Thursday, December 28, 2006


An Unoriginal Source Of Frustration

Some time ago, Matt C did a post pointing out some of the more arcane and asinine decisions by the body that adjudicates upon the decency and accuracy of advertising in Britain, the Advertising Standards Authority.

When not wasting tax payers money on their own not-exactly-brilliant ad campaigns, the body makes some of the most preposterous censorship decisions in Britain today.

If you cast your minds back to this summer, you may be able to recall an advertising campaign for a product called 'Original Source shower gel'. The reason you may be able to recall the campaign is that it tried to boost the products 'natural' credentials by featuring actors in the nude - three adverts, one actor in each, two female and one male. Two of the adverts weren't complained about, and can be seen at the official website of the product (why does shower gel need a website?)

The best is yet to come, however. The third advert featured a young-ish looking woman sitting under a lemon tree. Apparently, 29 viewers said that it was offensive because the woman, who was over 18, looked under 16. The advertisers had assumed that this wouldn't be a problem; they had received clearance from the Broadcasting Advertising Clearance Centre (BACC) who had said - you're gonna love this:

'The BACC said they endorsed Cusson's comments and added that the model was, if anything, ethereal and androgynous, a sort of creature of nature like a dryad or a nymph, and came across somehow as asexual rather than sexually suggestive.'

If you kept a straight face reading that you did better than me. These are the finest minds in the nation, people! Visit4Info members can judge for themselves whether a thin eighteen year old woman looks more 'like a dryad or a nymph' here. I don't know, she looks like a woman to me:

But then what would I know, I'm not a classically trained pervert after all. The advert was changed; 29 complainants won the day - a magnificent victory over common sense was won (and the hopeless and totally irrelevant BACC was overriden yet again, making it surely the most pointless body in Britain today).

However, it goes on. The more reactionary elements of Fleet Street have done a great job in training their readers to be minor fieldmarshals in the Paedo Wars. The product website contains a messageboard (again, why?) and the Paedofinder generals descended en masse. Here are some of the classic contributions to the national dialectic:

'Too right, I think there is a bit to much body showing, especially the postiions they are in! Any pervert would enjoy it!!!'

Oh, and you would know?

'I agree with Pinkichi, it does not matter whether the Standards people did not saying anything. What does matter is that people still perceive the advert to be of a young girl (specifically underage). In this day in age, we have to be so careful not to enrich the lives of the paedophiles out there. I am waiting for a better response from Original Source before making an official complaint. '

Oh yes, the lives of paedophiles are just great in modern Britain. You know, I hear the government give them free PlayStations, just like the asylum seekers! I mean, it's totally irrelevant that the woman is actually comfortably over 18 years old, what's more important is what paedo's may or may not be thinking. One of the contributors, pinkichi - one of the 29 victorious complainants - deserves a fisk all of their own:

'If your image had been used by a paedo group how would you feel? If one of your children had been used? One of your friends? One of your nieces/nephews?'

Except that nobody has been used by a 'paedo group', nobody was abused - given that the lady is over 18, she obviously chose to be in the advert of her own free will, and I hate scare tactics about 'what if your children were abused?' No one was - so what? (it has to be said, however, that this daft idea has spread - one blog claiming to be 'seeking justice and support for survivors of child sexual abuse' has run the story)

'Unfortunately not everyone out there is innocent and nice.'

So treat everyone you meet with suspicion - after all, you can't be sure about anybody, and unless you're sure they aren't, then they're probably paedophiles.

'I have a big problem if naked children are used for profit. I have no problem with naked adults.'

So, sorry again, but what is your problem with the naked adult in front of you?

'Bottom line you are either for or against child abuse images etc. I know where I stand and have no problems being called a prude etc bring it on!'

I guess that makes me objectively pro child abuse then. Why am I not on the Sex Offenders register already? Come to that, dear reader, why aren't you - after all, you didn't complain to stop the rising tide of not-quite-child-pornography, did you? Shame on you!

