months, both The Times and The Sun will be behind a billgate. Perhaps if The Guardian, Telegraph and Independent go out of business and the BBC voluntarily dismantles its free news service in anticipation of a Tory government, Murdoch can enjoy a lucrative monopoly on the news, though otherwise, it looks like his gamble will fail and The Times, arguably News Corp.'s most prestigious broadsheet, will decline.
Not everybody misses the point, of course; The Financial Times (no relation) and NPR (i.e., the US donation-funded public radio network) apparently get it, and strove to experiment with new ways of engaging with their audience in the digital realm, rather than just seeing how much they can do them for.
In terms of who is positioning themselves for the future by delivering value to their audiences and experimenting with business models, it’s clear. If any company thinks that the iPad will allow them to rebuild the monopoly rent pricing structure of the 20th Century, then you’ve really fallen prey to the Steve Jobs’ reality distortion field, and you’ve blown yet another chance to build a credible digital business. However, I’ve got a game you might want to check out, Final Fantasy.
The Daily Mail Song, an exposé of the venomously right-wing, outrage-mongering British tabloid delivered in the form of a Subterranean Homesick Blues-style folk song. Brilliant and spot-on.
A study by the Australian Centre for Independent Journalism has revealed that more than half of news stories in Australia were spin, driven by public relations. The Murdoch tabloids were the worst, with 70% of stories in the Daily Telegraph being PR-driven, while the Fairfax "quality" papers are as good as it gets; only 42% (only 42%!) of stories in the Sydney Morning Herald were PR-driven.
These statistics probably say as much about the Australian media landscape as anything else. Australia's media is quite homogenised and uncompetitive; a handful of proprietors have the mass media sewn up (there are two newspaper proprietors and about three commercial TV networks). The lack of competition has resulted in low standards of quality; for example, the Fairfax papers (The Age and The Sydney Morning Herald are the biggest ones) are generally regarded to be the "quality" papers, but compared to the British equivalents (such as The Guardian and The Independent), they come out poorly, heavy on the sex, sensationalism and celebrity gossip and light on content and analysis. (The effect gets worse as one moves away from Sydney and Melbourne; for several weeks a few years ago, the most-read story on the front page of Fairfax's Perth paper was "Man gets penis stuck in pasta jar".) Or compare The Australian (Murdoch's "serious" paper in Australia) to its UK equivalent, The Times: The Australian is more nakedly biased.
The Australian press, controlled by an incestuous oligopoly and not subjected to the indignity of competition, has become a stagnant pond. (Australian television, mind you, is much worse.) This is bad news for the kind of discourse required to sustain a mature democracy; a public fed simplified half-truths leavened with gratuitous doses of sensationalism will be in no state to engage on a meaningful level in debate about where their country is heading, leaving all that boring stuff to technocrats and vested interests. The internet provides some competition, but the alarming open-ended censorship firewall plans (all content "refused classification" will be filtered; this includes sites advocating euthanasia, illegal drug use (including offering safety advice) or video games unsuitable for children; the list itself will be a state secret, giving plenty of scope for other sites to be "accidentally" banned if convenient to do so) which look set to become law before the next election, leave a lot of scope for rival sources to be nobbled. (Not surprisingly, the Australian press has been quiet about the plans, echoing the official line that the plans are to "combat paedophilia" and are opposed only by some anarchistic extremists.) As such, it doesn't surprise me if Australia's press oligarchs make the most of their privileged position and cut costs by bulking their papers out with press releases to a greater extent than in more competitive markets.
(via Boing Boing)
Neologism of the day: "Crash blossoms" is apparently the word for amusingly ambiguous newspaper headlines (of the form of "British Left Waffles On Falklands", "Eighth Army Push Bottles Up Germans" or "Drunk Gets Nine Months In Violin Case"). The term comes from the headline of a story about an Anglo-Japanese violinist whose parents died in a plane crash.
Tabloids and Tory politicians have been claiming that Britain is a "broken society"; The Economist looks at the figures and shows that, actually, that's a load of rubbish; while Britain does have its share of social problems, it had much worse before:
As for family breakdown, some commentators seem to think that sex really was invented in 1963. British grannies know differently. Teenage pregnancy is still too common, but it has been declining, with the odd hiccup, for ages. A girl aged between 15 and 19 today is about half as likely to have a baby in her teens as her grandmother was. Her partner will probably not marry her and he is less likely to stick with her than were men in previous generations, but he is also a lot less likely to beat her. In homing in on the cosier parts of the Britain of yesteryear, it is easy to ignore the horrors that have gone. Straight white men are especially vulnerable to this sort of amnesia.The perpetuators of the myth of "broken Britain", a society in violent decay, are building a narrative that strengthens kneejerk culture-war reactions, such as the Tories' tax breaks for married couples (read: "sin taxes" on the unmarried), whilst ignoring the cause of Britain's social problems: too little spent on education:
The waning of the manufacturing jobs that used to be the mainstay of the working class has created a generation of young males, in particular, who don’t know what to do with themselves. Britons have been boozers and scrappers for centuries, but self-destructive behaviour today in part reflects the perception that their lives are not worth much. As for children bearing children, there is evidence elsewhere that if girls are given better education—not just about sex, but also in areas likely to improve their job prospects—they are less likely to get pregnant at 16. Yet for all the official talk at home about ever-improving exam results, Britain is beginning to slide down the international league table of educational attainment.
(via David Gerard)
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):
(via Boing Boing)
There's a new documentary which looks at how Italian president and media mogul Silvio Berlusconi has, over the past three decades, changed his country's culture, society and politics. Videocracy, by Swedish-based Italian filmmaker Erik Gandini, starts 30 years ago, when Berlusconi's channels started introducing gratuitous female nudity to mainstream programming, ramping up the amount of vacuous, vaguely pornographic titilliation, and culminating with their owner becoming president, twice. The film interviews a number of characters symbolic of the system, including a hapless, fame-hungry talent-show contestant, a fascist-sympathising media fixer, and a paparazzo and convicted extortionist turned celebrity. There are more details here, and (with a trailer) here.
Beginning with a young Berlusconi’s arrival on the commercial Italian TV scene three decades ago, the film opens with archive footage of a stripping housewife quiz show – proving that this Italian TV gem is not the urban legend some assume it to be – and segues into a montage of busty variety show starlets (one of whom is now minster for gender equality in Berlusconi’s government). Videocracy then introduces us to the three main characters whoare used as benchmarks for the moral madness that the director sees as being induced by the dumbed down world of Italian commerical TV.Videocracy is screening at the Venice and Toronto film festivals. Perhaps unsurprisingly, though, both Berlusconi's private TV channels and the Italian state broadcaster RAI have refused to run advertisements for it.
John "Kill Your Friends" Niven gets stuck into the blind spot in recent coverge of Michael Jackson's death:
What has stunned me and truly floored me in the past week or so has been the complete sidelining by the entire media of Jackson's later life. Across the board, from every news channel to all the quality papers, there has been wholesale collusion in the notion that "he was a great artist and, yes, there was some, umm, troubling stuff later on, but let's forget all that right now and just celebrate the music".
He went on to say, unchallenged, how there were different Michaels and that he wanted to remember "the Michael who made Thriller and Off the Wall". There were also, presumably, different Hitlers. Some people might like to remember the Hitler who reunited Germany and brought back full employment. Not the later Hitlers, with their "attendant problems". The problem is that people keep on bringing up all the bloody stuff that these other later, more troublesome, Hitlers did. You can probably make a claim for several different Peter Sutcliffes, one of whom was a model employee who was very nice to his mother. The problem is....
I am very familiar with the argument of separating the art from the artist – Philip Larkin was a compulsive masturbator with racist views who loved pornography. The poems were magisterial. Wagner was a boiling anti-Semite. The music is timeless. Now, having racist views, masturbating to pornography, I can guarantee that everyone reading this paper has had some contact with practitioners of these dark arts. I would not venture that everyone is on handshake terms with people who get little boys drunk and then try to abuse them – I'm afraid I can't embrace the good tunes and overlook the "troubling stuff" and the "attendant problems" just yet.
Ultimately one is faced with two options. Either Jackson really was an innocent, a childlike man-boy who simply enjoyed hanging out with young boys, up to and including having them sleep in his bed ("There's nothing more loving you can do," he told Martin Bashir in the infamous 2003 documentary, while Arviso cuddled him adoringly), and that some of these children decided – in collusion with their money-grabbing parents – to take Jackson to the cleaners. Or Jackson was an active, predatory child molester.
Her contemptuously funny deconstruction of Sharon Stone's knee-jerk me-me-me! posturings on world affairs reveal the Basic Instinct star as not so much an idiot savant as just an idiot. She recounts Stone's attendance at the 2005 Davos World Economic Forum (!) where she grandstanded during a speech about malaria, offering $10,000 to buy mosquito nets for infected countries. By the end of the session, Shaz had browbeaten fellow delegates to pledge $1 million for the cause.... This all sounds dandy, but a year later, only $250,000 was given, so UNICEF had to come up with $750,000 - money that had to be diverted from other projects. Then there's the tricky detail that many of these nets are accepted by dirt-poor governments who sell them on the black market.
