The Null Device
The debut album from Paris Hilton, icon of our times and/or unjustifiable waste of oxygen, is out, and the Graun's Alexis Petridis is having a hard time restraining his glee:
"I know music," she reassured the Sunday Times children's section. "I hear it every single day." While this obviously gives Hilton a massive advantage over those who have never heard any music and thus believe it to be a variety of cheese, there remains the nagging suspicion that this might not represent sufficient qualification for a career as a singer, in much the same way as knowing what a child is does not fully equip you for a career as a consultant paediatrician.
Understandably, those behind Hilton's debut album have left little to chance, employing a vast team of crack producers and songwriters. Some decisions regarding membership of said team seem a little baffling - when Hilton's record label decided a reggae track "would be a really good fit", they naturally called songwriter Shep Solomon, famed for mashing up Kingston dancehalls with militant Rastafarian collective S Club 7 and ragga's Queen of Slackness Natalie Imbruglia - but you can't argue with its hit-making pedigree.
But as Turn It Up cranks into life, you realise why Hilton felt it necessary to confirm to the Sunday Times that she knew what music was. She sings like a woman who has heard of something called singing, can't be sure of exactly what it might entail, but is fairly certain you do something a bit like this. She sounds both distracted and bored stiff, as if making an album is keeping her from the more serious business of standing around a nightclub in a pair of really enormous sunglasses.
On Stars Are Blind, the combination of tinny cod-reggae and your-call-is-being-held-in-a-queue vocal technique results in something so plasticky, it's perversely enjoyable. Elsewhere, Hilton's audible lack of interest torpedoes her own chances. Someone has encouraged her to make erotically charged squeals of affirmation and panting noises, with deleterious results. "Yah! Uh-huh-huh! Yah!" she huffs, like a Sloane Ranger having an asthma attack.From its description, the album sounds predictably bad; the natural product of an "artist" who epitomises content-free, vacuous celebrity. It'll be interesting to see how it will be received. Will it sink without a trace, with entire boxes of excess stock ending up in landfills? Will it, come December 2009, end up on lists of least essential albums of the decade? Or will it rise above obscurity? Will it be adopted ironically as a bulldada classic, a sort of musical equivalent of Showgirls, or will the poptimist tendency, always eager to repudiate rockism and indie snobbery, embrace its sugar-slick production values and professional songwriting in a completely unironic sense?
Want a glimpse of a possible future of air travel in the age of al-Qaeda? Look no further than Israel and its national carrier, El Al, which despite being a prize target for Islamic militants across the world, has never lost a plane:
At a checkpoint before Ben Gurion airport vehicles come under scrutiny. Passengers may be picked out for passport checks. There is another spot check and a metal detector as they enter the terminal. Then they join the queue for questioning.
"What was the purpose of your visit to Israel? What did you do here? Who did you meet? Which cities did you visit? Is this your only passport? How many times have you been to Israel? Do you speak Arabic? Have you any knives?"
The questions come thick and fast. Officials are not interested in these details. They are looking for inconsistencies that suggest someone is hiding something.Of course, El Al-level security is labour-intensive and would cost a fortune. Though we'd only need to keep it up until the oil runs out.
While antidepressants have been popular in the West for some decades, there was originally next to no demand for them in Japan, as Japanese culture (which is based on Buddhism) had no concept of depression as an illness. Then, in 1999, a Japanese pharmaceutical company introduced the concept of depression to Japan, coining a name for it: "kokoro no kaze", literally, "common cold of the soul":
For 1,500 years of Japanese history, Buddhism has encouraged the acceptance of sadness and discouraged the pursuit of happiness -- a fundamental distinction between Western and Eastern attitudes. The first of Buddhism's four central precepts is: suffering exists. Because sickness and death are inevitable, resisting them brings more misery, not less. ''Nature shows us that life is sadness, that everything dies or ends,'' Hayao Kawai, a clinical psychologist who is now Japan's commissioner of cultural affairs, said. ''Our mythology repeats that; we do not have stories where anyone lives happily ever after.'' Happiness is nearly always fleeting in Japanese art and literature. That bittersweet aesthetic, known as aware, prizes melancholy as a sign of sensitivity.
This traditional way of thinking about suffering helps to explain why mild depression was never considered a disease. ''Melancholia, sensitivity, fragility -- these are not negative things in a Japanese context,'' Tooru Takahashi, a psychiatrist who worked for Japan's National Institute of Mental Health for 30 years, explained. ''It never occurred to us that we should try to remove them, because it never occurred to us that they were bad.''
Direct-to-consumer drug advertising is illegal in Japan, so the company relied on educational campaigns targeting mild depression. As Nakagawa put it: ''People didn't know they were suffering from a disease. We felt it was important to reach out to them.'' So the company formulated a tripartite message: ''Depression is a disease that anyone can get. It can be cured by medicine. Early detection is important.''It is arguable that Japan may have needed a concept of, and treatment for, depression, with its suicide rate being over twice the levels experienced in Western countries. Though one can't help but wonder whether the cultural change brought by introducing the concept of depression will result in Japanese culture losing something and becoming more like everywhere else (which is to say McWorld). And, if so, whether or not the gains will outweigh any loss.