Tuesday, December 19, 2006


Campbell's Comical Con Of A Climax

Nicky Campbell really is a tool:

'London is on a shortlist of five cities being considered to host an NFL game next year. Nail-biting, isn't it? Shall we send them Watford v Charlton in return? It would, I'm sure, be a great accolade to be chosen it but if it does come here, as the late Peter Cook said to David Frost in response to a dinner invitation from the Duke and Duchess of York: "Oh dear. I find I'm watching television that night."'

'No off-fence (go on, say it in a funny way) to the sport's British cheerleaders but if only they put down their pompoms and assume some ob-jec-ob-jec-tiv-ity. This is a game which appeals only to those who enjoy it's legalised brutality or get off on the cultural accretions and ghastly razzamatazz that disguise what the spectacle lacks. In crude terms, American football never reaches orgasm. A ball going into a net, through a hoop, down a hole, being touched down or blasted out of reach with supreme finality, satisfies a need deep in the primal core. Merely carrying a ball into an area after all that build-up and he-man hullabaloo is a bit, well, flaccid. It's Charles Atlas with erectile dysfunction.'

'I can't drive past goal nets without wanting to stop the car, get out, blast a ball and see that bulge and hear that ripple. I can't imagine the yearning desire to advance the ball into an endzone. Psycho-sexual problems apart, American football is, compared to our own national game, philosophically inferior. A Bostonian once said to me after watching a game of sacker: "I don't get it. You can make a great play and get nothing for it." Such is life, my dear old fruit.'

Well, pardon me Nicky for taking 'off-fence' (ha! Did you see what he did there? What a wag!) but I can't quite believe such a terrible bundle of non-sequiturs made it into the pages of a national newspaper. Campbell complains that scoring a touchdown is somehow inferior to scoring a try because . . . well, actually, I'm not quite sure why he believes that. Is it the fact that when a rugby player gets over the try line, he has to bend over a little bit and place the ball on the ground? Oh, the athletic superiority!

Quoth Mike Carlson:

'For the life of me I can't see how sinking a putt and touching down a try are similar, or how either is qualitatively better than jumping the air, grabbing a ball thrown from 40 yards away, and coming down dragging your toes inside the 'touch' line while being hit by two guys out to jar the ball, your teeth, and your wind away from you. But then, I'm a mere American.'

In the words of Philip Larkin ('Self's The Man'):

'But wait, not so fast:
Is there such a contrast?'

Try watching these videos (more rugby ones)*, and then tell me what the big athletic and sporting difference is, and then watch this video and tell me how that is in any way more sporting or athletic than either, or how its not very phallic 'climax' in any way makes up for the unremitting tediousness of all that came before it.

Ask yourself seriously; which is closer to rugby, American football or golf? Or, for that matter, basketball or netball or cricket or whatever sport it is in which the ball is 'blasted out of reach with supreme finality'?

Campbell's moan about 'cultural accretions and ghastly razzamatazz' is so much token anti-Americanism - he may or may not like cheerleaders or fireworks particularly, but they do nothing to 'disguise what the spectacle lacks' because it doesn't lack anything in a sporting sense.

Also, if I may be pardoned for going off on a rant here, if football (say) provides such an amazing spectacle that couldn't be improved by 'ghastly razzamatazz', Campbell might like to tell me why only 13000 home fans turned up to watch Wigan this weekend, or why, when Fulham travelled to Blackburn earlier in the season, only 150 Fulham fans made the trip up north? The answer might lie in his rhetorical question of whether Watford v Charlton should be sent to America - a game that Jackie Oatley described on Five Live this week as 'the worst game I've ever seen'. Or perhaps he might like to ask himself why so many people go to twenty20 cricket, and so few people go to county championship games?

Campbell risks humour again later when he writes about 'sacker' - why look, that's almost nearly how an actual, real American might pronounce it! Sadly for Campbell and those who love sneering at 'philosophically inferior' Americans, 'soccer' is actually a British word. What's more, pace Carlson again:

'I don't hear any old fruits saying 'the sport you Australians call 'soccer', although they do call it that, because, like us, they have their own form of football which they prefer to the beautiful hooligan game of shirt-tugging, crotch-grabbing, and diving.'