Search giant Google confirmed to the BBC that when the news first broke it feared it was under attack.
Before the company's servers crashed, TweetVolume noted that "Michael Jackson" appeared in more than 66,500 Twitter updates.And Farrah Fawcett (whom one really has to feel sorry for; what a way to go) wasn't the only one eclipsed by the "King of Pop" going supernova; the entire Iranian protest movement was as well.
That put news of Jackson's death at least on par with the Iran protests, as Twitter posts about Iran topped 100,000 per hour on June 16 and eventually climbed to 220,000 per hour.(It's probably, in the Blairite parlance, a good day to bury bad news; I wonder whether the Iranian government has taken advantage of this to hastily machine-gun all those pesky protesters into freshly dug trenches while the world's mourning a pop star.)
Michael Jackson's death will almost certainly go down in history as one of those iconic events that everyone remembers where they were when they heard of it, like the Kennedy assassination or the passing of his erstwhile father-in-law some three decades earlier. Only, this time, it happened in a highly networked world, so the recollections will surely reflect this. I first heard of it when I saw someone log into an instant messaging service with "RIP Michael Jackson" as their status. Though one may well have found out about it by reading Wikipedia's revisions page:
(cur) (prev) 22:49, 25 June 2009 TexasAndroid (talk | contribs) m (119,637 bytes) (Removed category Living people (using HotCat))Which is somewhat less ignominious than Wikipedia's summary judgment of non-notability on Steven Wells. (Wikipedia appears to be locked in a deletionist spiral of radicalism these days, as editors prove their hard-headedness and ideological purity by being increasingly ruthless with what is deemed "notable".)
And the Register' article on the Michael Jackson Twitter meltdown ends with some speculation about what's likely to happen in the days and weeks following his death:
We can expect floods of tributes, detailing how Jackson changed the face of pop music (a reasonable claim) was the biggest record seller in history (probably) and invented the moonwalk (absolutely not).
This will be quickly followed by floods of revelations about the singer's murky private life, now that libel restrictions no longer reply - at least in the UK.
But first of all, we can expect a flood of malware spam, likely promising post-mortem pictures of the star's body.The spam, it seems, didn't take long.
Guardian correspondent and self-styled "new media whore" Paul Carr investigates the last.fm/CBS/RIAA rumour, comes to some somewhat ambiguous conclusions:
Fact One: Last.fm is innocent.Chances are, Carr writes, the rumour was a hoax, sent in to TechCrunch for some uncertain motive:
Fact Two: And yet, there are certainly trust issues between some at Last and some at CBS.
Fact Three: Techcrunch is not full of shit. Any more.
Fact Four: Techcrunch made every attempt to verify the story.
The answer, as I head towards my penultimate paragraph – the one in which a columnist is suppose to tie everything up with a neat conclusion – is that I don't know who's to blame. And neither does Last or Techcrunch. Something is still missing and sources at both companies remain equally baffled at why so much effort would go in to smearing one or other of them. Only one man, or possibly woman, can say for sure what the truth is – Techcrunch's original tipster. And, wouldn't you know, he or she has since vanished off the map, despite Techcrunch offering both anonymity and expensive legal representation.
A lie, Mark Twain wrote, can cross half the world before truth can get its boots on. This may be even more so in the age of Twitter, with its ephemeral, 140-character posts reducing discussion to soundbites with no room for boring old substantiation. A contributor to the (US Democrat-affiliated) Daily Kos blog has demonstrated this by creating a Twitter feed named InTheStimulus, purporting to reveal the Obama administration's egregious wastes of money, and watching the right-wing Twitterverse pass it on as gospel, giving him virtual high-fives along the way and praising his patriotism.
For the most part, my first couple days of posts were believable, but unsourced lies:He then proceeded to make the revelations increasingly absurd:
* $3 million for replacement tires for 1992-1995 Geo Metros.
* $750,000 for an underground tunnel connecting a middle school and high school in North Carolina.
* $4.7 million for a program supplying public television to K-8 classrooms.
* $2.3 million for a museum dedicated to the electric bass guitar.
* $473,000 to Fueled by Ramen, record label for such bands as Fall Out Boy.The funny thing was, while a few people dropped his feed, even more started following him and passing on his revelations. It seems that confirmation bias kicked in, and the buzz of having one's beliefs confirmed and outrage justified outweighed the possibility of being taken for a ride.
* $4 million for Obama bobbleheads.
* $104,000 to exhume President Taft.
* $465 million for massive air conditioners to combat global warming.
* $855,000 for the gambling debts Laura Bush incurred on diplomatic trips between 2004-2008.
The Daily Kos' spin on the result is a partisan "conservatives are dumb". Whether or not that is the case, I suspect such an experiment could be repeated with any group invested in a particular belief.
We haven't had a Wayne Kerr post for a while, so one is overdue. Anyway, I am Wayne Kerr, and if there's one thing I hate... it's websites attempting to coerce you into registering.
A while ago, there was an online newspaper named the International Herald Tribune. Owned by the New York Times but published in Paris, it was quite a good paper, with fairly incisive articles not too far from Economist territory. Then someone at head office decided to kill the brand and roll it into the New York Times brand, and iht.com became global.nytimes.com. And, with that, inherited the New York Times' draconian insistence on users requiring to register and log in to view their their precious content.
The New York Times, you see, is not satisfied with the standard online news business model (make their content freely viewable and linkable and sell ads to those surfing in on web links from wherever in the world they may be); that may be good enough for rabble like their London namesake, but the NYTimes' content is worth more than that. At the start, they even tried charging for online access to it. Of course, as Clay Shirky points out, this is not a viable business model for online news (current events cannot be copyrighted or monopolised, and someone can always do it cheaper), so the NYTimes soon dropped the demands for subscription. However, they have doggedly kept the other part of the equation: the insistence on users subscribing, remembering yet another username and password, and giving a valid, verified email address, as well as some juicy demographic information. Of course, there are ways around this; the most popular site on BugMeNot, a website for sharing free usernames/passwords to such sites, is the New York Times. However, such accounts usually have a very short lifespan; either they perish when the email verification period lapses or, failing that, the Times' web admins hunt them down and kill them, like an ongoing game of Whack-a-Mole.
The New York Times, however, is not the most irritating example of coercive registration; that accolade would probably go to a site named, ironically, Get Satisfaction. This is an external tech support site, used by a number of web 2.0-ish sites, including SoundCloud and ping.fm. As a web site, it is the very model of a modern website; rounded corners, quirky retro fonts (oh so San-Francisco-via-Stockholm), pastel-hued gradients, animated fades, you name it, it ticks the box; it would be perfect, but for one fatal flaw in the human interface design.
What somebody neglected to notice is the typical use case of such a site. One doesn't go to Get Satisfaction to socialise with friends, share photos or music, find a date or a flat, or do anything one does on a typical social web site; one goes there when one has gone to such a site and found that it doesn't work properly, and wants to notify somebody to fix this. Now when that happens, the last thing one wants it to have to think up another username and password, and be cheerfully invited to fill in one's profile and choose a user icon representing one's personality. As far as support forums go, less should be more, and Get Satisfaction, for all of its pretentions to being some kind of online clubhouse, falls short.
Not everything that isn't charged for is without cost; there is a cost, in time and finite mental resources, to keeping track of usernames and passwords. (Of course, you could use the same password across all sites, but that replaces a psychological/time cost with the security risk of all one's passwords being compromised.) And sites which put registration speed bumps in their users' way could find users going elsewhere where offers a smoother ride.
Recently, the media (and not only the tabloids, but the Guardian, the BBC and Reuters, to name a few) was full of headlines suggesting that consuming even small amounts of alcohol would significantly increase one's risk of cancer. Now, Charlie Stross tears that report apart, revealing that the paper in question actually said the opposite, even if its abstract, for some unfathomable reason, didn't:
... there was no dose response between the number of drinks the women consumed and their risk for all cancers. Women drinking no alcohol at all had higher incidences for all cancers than 95% of the drinking women.
The actual incidents of all cancers was 5.7% among the nondrinkers. The cancer incidents were lower among the women drinking up to 15 drinks a week: 5.2% among those consuming ≤2 drinks/week; 5.2% of those drinking 3-6 drinks/week; and 5.3% among those drinking 7-14 drinks a week. [Table 1.]Of course, this leads to the question arises of why the abstract of the report contradicted its actual content, instead presenting a message at odds with it. Charlie suggests that it's not a mistake, but rather the result of Bush-era ideology, in which science receiving federal funding had to echo the official ideological line:
"Alcohol is evil. We know this because it is True. And it's especially bad for women because, well, women shouldn't drink. If you run a study to confirm this belief and the facts don't back you up, the facts are wrong. So tell the public the Truth (alcohol is always evil) and bury the facts; the press won't be able to tell the difference because they're (a) lazy (or overworked, take your pick) and (b) statistically innumerate."
This is pernicious fallout from the way the 2000-2008 Bush administration did business. Their contempt for science was so manifest that distortion and suppression of results that undermined a desired political objective became a routine reflex. If the science doesn't back you up, lie about it or suppress it. That administration may have been shown the door (and replaced by one that so far seems to have a pragmatic respect for facts), but the disease has spread internationally, becoming endemic wherever ideologically motivated politicians who hold their electorate in contempt find themselves seeking a stick to beat the public with.
