The Loneliest Jukebox

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Wednesday, December 22, 2004

A Paine for Blunkett

Five weeks to go until the birthday of Thomas Paine, the man they could not contain. Should I bake a cake, or do something more self-esteem boosting and economically helpful (apparently you can do both at the same time now)? Or is indulgence of any sort a step on the road to joining the street homeless this Xmas? You would think so from the endless discussion of "Britain's binge-drinking culture", manipulated reasonably competently by former Home Secretary David Blunkett. The Sheffield methodist came a cropper when he failed to keep public and private life separate, after launching countless policies which brought the state into private life for the rest of us. Faced with the authoritarianism of Blunkett, a 21st Century Thomas Paine or two would come in handy right now.

My review of House of Flying Daggers appears here.

Sunday, December 19, 2004

Praise indeed

A reality TV anthology I contributed to a while back is helping one Portugese journalist to explain the mystery of Big Brother (blogged here). Blogger Rogério Santos has this to say of my editor: "Cummings vai mais longe, quase a atingir o sarcasmo," which sounds about right. Mr. Santos is also unimpressed with the claims made by producers Endemol, among others, that voting in reality shows is inherently democratic. Rather unkindly, given the generally ropey character of Google translations, I reproduce an English language version of review below:

It is considered, since that reality exists show Big Brother (BB), that this espelha the television of the Real. However, already very before this perception was had. The television always launched artificial formats: games, programs of notice from studios, sitcoms [situation comedies], sets of documents. What it is the television of the Real?

For Dolan Cummings (2002: xii), the television of the Real encloses formats as the Survivor , where the participants must survive in a desert island, or the Chained ones , where young the young of the opposing sex was on with chains. Where the basic element was the people presence anónima. Added of not normal situations, concurring for a prémio and involving, with frequency, the participation of the hearing. Curious that - writes down Cummings the same, in text that I follow here - the producers consider that the programs have value as documentary or same anthropology. Proper I almost it concludes this, when vi some programs of the program of the SIC Masterplan , to be able to support a text that I wrote on that television channel ("Ten years of the history of the SIC (1992-2002)", Astroroof , nº 6, November of 2002). E generally gives the name of television of the Real to the entertainment programs.

Certainly that arquétipo of this new notion of television of the Real is the BB, where a group of competitors, isolated in a house watched for television chambers the 24 hours per day, is encouraged to interact in permanent way. Every week, the competitors are called to classify its colleagues, while the hearing votes with sight to the exit of one of them. Part of the joy of the BB is the transformation of anónimos in stars not due to a special talent but because known people become, case of our Zé Maria. More of the one than this: the luck of the competitors is not in the hands of them but in the decision of the simple people and anónimas, the hearing. Therefore, if it says that the BB is democratic, and the canal where it passes the program is popular.

Cummings goes more far, almost to reach the sarcasm. For it, in necessary moment where the participation in the parliamentary elections seems to be in decline - with what this represents for the public space -, thousands of people participate in the telefónicas votings. To this if it calls going down to the hells on the part of the television. To the paleo-television , that wanted to entertain and to instruct - the neo-television occurs - where dominates denominating the minor common: sex, celebrity and voyeurístico sensationalism .
Reading : Dolan Cummings, Bernard Clark, Victoria Mapplebeck, Christopher Dunkley and Graham Barnfield (2002). Reality TV: how real is real? London: Hodder & Stoughton"
To buy the book click here.
Trivia point: 18 months or so ago Delirium Films offered me the lead in the movie short Just Dessert (DFL11) , which got through to the last 10 of the Nokia Shorts competition. Watching the excellent
Shaun of the Dead DVD in my sickbed tonight I saw that Nick Ewans, who did get the role of Slightly Mean Looking Man in Just Dessert, was excelling as Pyjama Zombie. To think it could have been me... ;)

Saturday, December 18, 2004

“All the misery of the modern world is here in Skegness.”

So said the hotelier from Provence who fetched up in the Lincolnshire resort on Home from Home (Channel 4, Thursday). After spending a fair size portion of my childhood there, I'll simply say that the place loses its charm when you get older or sober up. The seaside town marketed as 'so bracing' (translation: bloody freezing cold) was always unlikely to impress the sophisticated Frenchman.

His opposite numbers, Skegness hoteliers sent to Provence, were enjoying themselves and would like to move back there one day. Let's face it, a TV show called 'A Year in Skegness' was never going to take off. (Oddly, it's still the sort of place subject to scares linking sunshine and skin cancer.*)

When the BBC is promising to reduce the volume of house/garden/lifestyle makeover shows, it would be good to see Channel 4 doing the same. After all, it is formally (formerly?) a public service broadcaster. While I wouldn't make the same claims as appeared in the Daily Mail** this week, it is obvious to anyone who cares that this genre is spreading through the schedules like dry rot. Clearly, all the misery of the modern world is here on lifestyle TV.