Campbell's real scorn, of course, is saved for 'the sport's British cheerleaders'. After all, in Obi-wan Kanobe terms, if the Americans are the fools, I'm the fool who follows them. He should try mentioning that to Colin Murray at the BBC Christmas party, for his Five Live counterpart used to present Five's coverage of the NFL during the early hours of the morning, two nights a week, and getting paid a very small amunt of money to do so, out of sheer love of the sport. He singularly fails to consider that I - or any of the sports numerous British fans for that matter - might, in fact, enjoy watching American football alongside many other sports, and that I may enjoy it precisely because it has the same characteristics as every other sport I watch, and that the 'climax' he believes is so obviously absent is so totally ephemeral to the viewing, and sporting, experience.

Cleverer than its namesake.

*The first is a video of LaDainian Tomlinson's touchdowns for San Diego, the others of rugby tries of various quality - I put several in because of the huge number of Tomlinson touchdowns contained in that video. At some point, I hope to be able to embed these videos into the post, but YouTube isn't letting me at the moment.

Sunday, December 17, 2006


No Peeping

Longer-term readers may be able to remember that at the end of March, I was rejoicing at the news that 'Peep Show' hadn't been cancelled.

Friends of mine may have noticed me muttering under my breath, whenever some fresh drivel offends mine eyes on the gogglebox, something along the lines of 'never mind, at least the new 'Peep Show' DVD is out soon'.

Indeed it is. It is with a heavy heart, therefore, that I must note I shan't be buying it. Not out of choice, but because the makers have placed something called Macrovision RipGuard on it. This piece of software prevents the disk being viewed on PCs and, crucially, PlayStation 2's, my only means of watching a DVD.

The purpose of this piece of software is to stop people ripping the disks and sharing them on Torrent sites, which may be a worthy enough goal. Unfortunately, however, their master plan has two flaws; firstly, it demonstrably hasn't worked, as series 3 is freely available on Torrent sites, and secondly, it is clearly encouraging people not to buy their product (check out the host of one star reviews, 'not for the programme but for the disk' on Amazon).

How daft is this? Why alienate people who actually want to pay for your product in favour of a doomed attempt to stop ripping? Why does this software stop the innocent user (me) from watching the DVD on a PS2, which can't rip disks anyway?

I want answers, and I want them soon. I shall set a personal deadline - if the makers don't produce a version of the DVD that I can watch by the end of January, I shall illegally download a copy.

Friday, December 15, 2006


A Film Review Of 'Borat'

It could be seen as a little ironic that in the year the studios attempted to get serious, and offered viewers the chance to peruse films about McCarthy or the troubles in the Middle East, the film that has caused the greatest critical schisms is a self-consciously vulgar narrative about a fake Kazakh journalist crossing America in order to receive some personal and national 'cultural learnings'. That such cultural learnings include naked wrestling, pubic hair as currency and Pamela Anderson surely won't have shocked a world that saw a scene involving Carmen Electra playing a blind woman taking a voluble shit in front of a crowded room in 'Scary Movie 4' played as a comedic highlight earlier this year.

A little more surprising, however, is the way the film has become a critical line in the sand, operating as a demarcation point for those critics unwilling to accept without question comedy of belittlement and grotesquerie. Director Larry Charles and provacateur Sacha Baron Cohen utilise every weapon available in their apparent quest to find the Holy Grail (a film that offends everybody, and is, therefore, in the minds of the target audience, young white men, a near nirvana of crushed social expectations). Perhaps it's Borat's unique combination of racial slurs, grossly de-eroticised sexuality and involvement of an apparently frequently unsuspecting public that provoked such strong reactions.

Or, more likely perhaps, it is the inspired marketing campaign that accompanied the film. Traditionally, it is horror films that were marketed upon the basis of how they broke laws, offended morals and were generally indecent, a bit of rough. Of course, one can go back to the 1920s and onwards to find many examples of these, but in the modern era, the template for the 'shock horror!' style of horror film marketing is Michael and Roberta Findlay's 'Snuff', which was a particularly dull slasher movie with an arguably realistic looking 'real' murder tacked on the end. The producer Allan Shackleton came up with the brilliantly inventive idea of forming outraged pickets against his own film in order to increase publicity. Ever since, horror films at the more extreme end of the market have sought notoriety through inflaming opinion. 'Borat' is arguably the first example of a succesful application of this policy to a comedy.