After having seen the influence of internet-organised grass-roots campaigning in getting Barack Obama elected, Britain's Labour Party has decided it wants some of that, and so has launched LabourList.org. Modelled on the American liberal site the Huffington Post, LabourList is intended as an online community for the "progressive left" to tear the Tories to pieces on with merciless lampoonery and discuss progressive, left-wing issues — within the scope of New Labour platform, of course.
LabourList's administrators insist that the site is editorially independent of the party, and denies that it is part of an Alastair Campbell-style "command and control" media strategy. However, the dearth of articles or comments critical of New Labour policy, and a strict moderation policy, have cast some doubt on this. Would this site post articles condemning the expansion of Heathrow, for example, or the ID Card plan which the government has been pushing hard?
I suspect that LabourList won't have the sort of grass-roots effect as the online Obama campaign. For one, Labour is the incumbent party, and an unpopular one at that. For the past 11 or so years, it has been making hay out of inevitably being the lesser evil to the despised Tories, and using this to get away with everything from presiding over the growth of wealth inequality (an Old Labour no-no, to be sure) to the Iraq war to the steady erosion of civil liberties, knowing that there was no-one else the disaffected could vote for. After all this, this old trick is no longer working as well as it did, and I suspect that a few viral videos poking fun at the Tories aren't going to recharge it. Especially that, in a lot of areas, the Tories' policies look more progressive, on paper, than Labour's.
Tom Ellard, adopting the persona of an archæologist from the distant future, points out an interesting historical phenomenon of the late 20th century:
“The gap” is a mysterious incident in the late twentieth century in which a wild change in commonly reproduced artworks came and went in as little as a decade. What we believe to be religious inscriptions on popular artefacts changed very quickly from ornate painted works to extremely simple combinations of letter shapes in bold colours. These were soon discarded and just as quickly poor copies of the original artwork were reintroduced.
The Age has a piece on the Goggomobil. The original was a microcar built in 1950s West Germany by a Bavarian company which first ventured into motor scooters (hence, presumably, the pseudo-Italianate name). It is known in Australia because a local businessman managed to obtain a licence to make them locally (as there were severe tariffs on imported cars at the time), substituting a fibreglass body for the metal one. The diminutive, independently made car, which looked like a jellybean and supposedly drove quite well, did quite well in Australia for a few years in the mid-1950s, until competition from the Morris Mini killed it. Though most Australians only have heard of it because of a television ad for the Yellow Pages phone directory mentioned it.
Veteran British music critic Everett True, one of the founders of Plan B magazine, has recently moved to Brisbane, Australia, and is not impressed with the Australian music press:
Australians don't have much respect for the music press - it runs counter to their culture. Australian rock is all about "Good on ya, mate - well done for getting up on stage and switching that amplifier on". The idea of anyone actually daring to criticise musicians for the sound they make is almost heresy. Everyone is treated equally, which means no knocking anyone back, however great the temptation. (That'll be why Australian rock is best known to the outside world for such musical abominations as Silverchair, the Vines and Savage Garden.) Sport is the predominant culture here, and music is similarly viewed as a leisure activity - it's all about "work rate", "dedication" and "goals scored". Unsurprisingly, Australians get the music press they deserve.
Recently, I was interviewed by a handful of street press writers to promote a show I was playing in Brisbane with ace pick-up garage band Young Liberals. The first question out the blocks every time was, "What do you do when you have to interview a band you don't like?" Excuse me? I don't understand the query. You're getting paid less than a pittance (if you're getting paid at all) for writing for a crappy free magazine given away on the streets of your city ... and you're interviewing bands you don't like? Why? What is the point? These magazines are free: their financial stability and continuing existence have nothing to with sales figures. Why not feature who the fuck you like? "Ah..." the "journalists" bleat. "It's because of the advertisers ..."
Simply, there are two types of advertiser. The first thinks that appearing in shitty free, badly-designed publications that nobody bothers to read and everyone throws away after glancing through the live ads is the best way to promote their clients' wares; basically, by supporting what amounts to paid-for advertorials. The second realises that their clients are actually far better served by appearing in "cool" (passionate/hip/intelligent) magazines because this coolness reflects back upon their client, and makes their wares seem far more attractive to the casual consumer.Mind you, the Australians seem a bit unamused by True's prononcements, in particular a throwaway line rubbishing local Seattle-sound institution Silverchair and landfill-indie rockers The Vines. Whether it's the case that Australians are a bit chippy about Poms rubbishing their local boys, while it's acceptable (and indeed the done thing) for Australians to lop down their own tall poppies, they will circle around them and defend them if an outsider comes in and tries it, or just that True was pontificating from a position of ignorance (JJJ is not Melbourne-based, or at least it wasn't last time I checked), with no small measure of cockiness, is open to interpretation. And here is the Mess+Noise (i.e., a bit like a local Drowned In Sound, only with extra lolcats) thread.
Costa Rican artist Guillermo Habacus Vargas caused an uproar after announcing an art exhibition in which a dog was starved to death. The world was informed that a stray dog named Natividad was chained in an exhibition space, with a pot of food on the other side, out of reach, and kept there until it starved to death. As you can undoubtedly imagine, there was mass outrage worldwide, with galleries dealing with Vargas/Habacus receiving death threats and a petition against him collecting two million signatures. Then it emerged that the whole thing was a hoax: the dog was "starved" only for three hours at a time, and during the rest of the time was fed by the artist.
It has now emerged, however, that artist Guillermo Habacuc Vargas intended the work to be a stunt to show how a starving dog suddenly becomes the centre of attention when it is in a gallery, but not when it is on the street. The work was intended to expose people for what they really are - "hypocritical sheep". He said that in order for the work to be valid, he and the gallery had to give the impression that the dog was genuinely starving to death and that it died.
The culture jammer calling himself The Decapitator has released a video of his latest stunt—hijacking a consignment of copies of free commuter tabloid TheLondonPaper, modifying them by gruesomely beheading David Beckham in a mobile phone ad, and then droplifting the doctored copies near Old Street, all in the space of 3 hours.
(via Wired News)
A year or so ago, Sony's egregiously misnamed Universal Media Disc format (a prooprietary optical disc which only plays in one device—the Sony PlayStation Portable)—essentially died as a viable medium for selling anything other than PSP games. For some reason, people didn't want to spend good money on a low-resolution copy of a movie, bound to a plastic cartridge, for viewing on their PSP; perhaps the number of PSP owners who would use their units for repeatedly watching Spiderman 2 on the train, as opposed to, say, playing videogames, wasn't that great to begin with, and the percentage willing to incur the cost of buying a movie in this inflexible format was even lower. Not even Sony giving away UMDs of their films with DVDs, for only slightly more money, could revive the flagging format.
So now, we learn that Sony are trying to revive the UMD format as a medium for movies by selling TV shows on it, in conjunction with MTV (formerly a music-video channel, now a purveyor of entertainment to the lucrative young-and-dumb demographic). That's right; presumably some executive decided that, while people may not be willing to pay money for a disc containing a version of a movie that only plays on their PSP, they'd be willing to do so for some episodes of Beavis & Butthead. Unless they're planning to bundle them with boxes of breakfast cereal or something.
It's not just the cost of purchasing the disc that counts; it's also the cost of having another bit of plastic taking up space in your house and your mental filing system. As the value of the bits of plastic decreases, the awkwardness of their material nature increases. (A video game you may spend many hours playing is worth a plastic disc and case to store it in—not to mention £25 or however much it costs— a movie you watch once or twice, less so, especially since looking at a small handheld screen is not the best way to enjoy movies if there are alternatives. A few episodes of a TV show sounds like an even more marginal proposition, and the sort of problem that downloads were invented to solve.) Especially in a format whose flexibility is deliberately limited.
After having had its licence fee increase rebuffed, the BBC is planning to cut 12% of its workforce. Most of the cuts will happen in the factual division, which produces programming such as Planet Earth and stands to lose up to 50% of its budget. The BBC's trashy-populist-entertainment operations, however, look set to emerge unscathed.
One could question the rationale behind this peculiar set of priorities; after all, its Reithian ethos of worthy factual programming is a big part of the high esteem in which the BBC is held across the world. Indeed, one could ask why, for example, EastEnders is any more of a public service, and thus any more worthy of funding from a mandatory tax on television receivers, than its commercial rival Coronation Street, or whether or not something like Top Gear could be provided by the free market with no loss of values. It could be argued that the populist fare fulfils an important function: that of buying social approval for the BBC's license fee. Were the BBC to cut back on it and concentrate on "quality" programming, the majority of license-fee payers might start to question whether they should be obliged to pay over £100 per year for the privilege of skipping the BBC and going straight to Sky One. From then on, it would take a campaign on the front page of The Sun (whose proprietor, it must be remembered, would dearly love to see the BBC reduced to something of the size and stature of the American PBS or Australian ABC; underresourced, timid and marginal) to put the dismemberment of the BBC on the legislative agenda in time for the next licence fee review.