* See Claire Fox, 'Public Health, Scare-Mongering and the Overbearing State', in Jessica Asato (ed.) Whose Responsibility is It Anyway? Perspectives on Public Health, the State and the Individual (Social Market Foundation, 2004).
** Helen Weathers, 'Reality TV Ruined My Life', Daily Mail 13 December 2004, pp.20-21.

Sunday, December 12, 2004

Cheerio Kampfner

For as long as I've had internet access I've been a keen reader of Against the Current. (Pre-web, I blasted through back issues in the library of Wayne State). Although I'm more keen on Alan Wald's 'Reviewing Red' section, the magazine's homepage used to boast that many readers would turn straight to R.F. Kampfer's humorous columns. Now it transpires that 'Kampfer', a.k.a. Neil Chacker - the activist behind 'Random Shots' - has succumbed to cancer.
I never knew the guy, but it's clear he could find comedy amid life in Detroit. His obituary* also reveals a keen deer hunter and firearms enthusiast, giving the lie to the idea that so-called gun nuts are all right-wing. Adios, amigo.
*David Finkel, 'Neil Chacker, 1942-2004: A Rank-and-File Fighter', Against the Current #113 [Volume XIX Number 5] (November/December 2004).
PS. Details of my next public lecture appear here.

Saturday, December 11, 2004

Random musings

This might be a good time to ensure that readers take any of last week's postings with a pinch of salt. I was probably off my face with pain half the time, so any typos or lapses of judgment can be blamed on that. That's my excuse and I'm sticking to it.

I'm still recuperating from an operation in my bachelor pad. Colleagues from work brought me some shopping. Mucho gracias - Tesco tiger loaf, there's a nice type of bread. And what's this in the Grauniad? A friendly review of Where Have All the Intellectuals Gone? Maybe Rushbridger was on holiday last week.

At the moment I'm reading The North of England Home Service by Gordon Burn. Phoenix Frights. It's grim up north. Also Words at War by Howard Blue - dramatising anti-fascism on the ether. I'm looking forward to Dave Chandler's new book, already getting good reviews. By the time I start fretting over whether I was too soft on the film Real Women Have Curves (unlike a fellow reviewer), it's time to go back to bed. And take life one step at a time.

A final question: if I only blog random scribblings while the general anesthetic wears off, what's the excuse for bloggers who do it all year round?

Wednesday, December 08, 2004

Loneliest Jukebox power supply disrupted

Earlier this week I was hospitalised for an emergency procedure. I'll spare you the details: when I whispered the name of my affliction to a laboratory rat, it winced so hard it broke its neck. My flatmate did a good job of getting me home in one piece. Special thanks* are due to the staff of Whipps Cross Hospital, who made my stay there more bearable than it could have been and saved me from some serious health problems further down the line (i.e. if I'd left things untreated for another day). I also hope that the eight medical students observing learned something from my plight and that this knowledge can be used for the good of society.

When I worked in the National Health Service in the late 1980s I never liked the slogan 'defend the NHS' because for nurses, care assistants and domestics like myself, the NHS was also the employer - Europe's largest. The institution could - and did - defend itself through a diet of low pay and long hours for its underlings. It was the job of the union - NUPE in those days - to defend its members. Pay and conditions was the only sensible basis for organising a fightback, rather than relying on public sentimentality about the 'jewel in the crown' of the post-war welfare state.

That said, I won't hear a bad word about the Whipps Cross team who sorted me out this week. Just rebuild the hospital and the car park so you don't need a PhD in cartography to get out of the place. Little wonder that people die on hospital toilets and don't get found for days.

Meanwhile I should be fit and well in time for the Art Deco Weekend 2005, where I am giving a lecture. Hope to see you there. And normal service on this blog will be restored as soon as possible.

* Thanks also to George Monbiot for giving me a laugh with his newspaper column. 'I want to live in a land in which wolves might prowl', he claims. And I know plenty of people who would chip in on your one-way ticket to live in such a place, George. Canoe or 747? Window seat or aisle?

Thursday, December 02, 2004

"He wasn't much of a fighter...

... so he wore a big hat."
So went a track on the first Nightingales LP I ever bought. So what was going to happen two decades later when John from Ambition Promotions took me to see their final gig of 2004? Well it was rather good actually. They all look like polytechnic lecturers these days, but then again, so do I. Word is that punk forerunners the Prefects were re-formed especially for an academic conference in 2001, sparking sufficient interest to get the mature band back on the road again. Cheers all round to John, Rob and the boys.
Whatever next, a Marmite Sisters revival?

PS. While the 'Gales were halfway through their set and I was enjoying myself, eco-trainspotter Laurence Durnan (; tel. 0781315429) was still up late Googling for information on the so-called LM Group, named after a magazine that closed down four years ago. Durnan cuts and pastes home addresses and employment details - including mine - onto a green blacklist that makes up part of the wiki-based Misinfopedia (find the link yourself). As I went for the last tube at 0:22 GMT, he was exposing a dangerous conspiracy of, errr, people in their day jobs.

Laurence, stop torturing yourself. If you change the security settings in your Microsoft Windows, the late-night internet porn will download properly. Allegedly.

Seriously though mate, get a life.