For it is impossible to analyse 'Borat' without analysing the real-world response the film has provoked. The ludicrous, parodic PR tour of Kazakh president Nursultan Nazarbayev and the endless post-release lawsuits merely engorge the film's already inflated cultural position. Whether or not the filmmakers are found guilty is irrelevant financially and, more importantly, confirms to a public keen to taste fresh provocation from studio comedies that have become stale from repetition and predictability that this is a film that Does Something, and that that Something must be important because people are upset about it.

The viewer's opinion on what the film achieves or fails to achieve hinges upon two key factors - readiness to accept the film's quasi-political message, and an acceptance of the transformation of unwitting civilians into roundly derided figures of fun. Arguably, the latter can be justified by the former, but the political message is less clear than some seem to believe. The film contains a coda, in which we see Borat, proudly standing in a new, less primitive Kazakhstan. One joke, hinging upon Borat's superiority in poverty to his next-door neighbour, is mirrored from the start, with Borat now appearing superior in poverty-lite. The overall effect of the coda is to enforce a classic rags-to-riches narrative arc on the proceedings, for both man and nation.

(Incidentally, this is far from the worst example of a terribly thought-out epilogue from 2006. That honour surely has to go to 'Confetti', which has an epilogue in which two of the main characters - the naturist couple - renounce the lifestyle that has been their only signifier throughout the film. Stripped of that, they are characters without a point - a complete waste of all the previous characterisation. You see, this is why they make films with scripts, so they actually make sense!)

Cohen's political point, if indeed it could be called that, is wholly generic - it turns out that some people in the southern states are a bit racist, and that men don't like being kissed by other men. If this is homophobia, class me a homophobe. Those at the sharp end of the pranks are generally helpful and sincere - even the small number who reveal views that are genuinely revolting do so in a spirit of camaraderie and banter. None of this is to say that these people don't deserve their comeuppance, but it does blunt its polemical effectiveness. Leo Goldsmith is right when he states that they generally 'deserve their treatment, if only for their extreme self-seriousness and their gullible willingness to believe that such primitive, socially retarded people as Borat actually exist overseas', but no-one should mistake their humiliation for enlightenment instead of entertainment.

So, ultimately, the only measure of the films success is whether or not it makes you laugh - and of course it did, though in patches, mostly when Cohen was showing the verbal dexterity that was a hallmark of 'Da Ali G Show' in its best years. Nobody can deny how quick he is thinking on his feet, and it is in the improvisatory, rather than staged, sequences that the film shines. Watching Cohen berate an uncomprehending woman for shrinking people into the dolls she's throwing out in a yard sale is far cleverer than an endless, five minute naked wrestling scene, particularly since Cohen presumably worked out his career would hardly benefit from an extended look at his penis, and so an improbably large strategic bar defends what's left of his modesty - a somewhat surprising copout in a film so apparently determined to mine the bottom of the barrel in a quest for provocative revulsion. Illuminating, but only very dimly, and amusing, but only occasionally, it was the most succesful failure of 2006.

Monday, December 11, 2006


The Things You Hear . . .

Sometimes just annoying:

In Sainsbury's:

'Would you like to visit to the bakery department?'

Sometimes amusing:

In the bogs at closing time at my local:

Man 1: 'Would you rather be chased by a tiger or an elephant?'
Man 2: 'A tiger. Elephants are mad when they're on a rampage and they'd crush you.'
Man 1: 'An elephant would be better, because you could hide behind a tree. You couldn't do that with a tiger.'

Wednesday, December 06, 2006


A Little Comment Goes A Long Way . . .

Shorter Mark Honigsbaum: Bird flu might have all but disappeared, but I'm still panicking!

Shorter Ian Davis: Here's an idea - we could threaten our non-existent enemies with make-believe weapons!

Shorter Anthony Giddens: The problem with Britain is that we're too obese to defend ourselves.