Which is a rather sad state of affairs. Surely the purpose of that unique institution, the license fee, should be to fund quality, enlightening programming in niches which the market, left to its own devices, wouldn't fill, rather than to provide popular mass entertainment (a task which the market has always stepped up to catering to)?
A technical problem causes Facebook to display its PHP source code; someone grabs this source code and posts it online; the code itself doesn't contain anything more revealing than variable names and include paths. Meanwhile, the non-technical press posts vague yet ominous-sounding warnings about how it could help criminals to steal users' identities (conceding that it doesn't actually allow them to do so as such).
Which is not to say that there aren't any risks; as always, one should exercise common sense. Facebook is an entertainment site, and thus engineered to less stringent standards of security than, say, banking sites. Even if the site itself is secure, your "private", "friends-only" information could fall into the hands of third parties in other ways (if, for example, criminals take control of a router between you and the Facebook servers and sniff all the traffic going through it, or if one of your friends (who is able to see your information) has a Windows virus on their PC which captures the pages they see). The same goes for other sites with "friends-only" capabilities, such as LiveJournal, Flickr, or various members-only forums or mailing lists.
Banksy's latest opus is a replica of Stonehenge made of portable toilets, installed on the Glastonbury festival site:
The artist, never shy of controversy, has raised some eyebrows with the location of the artwork in the "Sacred Space" field, venerated by the festival's more hippyish devotees. Banksy himself has no illusions about the sanctity of his work, however: "A lot of monuments are a bit rubbish," he said, "but this really is a pile of crap."Is it just me, or is Banksy losing his edge? Offending a few hippies (a rather soft target) is not quite the same as taking on, say, Disney Corp., the state of Israel or the oppressive existence of police forces, and I suspect that his latest work wasn't dumped in the field in the dead of night, but probably arranged with the festival organisers to add some subversive cachet and/or appropriately edgy celebrity value to their event. Mind you, whether Banksy was ever really subversive is a matter for some contention; Charlie Brooker (who, with Chris Morris, incorporated aspects of Banksy into the Nathan Barley character) reckons that this particular emperor never had any clothes.
Everyone complains about the procession of doom and gloom in the news, but only the Russians are doing something about it. After a bank loyal to Russia's President Vladimir Putin bought out Russia's largest independent radio news network, they decreed that at least 50% of reports about Russia must be "positive".
As well as protecting the Russian people from doom and gloom, they are also committed to guarding them from the pernicious influence of unapproved politicians, all mention of whom has been banned.
A 1939 magazine article about the censorship of animated cartoons, and exactly the sorts of things the Hays Office (which handled film censorship in the U.S. at the time) demanded cut from cartoons. For example, a cartoon cow was made to wear a skirt covering its udders, a sombrero-wearing bandit is required to end up in jail (crime, you see, must unambiguously be seen to not pay), and a scene with a stereotypical black (as in African-American) angel placing pushpins on a globe labelled "Harlem" and mentioning "De Lawd" had to be altered, not because of the racial stereotypes (which, in 1939, were perfectly fine) but because it was considered too sacrilegious.
It's interesting to note that the article states at the beginning that animated cartoons were subjected to stricter censorship regulations than live-action films because it was assumed that anything animated was for children, who needed to be protected. Similar justifications were used for comic books (with the Comics Code, which was in force until publishers started ignoring it in the 1960s or so, and had similarly puritanical scope), and in current video game censorship in Australia.
(via Boing Boing)
Will Hodgkinson, Guardian columnist and early-1970s folk-rock enthusiast, has decided to start his own record label, and is writing about it:
The plan is simple: in the space of one year, I'm going to launch a record label. I have a name for it (Big Bertha), enough of a loan to get going, in a modest sort of way (£5,000), and a philosophy (Big Bertha's releases have to fit into my existing record collection: somewhere between 1968's Chelsea Girl by Nico and 1972's Moyshe McStiff and the Sacred Lancers of the Tartan Heart by medieval folk-rock obscurities Cob).The unabashedly retro focus sounds like it could constrain the label somewhat; then again, perhaps in this day when most "indie" music one hears about that's not whorishly commercial and artistically moribund is describable as "hippie-folk" (with, perhaps, the odd laptop), it could work. Perhaps Pitchfork will pick up their releases and break them?
Hodgkinson then describes the next step of his adventure: the talent-scouting process.
My evening at the boozer in the official role of Big Bertha talent scout did not get off to a good start. First up was a woman who insisted on explaining what each one of her painfully literal songs was about. "This song's about the Iraq war," she said, before singing a song called The Iraq War. Then came a middle-aged woman in thigh-high leather boots who looked, in a rather disturbing way, like my mother. She took tambourines and miniature drums out of a Tesco carrier bag and passed them round the audience, insisting that we bang along as she jumped around the stage and yelped discordantly. I shook my tambourine weakly and tried not to burst into tears. The next act was called Scrotum Clamp. Further comment is surely superfluous.The article is the first in a monthly series, which will chart the progress of newly-formed Big Bertha Records.
A Times columnist's take on France24 and those silly French people:
Since, alongside the news , the new state-funded France 24 channel sees itself as an ambassador for the French "art de vivre" (French for "way of life") and for its "savoir faire" ("rural snail-tasting festivals"), the channel launched at 7.29 GMT yesterday evening -- presumably in order to allow staff and viewers to first knock back a couple of reviving Pernods after their return from the traditional Gallic post-work/pre-dinner bout of hanky-panky ("mouchoir-pouchoir").
That means that at the time of writing, we don't actually know what the opening headlines were. But we might guess they were something along the lines of, "Iraq, c'est encore un grand mess, n'est-ce pas?" (literally, "That George Bush is a dork, isn't he?"); And "L'Angleterre evidemment a une équipe de cricket qui joue comme un bunch de garçons de Nancy -- pas, obvieusement, notre Nancy en Lorraine!"); though maybe not, "Et maintenant, les actualités chaud directe de Rwanda ...").
France 24 is basically a TV channel for a nation that is annoyed that it has failed to persuade the rest of the world to speak French rather than English (apart from -- and this really embarrasses them -- the word gauche, which is the universally used term for "Donald Rumsfeld").Aside: I wonder which variant of English France24 will use: whether it'll be broadcast in the Commonwealth English of their ancient adversaries and fellow EU members across la Manche, or the American English of their former revolutionary protegés and historical friends, recently seen eating Freedom Fries and putting "First Iraq, then France" bumper stickers on their Hummers.
Not that long after al-Jazeera launched its defiantly postcolonial English-language news channel, another player is entering the market; France 24 will be a 24-hour news channel, funded by the French government and a French private TV network, and broadcasting in French and English (with Spanish and Arabic to be added later).
France 24 can be viewed through its web site (if you have Windows Media installed), and will be available on cable TV. Its mission is, in its own words, "to cover worldwide news with French eyes"; the channel insists its editorial policy will be independent of the French government (though, in either case, you'd expect them to say so).
The Graun writes about The Pitchfork Effect, which is sort of like the Slashdot effect, only rather than overwhelming web servers, it propels obscure indie bands to fame and critical acclaim, on the strength of a single review in one of the new generation of independent music websites like Pitchfork and DrownedInSound. These sites can now make or break a band by word of mouth, not because they are read by many music fans, but because they reach the few passionate enough about new music to be high up the opinion-forming chain; by the time a band filters down to corporate mass media dinosaurs such as NME, and the millions of teenagers of all ages who buy their "indie" uniforms through the mail-order ads in the back hear of a band, it's overexposed and the Pitchfork coolsies have moved on to the next new thing.
But websites flourish precisely because they don't have to worry who to put on their covers, a factor that still makes or breaks magazine sales. They feel more fearless in the face of the music industry because they're not part of the system, says Schreiber. "Publications obviously seem to feel they need to watch their step and not alienate the label or the artist or the publicist or the advertising department, but that means sacrificing a lot of how you wind up feeling about a lot of the records you have to cover. We don't have to do that."
Travis buys plenty of albums from Pitchfork's recommendations, because he believes its reviews. "I trust them because Pitchfork has more independence. It's like the NME used to be, back in the day. These days it has more of an agenda. Like when Conor [McNicholas, editor of the NME] said on national TV that the NME wouldn't put Antony [of Antony and the Johnsons] on the cover after he'd won the Mercury Music Prize - because he was 'too weird'. It's staggering to hear that."Also in the Guardian: a piece on the recent wave of Balkan/Gypsy-influenced indie music.
Cory Doctorow argues that high-definition television might kill special-effects-heavy blockbusters, by amplifying the way that Moore's Law keeps increasing audience expectations and making last year's special-effects extravaganza look like so much cheese:
It's a good reason to go to the box-office, but it's also the source of an awful paradox: yesterday's jaw-dropping movies are today's kitschy crap. By next year, the custom tools that filmmakers develop for this year's blockbuster will be available to every hack commercial director making a Coke ad. What's more, the Coke ads and crummy sitcoms will run on faster, cheaper hardware and be available to a huge pool of creators, who will actually push the technology further, producing work that is in many cases visually superior to the big studio product from last summer.
It's one thing for a black-and-white movie at a Hitchcock revival to look a little dated, but it's galling -- and financially perilous -- for last year's movie to date in a period of months. You can see what I mean by going to a Lord of the Rings festival at your local rep-house and comparing the generation-one creatures in Fellowship of the Ring to the gen-three beasts in Return of the King.Where does HDTV come into this? Well, until now, yesteryear's blockbusters could make back some of their mammoth production costs on the long tail of DVD rentals and TV licensing; thanks to the inherent poor quality of TV, consumers were more forgiving of their dated effects. With HDTV, this may not be so, and the long tail may be decimated, making mega-blockbusters uneconomical to produce.
(via Boing Boing)
This looks like a potentially interesting film:
"Heartbroken by a break-up with his girlfriend Desiree, twentysomething Zia (Almost Famous' Patrick Fugit) kills himself - only to wake up in the afterlife: a purgatory populated exclusively by other suicides, where the jukeboxes only play Joy Division and Nirvana, all the colours seem desaturated, and life is more or less the same as back in the real world - 'just a little worse'. Learning that his beloved ex has also taken her life, he hooks up with a Russian misfit (whose final moments, seen in flashback, provide one of the film's funniest scenes), and a moody Goth hitchhiker (Shannyn Sossamon), and sets off in a battered station wagon to find her; the resulting road-trip - including a scene-stealing cameo by Tom Waits - forms the basis of this ruefully funny road movie."And there's an IMDB entry here.
(via Mind Hacks)
Psychologists Sara Gutierres, Ph.D., and Douglas Kenrick, Ph.D., both of Arizona State University, demonstrated that the contrast effect operates powerfully in the sphere of person-to-person attraction as well. In a series of studies over the past two decades, they have shown that, more than any of us might suspect, judgments of attractiveness (of ourselves and of others) depend on the situation in which we find ourselves. For example, a woman of average attractiveness seems a lot less attractive than she actually is if a viewer has first seen a highly attractive woman. If a man is talking to a beautiful female at a cocktail party and is then joined by a less attractive one, the second woman will seem relatively unattractive.
Psychologists Sara Gutierres, Ph.D., and Douglas Kenrick, Ph.D., both of Arizona State University, demonstrated that the contrast effect operates powerfully in the sphere of person-to-person attraction as well. In a series of studies over the past two decades, they have shown that, more than any of us might suspect, judgments of attractiveness (of ourselves and of others) depend on the situation in which we find ourselves. For example, a woman of average attractiveness seems a lot less attractive than she actually is if a viewer has first seen a highly attractive woman. If a man is talking to a beautiful female at a cocktail party and is then joined by a less attractive one, the second woman will seem relatively unattractive.
The strange thing is, being bombarded with visions of beautiful women (or for women, socially powerful men) doesn't make us think our partners are less physically attractive. It doesn't change our perception of our partner. Instead, by some sleight of mind, it distorts our idea of the pool of possibilities.
Our minds have not caught up. They haven't evolved to correct for MTV. "Our research suggests that our brains don't discount the women on the cover of Cosmo even when subjects know these women are models. Subjects judge an average attractive woman as less desirable as a date after just having seen models," Kenrick says.
So the women men count as possibilities are not real possibilities for most of them. That leads to a lot of guys sitting at home alone with their fantasies of unobtainable supermodels, stuck in a secret, sorry state that makes them unable to access real love for real women. Or, as Kenrick finds, a lot of guys on college campuses whining, "There are no attractive women to date."This effect apparently manifests itself in higher rates of divorce or persistent singleness due to people exposed to quantities of images of attractiveness their brains are not evolutionarily adapted to, and thus developing dissatisfaction with actual potential partners.
Mind you, this article is rather male-centric (it's partly a survey of studies, and partly a lament from the head of a Los Angeles PR agency, kvetching bitterly about all the unfeasibly gorgeous women he is surrounded by and how their presence is making his life a hell), and doesn't cover the female perspective; i.e., whether women are bombarded with images of unfeasibly attractive potential male partners, and whether this causes them to feel dissatisfied with actual partners (or potential partners) to the same extent.
(via Mind Hacks)
News At Seven is a new experimental system which converts RSS feeds into TV-style news videos, with 3D animated characters (apparently taken from shoot-'em-up games) reading the news according to scripts. A talking head in a newsroom reads the stories as automatically selected images are projected behind her; then a blogger's comment is introduced by a scruffy-looking "man in the street" being interviewed as other people walk by. (The fact that the other people appear to be dressed in uniforms and walking at the same pace makes them look less like passers-by and more like troops marching off to war; perhaps they need to randomise them a bit more?) Anyway, it looks rather impressive. I wonder how long until there are publicly available RSS readers that do something like this.
(via Boing Boing)
Remember Mahir Cagri, the globetrotting, red Speedo-wearing Turkish journalist/photographer who went looking for love and "nice nude models and peoples" on the web all those years ago? Well, now he's apparently planning to sue Sacha Baron-Cohen for basing his Borat character on him without permission.
(via Boing Boing)
Reporters Sans Frontières has published its 2006 Press Freedom Index, ranking the world's countries in where they stand in press freedom. There's little change at the top (mostly Nordic countries, with the notable absence of Denmark due to the cartoons row; the poll counts incidents of violence, harrassment and intimidation against journalists, not instances of the defense of press freedom, so any boat-rocking will look bad), nor at the bottom, with North Korea still being world champion of repression, and the likes of Iran, Cuba, Burma and Turkmenistan (whose eccentric dictator, ironically, has just opened a book-shaped building dedicated to the media and "free creativity"; perhaps they can put the cells where journalists are tortured inside it?) being not much better.
The United States has fallen nine places, thanks to uses of national-security laws against journalists critical of the "war on terror" (if it's any consolation, this was done in the name of freedom), and the jailing of blogger Josh Wolf, and France's position has also continued to decline. Meanwhile, Australia has dropped a few points (which is attributed to "anti-terrorist laws").
An Italian television programme invited 50 politicians to its studio on the pretext of being interviewed and surreptitiously tested them for drugs; the result was that 12 politicians tested positive for cannabis, and 4 for cocaine:
The programme sent a reporter to interview lower house deputies allegedly for a programme about the 2007 draft budget currently going through parliament.
But unbeknown to each of them, the make-up artist employed by the show was dabbing their brow with swabs, and their perspiration was later tested for cannabis and cocaine.The satirical programme, Le Iene ("The Hyænas") is on the network run by right-wing ex-Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi, so it is not known how impartial the target selection was. Given that cannabis was more prevalent than cocaine, one does wonder.
My favourite radio programme these days is International Pop Underground. This is a weekly 2-hour show on Melbourne's community radio station 3RRR, presented by music journalist Anthony Carew, and playing a broad selection of interesting music from all over the world, ranging from indiepop to post-rock to antifolk to bedroom electronica; it's quite variable, though typically falls somewhere in the pop-music tradition whilst having that slightly rough-hewn, handcrafted eccentricity absent from the assembly-line ad-jingle/ringtone music most people know as "pop".
I started listening to this back in Melbourne some years ago, tuning into 3RRR using a radio. I stopped doing so when moving to London, mostly because, while you can stream it from the radio station's web page, it falls inconveniently on Wednesday morning local time. A year and a bit ago, I cobbled together a script for capturing and storing the stream for future listening, and started tuning in, sporadically, again. In recent months, I have started regularly listening to this show (usually on the following Saturday morning, whilst still in bed; at(1) is my friend). Whilst doing so, I have discovered numerous gems; for example, last week's show included:
- The Blow, Babay (Eat A Critter, Feel Its Wrath); a cute, clever song about meat-eating as a metaphor for unrequited love, from the point of view of the eaten creature/spurned lover, over a choppy, jaunty, Casiotone-ish backing. One for DJ sets.
- The Decemberists, Sons and Daughters; nothing to do with the old Australian TV soap or the NME band from a few years ago, but rather a song rallying the faithful to flee strife and persecution in boats and dirigibles and leave for a new underwater utopia of freedom and abundant cinnamon. Surreal and yet stirring.
- José González' cover of Kylie Minogue's "Hand On Your Heart", and André Herman Düne's similarly acoustic cover of Bronski Beat's "Small Town Boy", both of which were quite good.
- Okkervil River, The President's Dead, which was almost like a piece of spoken word set to music, about an otherwise ordinary, and quite pleasant, day suddenly shattered by an event in the news.
- And a track by The Whitest Boy Alive, Erlend (Kings Of Convenience) Øye's new electropop project, whose CD I'll have to get. (Damn you, Mr. Carew, for making me spend so much money on CDs.)
This is not the only programme on RRR I listen to; I also sometimes tune into Local And/Or General, the new-Australian-indie show. I don't listen to it as often as IPU because it's not as consistently rewarding. Whilst it does play a few gems, there is rather a lot of standard garage/pub/grunge rock to sort through to get to it.
Project Censored has published a list of the top 25 news stories you didn't hear of in the mainstream media:
1 Future of Internet Debate Ignored by Media
2 Halliburton Charged with Selling Nuclear Technologies to Iran
4 Hunger and Homelessness Increasing in the US
11 Dangers of Genetically Modified Food Confirmed
14 Homeland Security Contracts KBR to Build Detention Centers in the US
18 Physicist Challenges Official 9-11 Story
24 Cheney's Halliburton Stock Rose Over 3000 Percent Last Year
(via Boing Boing)
Today's Evening Standard headline: "CHATROOM LED TO MODEL'S MURDER"
Upon closer examination, the details of the story emerge. Apparently the model in question was murdered by her boyfriend at the time, whom she had initially met in an internet chatroom.