Shorter Michael White: The three main political parties have a God-given right to exist, and if they don't appeal to us, why then we must pay to make them appeal to us.

Shorter Ian Macwhirter: Foreigners own most of our power companies, and they aren't to be trusted to do it properly. We should own all of our power companies because only people from the country of origin can be trusted to . . . what do you mean, Enron?

Shorter Jackie Ashley: The judicial system would be better served by weeping matches between victims.

Shorter Ken Livingstone: Come on, there must be somebody else excited about the Olympics besides me?

Shorter John Lloyd: A majority of people in Scotland want independence, and a majority of people in England wish to give it to them, but the majority doesn't want Union broken.

Shorter Andrew Brown: Let's get rid of all music that's gone before. We could call it Year Zero!

Shorter Matthew Fort: Some people seem to think that cheaper to produce potatoes are a good thing, but I can't for the life of me see why.

Shorter Iain Dale: The Conservatives should probably get a bit more similar to Labour.

Shorter Alan Wolfe: I reckon those Evangelical Christians will just give up and forget politics now that they've lost an election.

Shorter Natalie Bennett: Watch as I reduce the whole of global conflict to a simple battle between men and women.

Shorter Peter Preston: Taxis are shit. We should get rid of them, and tough luck if you don't live on a bus route.

Shorter Richard Francis: The judge who presided over the Salem Witch Trials later apologised for doing so, and therefore Tony Blair should apologise for slavery, which he presi. . . oh, no, wait a minute, something's not right . . .

Friday, December 01, 2006


Let's Talk About Sex

The winner of this year's Literary Review award for the worst writing about sex in a novel was Iain Hollingshead for a passage in his novel 'Twenty Something'. Apparently, the author's reference to the protagonist's 'bulging trousers' was enough. However, BabyWashington argues, not unreasonably, that Will Self was robbed for this, from 'The Book Of Dave':

'Dave licked between Phyllis's shoulder blades and drove his tongue down her grooved back. She shuddered and, grabbing his thigh, pulled it up and over her own so that he half straddled her. In the confusion of their bodies - his hairy shanks, her sweaty thighs, his bow-taut cock, her engorged basketry of cowl and lip - there was clear intent; so that when he penetrated her, they moved into and out of one another with fluid ease, revving and squealing, before arriving quite suddenly. Dave and Phyl were having sex in her cottage outside Chipping Ongar.'

Now, I have a little difficulty understanding all of this. Before I go on, I should point out that I haven't read 'The Book Of Dave', because I don't read books in hardback as a point of principle - I fail to see why I should subsidise publishing industry vanity when it will come out in paperback in six months time. I do know, however, that people take Self seriously, and that Self takes Self even more seriously. When the novel was reviewed on the Five Live book review, the reviewers (who normally love everything they're presented with - I've only ever heard them slag off one book in the entire time I've listened) were a bit lukewarm about it, and when a member of the public who'd been given an advance copy started laying into it, Self was mightily unimpressed.

The point I'm trying to make here is that his novel isn't a joke. Whatever you think of Self as a writer, he's an excellent reader of his own work, being possessed of a fine reading voice. It's hard to believe he never read that passage to himself, and if he did, how and why did it end up on the page? It isn't just bad, it's awful, even by the standard of average entries into this dubious competition. When the imagery isn't meaningless ('engorged basketry', 'bow-taut cock'), it's vile ('hairy shanks') or else cringeworthy and cliched ('revving and squealing'). The rancid plosives, the horrible mental image, the jarring disconnect of that final line, it can't all have been accidental.

Self didn't win because the judges stated that 'heavyweights like Thomas Pynchon and Will Self are beyond help at this point'. In other words, giving the award to him would be like giving a Razzie to Ed Wood - somehow, it just wouldn't cover the scale of the offence. Yet time and time again, certain writers find themselves on this list, and Hollingshead may be amongst them - 'I hope to win it every year', he announced.

That, ultimately, is the problem with 'prizes' like this. All they do is encourage an unseemly and unfortunate race to the bottom (so to speak), creating a sort of nonsensical cache for unreadable prose.

Would you want this man narrating your sex?

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