So yes, whilst one could say that, were it not for the chatroom, she'd probably still be alive, claiming that the Evil Evil Internet led directly to her death is a bit of a stretch. Though why let logic get in the way of selling copy?
This evening, I tuned into BBC News 24. The intro ran, and on came the newsreaders, informing the audience of the big story: the English football team was beaten by Portugal, and was out of the World Cup.
The report played a clip of the goal that ended it all, and the Portuguese player's triumphant expression. Then they crossed to England supporters outside the stadium in Germany, with the reporter asking them how they felt. Not surprisingly, they were disappointed.
Then the report crossed to Lisbon, where fans were partying. The reporter asked a few how they felt; they were elated. This just in: Portuguese football fans celebrate when their team wins.
This went on for 20 minutes, discussing the mechanics of the game, the hopes and dreams of various fans, and so on, after which they briefly crossed to the rest of the day's news. And in other news: 60 people were killed in a bomb blast in Iraq, as sectarian violence threatens to escalate further. Presumably things are also happening in other parts of the world (such as, say, the Gaza Strip and Somalia, to name two recently newsworthy locations), though one can't be sure because there wasn't time to mention them.
Am I the only one who sees something wrong with this?
A comparison of US and British media's responses to domestic terrorist acts:
Right this minute, on the BBC World service: a lengthy report on humanitarian efforts in Africa. No news crawl. If you didn't know the London bombings had happened already, you wouldn't even know.
Right this minute, on CNN International: a lengthy report on anti-terrorism efforts in other countries, so far specifically framed as a series of successful trades: decreasing freedom for increasing surveillance, with greater security supposedly as the net result. Along the bottom, a news crawl repeats bombing-related headlines constantly.
One of these things is not like the other. One is constant, constant fear-pandering. The other -- from the country that actually suffered the bombings, no less -- is still reporting something resembling actual news, with something resembling a dose of actual perspective.Then again, don't Britain's commercial news providers (Murdoch's Sky News) push the fear angle hard as well, mostly because that's what gets the eyeballs? Or is it a matter of (a) the American public being fear junkies, or (b) the US media being in the service of neocons (and/or reptilian aliens that psychically feed off fear), in whose interests it is that the population is kept terrified?
A related thought: if Britain was like America, we'd probably have Dannii Minogue singing Rule Britannia (and/or God Save The Queen, complete with the jingoistic third verse -- "confound their politics, frustrate their knavish tricks, on Thee our hopes we fix") at a star-studded gala right now.
Meanwhile, Sky TV (the Australian satellite TV company, jointly owned by Murdoch's BSkyB and two other Australian media oligarchs, Kerry Packer and Kerry Stokes) is lobbying to take over the ABC's Asia Pacific television service. The contract comes up for renewal next year, and the government hasn't said which way it'll lean. Who knows; perhaps some Evangelical Christian group will come out of nowhere and snatch the contract or something?
According to former RRR announcer Cousin Creep (since working on US radio), the latest thing in radio formats in the US is a format called "Jack". The Jack format appears to consist of the equivalent of an iPod full of songs from various incompatible genres put on shuffle, with prerecorded "short patronizing voice overs with lame postmodern attitude" between the tracks (whatever that means); apparently it appeals to the ever-shortening attention spans of the public or somesuch, and also means that stations don't have to employ DJs.
Could the radio format which only plays "the best 30 seconds" of each song be far off?
In the wake of the Band Aid 20 charity single (which is rumoured to be awful), NYLPM looks at what happened to Band Aids #3 through to #19:
Band Aid 3: Recorded in a secret corner of the Hacienda, "Baggy Aid" in 1990 melded social conscience with a wah-wah break and found Shaun Ryder offering to feed the starving his melons. That Line was sung by Bobby Gillespie, but nobody heard his reedy mewlings and the single flopped.
Band Aid 8 and Band Aid 9: The blackest hour in the long history of Band Aid saw a schism as Blur and Oasis insisted on recording separate versions of the legendary song for Christmas 95. Blur's video featured Keith Allen in a dress riding a desert goat and Oasis' contribution ran into trouble when Liam punched Michael Buerk in the face. A disgusted public turned instead to Kula Shaker's Crispian Mills, who promised to feed the world with his cosmic love.
Band Aid 15: Radiohead's "Kid A(id)" was more challenging than most interpretations, being a 17-minute video installation showing Thom Yorke being chased by a bear to the sound of a whimpering child. Retail response was sluggish.
Australia has come in in 41st place in Reporters Without Borders' annual Worldwide Press Freedom Index; which is below all EU members, several other Eastern European countries, South Africa and Hong Kong; in contrast, New Zealand ranked ninth, only slightly below the 8 nations sharing first place. Australia's dismal showing has to do partly with restricted press access to refugees, though chances are that media ownership concentration, defamation laws and attempts to force journalists to reveal their sources have also contributed.
The bottom of the list is held, predictably, by North Korea (at #167), with Cuba just above it. Saudi Arabia is at #159, three places ahead of China, while Singapore is at #147. Brazil, a popular recent poster child of the Third Way, languishes at #66. The US's arrest of journalists at anti-Bush protests and restrictions on journalistic visas have knocked it down to #22. Meanwhile, in the Middle East, Israel is at #36 (shared with Bulgaria), except in the occupied territories, where it is at #115 (shared with Gabon), though ahead of the Palestinian Authority (#127, slightly better than Egypt and Somalia).
First place is shared by Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Ireland, the Netherlands, Norway, Slovakia and Switzerland.
Danny O'Brien on the growing class of microcelebrities; people/bands/&c. who are famous within a smallish, widely distributed group:
But there are plenty more people who are what Carl Steadman first identified as microcelebrities: famous for fifteen hundred people, say. And fifteen hundred very thinly distributed people too. One person in every town in Britain likes your dumb online comic. That's enough to keep you in beers (or T-shirt sales) all year.
But is it enough? Is fame relative? The upper reaches of fame have disappeared beyond human ken - so does that mean that we're all humiliated by not being as popular as Madonna? Or is it a fixed constant? If you're liked by about-a-paleolithic-tribesworth, is that enough to keep the average person with a smile on their face?
Danny mentions a band named Groovelily, who sit in this middle class of fame; who have small groups of fans around the world willing to put them up and arrange gigs. Which sounds like a familiar story to anybody into indie music (of the DIY-CDs-sold-at-gigs variety, not the signed-to-a-label-just-outside-the-Big-4 variety).
In fact, microcelebrity seems to be the default meaningful sort of fame; the megacelebrities, the various Madonnas and Elvises of this world, are too few in number and too eroded by the demands of mass appeal to mean anything.
In the UK, as the Blair administration prepares to dismantle the BBC, the Tories (who, presumably, have given up on wooing the Murdoch media for the next election) are dropping the anti-BBC plank of their platform, which called for the phasing out of the license fee and reducing the BBC to a minority broadcaster like the PBS in the US, and repositioning themselves as a "friend of the BBC"; a move undoubdtedly intended to appeal to those supporters of the venerable news organisation sufficiently gullible to fall for it. However, unreconstructed Thatcherites need not feel too betrayed; as Tory leader Michael Howard points out, the BBC's charter review will take place after the general election, and there's nothing stopping a Tory government from coming out, announcing that it has weighed up the facts, and after great deliberation, decided to take the chainsaw to Auntie.
It's the end of an era for a fine American institution. Eddie Clontz, the editor/ringmaster of the Weekly World News (which is sort of like The Onion for people who never went to college or something), has died:
His own politics were mysterious. Under the pseudonym "Ed Anger", he wrote a News column so vitriolically right-wing that it possibly came from the left. Anger hated foreigners, yoga, whales, speed limits and pineapple on pizza; he liked flogging, electrocutions and beer. No, Mr Clontz would say, he had no idea who Anger really was. But he was "about as close to him as any human being".
Mr Clontz also always denied that his staff made the stories up. It was subtler than that. Many tips came from "freelance correspondents" who called in; their stories were "checked", but never past the point where they might disintegrate. ("We don't know whether stories are true," said Mr Clontz, "and we really don't care.") The staff also read dozens of respectable newspapers and magazines, antennae alert for the daft and the bizarre. When a nugget was found, Mr Clontz would order them to run away with it, urging them to greater imaginative heights by squirting them with a giant water-pistol.
The result of this was that many readers appeared to believe Mr Clontz's stories. Letters poured in, especially from the conservative and rural parts of the country where Ed Anger's columns struck a chord. If a sensible man like Anger kept company with aliens and 20-pound cucumbers, perhaps those stories too were true. When the News reported the discovery of a hive of baby ghosts, more than a thousand readers wrote in to adopt one. But the saddest tale was of the soldier who wrote, in all seriousness, offering marriage to the two-headed woman.
First online porn sites started driving old-fashioned paper porno mags out of business, and now they're getting into the articles business. Case in point: SuicideGirls.com (I believe they're one of those n3kkid-goth/raver-chicks-with-piercings/emo-glasses sites) has an article section, mostly consisting of interviews with hip, edgy celebrities, including Susannah "Invisible Cowgirl" Breslin, Neve Campbell (who apparently was a teen-slasher-movie star or something; anyway, the interview is there on the grounds of her being a "Goth" icon) and Jewsploitation-movie star Adam Goldberg. (via bOING bOING)
An article looking at the BBC's coverage of geopolitics and wars; how it differs from US media coverage, whether impartiality in war constitutes disloyalty (or the old Communists-in-the-BBC cliché), and why so many liberal Americans have turned to British media for their news:
BBC correspondent Nick Higham says anytime you report from the other side, you run the risk of getting flak. As he explains, some would charge, " 'Surely if you're objective and impartial, you are, by implication, going to be sympathetic to our enemies.' " But, "the BBC would say, 'Well, no, what we're trying to do is reflect all sides of an extremely complicated situation'.... And to do that you've got to go and talk to the Iraqis, and you've got to reflect what Osama bin Laden says. And all the rest of it."
"I think Americans, particularly conservative Americans, have a problem with the BBC approach because impartiality, which is the BBC's fundamental watchword, is itself a liberal notion," he says. "And our commitment to impartiality comes out of what is fundamentally a small 'l' liberal culture, liberal media culture, in which objectivity, impartiality are thought to be good in themselves and achievable.... The impression I get is that a lot of Americans just don't get that.... And to them it's much more important that the news media are supportive of the national effort, particularly when you go to war."
This brings to mind what David Malouf wrote in the most recent Quarterly Essay about the differences between the American and British (and thus Australian) cultures of public debate; i.e., that between the time the American colonies were founded and now, the language of public discourse in England shifted from a zealous, idealistic, absolutist tone to a more measured, impartial one, as a result of the Civil War. Which, presumably, is why many Americans are partial to flag-waving FOXNews-style jingoism, of the sort which makes Britons and Australians (and many of America's own liberals) cringe.
A less emotional analysis was conducted by the think tank Cchange, Conservatives for Change. Its 72-page report examines five years' worth of the BBC current-affairs program "Panorama" and the BBC's coverage of a single political issue, whether grammar schools should be retained or abolished. The report, available at www.cchange.org.uk, argues not that the BBC is pro-Labor and anti-Conservative, but that there is a set of political values--anti-free market, anti-business, anti-U.S., antiwar--shared by those who work there and evident in BBC reporting.
Anyway, as far as the BBC goes; apparently, the institution's charter is up for rewriting this year, and rumour has it that Tony Blair and Rupert Murdoch are in hush-hush talks about what to do with that nasty old BBC.
Rupert Murdoch has hinted that his papers may switch allegiances to the Tories in the next UK general election. If they do so, it will be an interesting test of exactly how much influence the Sun has over who forms the government.
RSF (that's Reporters Sans Frontières, not the I'm Too Sexy mob) release the first worldwide press freedom index. Finland, Iceland, Norway and the Netherlands share the first place, while the world's least free press is, unsurprisingly, in North Korea. Australia is at #12, alongside Belgium, and ahead of the US (#17) which is ahead of the UK (#21, jointly with Benin and Uruguay). Italy has the worst ranking in the EU (#40), mostly thanks to the Berlusconi government doing to the state-run media what Alston could only dream of doing to the ABC. (via 1.0)
Finally, Al-Jazeera's English-language site is up. It looks much like any Western news portal, with clean design, headlines in sectins like Global, Culture and Sci-Tech, special features and stock quotes, and has the usual broad spectrum of news articles you'd find anywhere, from scientific breakthroughs to Hollywood goings-on. Of course, there is a difference; when I looked at the front page, there were no fewer than eight mentions of Israel in the headlines, none of them remotely sympathetic. The criticism of U.S. policies and politics (whilst secondary to anti-Israeli sentiment) was also at a level that makes even the Guardian, that favourite whipping boy of the Patriot Pack, look like CNN by comparison. Having said that, the stories seemed mostly free of polemic and did attempt to take a balanced look at issues, from a Middle-Eastern Arab perspective.
According to the Age article, the al-Jazeera English-language servers are located in France. I'm sure the neocons will have a field day with that.
Along the lines of stars without make-up: Models without Photoshop (2). With roll-overs showing the Before image. It's interesting to see how fallibly human the original, unretouched images of the Modern Ideals of Feminine Beauty look without that old Photoshop magic. Though some people on MeFi think that the "originals" were retouched in the opposite direction to look exaggeratedly freakish.
In the US, Congress has overturned the FCC's media-ownership deregulation plan, which was widely feared to result in further consolidation of media ownership and the squashing of what diversity remains. The vote took many by surprise, as they expected the Republicans (traditionally friends of Big Business; see also: the Democrats) to suppress the revolt in the House of Representatives. It's not over yet, as Bush has indicated he may veto the bill (though some are saying that doing so would be political suicide, especially now that the invulnerability of a wartime presidency has worn off).
Having claimed the lion's share of the US non-jingoistic media market with its web edition, the Guardian is planning to establish a US edition. This will be a weekly magazine (perhaps like the Guardian Weekly sold here in Australia), with 60% of the content from the Guardian proper and the rest written by US contributors.
First, it's important to understand the anomalous nature of the Guardian itself. There may not be anything else quite like it in commercial publishing anywhere. The Guardian is the fruit of a legal trust whose sole purpose is the perpetuation of the Guardian. In other words, the trust&emdash;the Scott Trust, created in 1936 by the Manchester family that controlled the paper&emdash;eliminates the exact thing that has most bedeviled media companies: the demands of impatient shareholders and the ambitions of would-be mogul CEOs.
I wonder whether there is any reason that such a thing started and kept going in Britain and not America. Is there some difference between the British and American cultural and/or media environments that would have made something like the Guardian less likely to get going, or to survive, in the US, or is the Guardian's British origin more or less an accident of history? (via FmH)
Dating a blogger, reading about it, or the consequences of bloggers going on about their co-workers/boyfriends/buddies/&c:
Indeed, for many bloggers being noticed seems to be the point. John M. Grohol, a psychologist in the Boston area who has written about bloggers, said they often offered intimate details of their lives as a ploy to build readership.
Or perhaps it's pathological narcissism or exhibitionism? Or perhaps a symptom of the human need to communicate in a disconnected, depersonalised society?
That became an issue for a recent boyfriend of hers, a 34-year-old Manhattan hedge-fund manager who feared that having his name in the blog could compromise his business relationships. During his eight-month stint as a nameless regular on Ms. Clemente's site, he said, "it was an odd feeling that there was a camera on me." Friends and relatives who knew about the site followed his relationship online, he said. "On occasion my mother would send me an e-mail saying, `How was the play?' or, `Sounds like you had a nice weekend away,' " he said.
I wonder how long until we see personal ads reading "blogger seeks exhibitionist", promising Internet-wide fame to anyone wanting to go out with them. I suspect there'd be takers out there (though whether one would want to sleep with them is another matter).
When the relationship ended, she said, "I had totally random people e-mailing me saying they were sad we broke up." She described the experience as "totally weird," but added, "As a writer, having anyone read your stuff is a compliment."
The proliferation of personal bloggers has led to a new social anxiety: the fear of getting blogged, as friends of bloggers face the prospect of becoming characters in a public drama:
"It's personal etiquette meets journalistic rules," Mr. Denton, the blog publisher, said. "If you have a friend who's a blogger you have to say, `This is not for blogging.' It's the blogging equivalent of `This is off the record.' "
Then again, the question is, is that really blogging? Blogging was originally about linking to things on the web and/or commentary on various ideas/media; however, the word seems to have mutated to mean "any web page where new content is added at the top", with many in this category being online diaries/journals. Meanwhile, you're as likely to find old-sk00l link-based blogging in LiveJournal sites as elsewhere. (And whatever happened to E/N sites, the geek-macho cousins of blogs?)
IMHO, my philosophy of blogging is that it is not so much about one's everyday life as about one's intellectual interests. This includes links to interesting sites/articles, commentary about books/movies/music/ideas/current events, and so on. Sure it may not be as "personal" as giving the juicy goss about one's sex life or rabbiting on about the poor quality of coffee at work, but it's more interesting.
In my blog, I specifically avoid talking about friends, coworkers, places of employment and so on, for the usual reasons.
And you probably won't find me talking about recent dating experiences/trips to the supermarket/taking my cats to the vet/whatever; there's enough of that sort of thing elsewhere on the web (and some do it more rivetingly than others).
In short, this blog is not a journal, and not an intimate window into the author's private life. (The author's prejudices and fixations, maybe.)
(That's also why the <TITLE> of this blog says "I am not your friend in the void"; if after reading a blog for a while you start to think of the author as a close friend, or someone you have a special relationship with, you probably need to get out a bit more.)
Anyway, that's just my view on the matter.
Britain's Independent Television Commission is investigating claims that Rupert Murdoch's Fox News is biased. Apparently, for some quaint reason, such things are still frowned upon in Britain, to the extent that if the claims are found to be true, Fox News could be forced off Murdoch's Sky satellite TV network in the UK (something for which there is ample precedent). Unless, of course, they get their sponsored politicians and/or their good friend Tony Blair to relax the "archaic", "anti-competitive" impartiality laws (which, given enough money, can probably be proven to contravene some international free-trade agreement or other).
Where did Iraqi minister of information Mohammed Saeed al-Sahaf, famed for his fancifully optimistic statements, disappear off to? It turns out that he's now writing a column for the Guardian, weighing in on matters such as the catastrophic failure of congestion charging in London:
Do not believe for one moment the lies of the immoral mercenaries of the mayoral office. The truth is that in the weeks since the charge was implemented, traffic on all ring roads and major arteries has trebled, while central London has become a scorched wasteland, populated only by foxes and jackals. Yet still millions of innocent people are charged each day for journeys that they have never undertaken.
I wonder how long until some genius from blogspot.com seizes this article as evidence that the Graun really is Saddam Bin Laden's propaganda engine, just like Al Quaeda or Al Jazeera or whateverthefuckit'scalled.
A Canadian journalist comments on the one-sided and gleefully lascivious coverage of the war in the US media:
Every station has its own war logo (Target Iraq, Attack on Iraq, Strike Against Iraq.) A more appropriate logo for CNN might be The Joy of War. With a CNN reporter describing an American tank rushing towards Baghdad Thursday night as the most lethal killing machine on earth, CNN anchor Aaron Brown could hardly conceal his excitement. Are you dazzled by what you see? he asked, turning to CNN in-house general Wesley Clark. Together the two men marveled at the American killing machines visible speeding across the sand.
Then there was Rumsfelds vow that setting oil fields on fire would be punished as a war crime. Those Iraqi barbarians! Clearly, its one thing to drop mega-bombs on people, quite another to do something really evil like destroy a perfectly good oil well. Lets not allow things to get out of control.
Ah yes; controversial Arab independent news service Al Jazeera's English-language web site is up. See it before it gets h4x0r3d.
If truth is the first casualty of war, dictionary definitions are a notable piece of collateral damage. For example, the BBC has been accused of bias for not following the patriotic party line of CNN/FOXNews.
"The Beeb is a mandatory government-run service staffed with the usual people who go into government-run media, i.e. left-wing hacks," British expatriate Andrew Sullivan writes on his Web site. "The BBC is increasingly perceived, even by sympathetic parties, as the voice in part of the anti-war forces. . . . How the Beeb ceased to become an objective news source and became a broadcast version of the Nation is one of the great tragedies of modern journalism."
Ah yes, the old Communists-in-the-BBC line. Didn't Alexei Sayle do a skit about that in the 1980s? (via MeFi)
First Foot is a new(?) "alternative media" site from Scotland. (Think socialists-in-kilts radicalism, regional humour and a wealth of information on Scottish culture you probably won't find in Edinburgh's Royal Mile.) (Not sure where I found this.)
Interesting to see that their list of Good Scottish Pop contaisn Cocteau Twins, Bill Drummond and The Associates, whereas Belle & Sebastian and Jesus and Mary Chain are classed as Bad Scottish Pop. No word on where Mogwai would be.
Fed up with being kept in the dark and fed bullshit by local news outlets, increasingly many Americans are turning to British and European news sites for world coverage. (via bOING bOING)
The American public is apparently turning away from the mostly US-centric American media in search of unbiased reporting and other points of views. Much of the US media's reaction to France and Germany's intransigence on the Iraqi war issue has verged on the xenophobic, even in the so-called 'respectable' press. Some reporting has verged on the hysterical - one US news web site, NewsMax.com, recently captioned a photograph of young German anti-war protesters as "Hitler's children".
One of the overseas news sites cited there is none other than the Guardian, that much-vilified mouthpiece of Saddam Bin Laden and his evil cronies. It's funny, because even before 9/11, "Guardian reader" was British shorthand for a certain type of urbane moderate leftist, a person attracted to worthy causes and seeing themselves as a fundamentally good human being in a specifically liberal-humanist way. Nowadays, in parts of the US (or at least of blogspot.com), it has become this generation's equivalent of "Vietcong sympathiser" or something. (See also: "Communist" as generic term of abuse, as in "dot-communists" being stock-optioned yuppies putting rents up.)
Meanwhile, the Graun has this piece on al-Jazeera, the controversial Arab news network which has made many enemies in the Middle East, and now plans to roll out an English-language network to compete with the BBC and CNN.
If one good thing was to come out of the (alleged) current anti-French mood in the US it would be that Marcel guy in Linux Journal toning down his corny "French chef" act. Though, as of the "March 2003" issue, it doesn't seem to have happened.
The Realities of Online Reputation Management, an essay about the Internet's effect on reputation and spin.
Hate campaigns are surprisingly unsuccessful with the masses. Certainly hate sites attract the like-minded, and for awhile got good mainstream media attention. But again, the "Back" button. On the Web there is always another "channel." The ethnic slaughters in the wake of Yugoslavia's disintegration were largely blamed on inflammatory talk radio - and the absence of contrary opinion.
In a similar vein, at present it would probably be impossible to spread a false "oil shortage" story through the Internet, as the American oil companies and mainstream media did in 1972. In fact the Internet would probably demolish such propaganda in days. In 1972, it was not until months later that a merchant marine officer told me how his oil supertanker had been held off the New Jersey coast for six weeks at the height of the "oil shortage." Today, he would have emailed Matt Drudge.
Of course, the fact that the Internet has put paid to older forms of skulduggery doesn't mean that new, more subtle forms won't take their place. (via Slashdot)
Now that mobile phones with built-in digital cameras are becoming popular, the BBC is asking readers to send in their photos of events going on around them. It looks like it could be an interesting experiment in grass-roots photojournalism.
Meanwhile, another British media institution is asking readers to stick their logo on their foreheads, and send in photos. This is in response to an ad agency renting out ad space on students' foreheads.
Remember 21C, the glossy, graphically impeccable cyberculture magazine of the 1990s, which followed in the footsteps of MONDO 2000, coming from a combination of the inner suburbs of Sydney and the cyberculture Petri dish of the Bay Area? (Come to think of it, remember the heady, optimistic futurism of early-90s cyberculture, when it was about more than new ways of making a buck and the latest titanium-plated gizmos?) Well, it's back, at least in the online sense. (The glossy, coffee-table-proportioned dead-tree edition may still be some way off.) And they've got articles, such as this one on bootleg remixes, and this slightly pomo celebration of the mythology of pimp culture.
James Packer, heir to one half of the Australian media oligopoly, is reportedly in with the Church of Scientology; apparently, his close friend Tom Cruise suggested that perhaps ridding himself of the ghosts of dead aliens may help with his business and marital woes or something, and he took the advice and jetted off to the Church's Celebrity Center. (And before you criticise the Scienos, ask yourself: can your religion claim to have a Celebrity Center? Didn't think so.)
(So the Murdochs are in bed with the Chinese government (and indeed any other authoritarian force they can establish a relationship of mutual respect with), and the other side are going to bed with the Clams. And that is the state of play for the vast majority of the Australian media today.)
October 18 is Media Democracy Day, a day of awareness of and protest against homogeneisation and corporate control of the media, and the media's undermining of democracy by shaping the public awareness. Sounds like a worthy cause; whether it'll achieve anything is another matter.
Falco! That venerable British institution, Punch magazine, looks likely to close its doors for the final time. Punch previously closed down in 1992, but was revived by Mohammed Al-Fayed (yes, that one) four years later. After six years of disappointing circulation, Al-Fayed pulled the plug on its life-support system, and it looks like this is the end.
And here is an article by a former writer, charting its decline over the past decades. The article suggests that Punch was a victim of the rise of television and the decline of satirical magazines. Though you'd think that with the rise of web-based humour, a revitalised heir to Punch might be able to carve out a niche for itself.
(I have fond memories of reading Punch in the school library in the late 80s. The publisher's attempt to go for the youth market was evident; they kept profiling people like Stock-Aitken-Waterman, or going on about which club Patsy Kensit or someone was seen at. All this probably led to the formation of magazines such as Oldie, which eschewed all the yoofist stuff and undoubtedly bled Punch's circulation. Though the pre-shut-down Punch did have the classic cartoon caption contest, something the relaunched one sorely lacked.)
Surprise, surprise: Australia's federal government rides to the rescue of beleaguered multinational media cartels, vowing to lift the onerous cross-ownership and foreign-media-ownership restrictions they have been struggling under, within a few months. Rupert and Kerry will be happy.
Luke Haines, the man behind Black Box Recorder and The Auteurs, has called a week-long pop strike. Starting from tomorrow, no pop music (including all modern music) is to be made, listened to or consumed, or so the Lukester says. And to discourage scabs, he and some unnamed comrades will be picketing Radio 1. Haines denies that the strike is a publicity stunt for his new album, which, incidentally, comes out tomorrow.
US Republican wiseguy P.J. O'Rourke has written a guide to US pop culture for unhip oldsters who wish to not appear, like, totally lame-o when talking to Gen-Y kids. Well, it's what passes for pop culture; mostly packaged products like Eminem and Jennifer Lopez and boy bands, incubated in tall glass buildings in LA and handed down to the masses like manna from heaven via MTV and Wal-Mart. (link via bOING bOING)