The Loneliest Jukebox

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Tuesday, March 29, 2005

Consumed with uncertainty

Consumerism is causing miserable childhoods, according to the Scotsman. It seems that it's making our children into 'pasty-faced, stunted, miserable versions of the carefree spirits we want them to be'. The story goes on to catalogue a wide range of examples of marketing getting in the way of parenting. It repeats the claims that numerous post-Naomi Klein parents have made to me recently, namely the ability of their kids to recognise company logos from a very early age.

Not wanting to be a corporate stooge, but isn't the point of a logo its simplicity and instant recognition factor? Hence a logo being amenable to toddlers. Take today's trip to the Odeon with my six year-old, taking in Robots along the way, as a case in point. Some of the heavily trailed movies beforehand provoked instant recognition, as did a few of the products, including an omnipresent dog food commercial based on Mission Impossible, which comes on every time I take the Princess to the pictures. But one reason some commercials worked better than others was that they were based on strong 'brands' already: thus Ice Age 2 had its popular predecessor to draw upon. If kids didn't like the original, brand recognition would prompt revulsion.

Perhaps it's a good time for parents to dig their heels in and say no episodically, or at least make their offspring earn the cash to fritter away on popcorn, Robots toys - we got 'Bigweld' a.k.a. Mel Brooks - and Magic Roundabout masks.

Monday, March 21, 2005

Payton's place

I'm flying back from D.C. tomorrow after doing some archival work and seeing friends. The trip included a chance to watch some old film noirs - I write about them from time to time - on DVD. That means finishing off some days with a glass of wine and something like The Set-Up, All the King's Men, Sorry Wrong Number or Pick-up on South Street. To each his own...

A while back Jukebox profiled the movie Detour, mentioning its unsavoury star Tom Neal and his knock-out brawl with Franchot Tone over actress Barbara Payton. "The former college boxer Neal inflicted upon Tone a smashed cheekbone, a broken nose and a brain concussion", says the IMDB. For fans of Payton, at least one D.C. bookshop has a rack of cheap movies from the same distributors who recently sold me Too Late for Tears. And amid that cranky collection she takes second billing to Lloyd Bridges in Trapped. Looking closely at the packaging, the reader learns that her 'later years found Payton drunk, shooting heroin and prostituting herself in the back seat of her rusty red convertible for $5 a trick'.

Real classy guys. Does Alpha Video pay royalties from its back catalogue sales to living relatives of long-dead cast members? I don't suppose so, but I wonder if they also send them such charming prose for approval.

* The D.C. trip also allowed me to attend this event on the future of blogging.

Thursday, March 17, 2005

Not Extractly

News from back home: the Marmite ad spoofing 1950s sci-fi flick The Blob (buy it here) has been banned as it's too scary for toddlers. Some were apparently so frightened they didn't want to watch TV ever again. As a parent, I'm not convinced that's a bad thing: the not watching any more TV, that is. As an erstwhile mid-1980s vegetarian, I would like to see the ban extended to the foul-tasting product itself. As a libertarian, I don't like the ban at all. And as a former vocalist in late-80s indie band the Marmite Sisters, I once read a letter from Unilever Foods telling us that as far as they were concerned, the band didn't exist. And now it doesn't, but not thanks to the existential crisis this correspondence should have provoked.

Tuesday, March 15, 2005

Washington post

I'm currently in D.C., hence the lack of recent postings as I concentrate on the non-virtual world. But my film review of Kinsey appears here. Meanwhile Leicester crashed out of the FA cup unceremoniously, not long before I toddled down to a sports bar to watch the game, showing on time-delayed video tape (as opposed to going in a bar at 8am, which is a bit decadent even for me). Like that classic Likely Lads episode I tried to avoid hearing the score. Needless to say, first someone blabbed it and I saw Paul Dickov's killer penalty through the bar window while the landlord finished making the tape. No way was I paying a $10 cover charge for that.

Tomorrow I'm off to see Ruth Price discuss her new book, The Lives of Agnes Smedley.

Sunday, March 06, 2005

No dove lost

From time to time anti-war campaigners and commentators present Colin Powell as a voice of reason opposing the more hawkish neo-cons of the Bush administration. His comments to Jack Straw about a troika of 'fucking crazies' - said to be Vice-President Dick Cheney, Defence Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and his deputy, Paul Wolfowitz - reinforced this impression.

From reading Bob Woodward's Plan of Attack: The Road to War, it is clear that Powell is hardly a dove. Instead he pursued the administration's agenda as he saw fit. Unlike the crazies, he often had doubts - expressed to Woodward in hindsight - about what he was being expected to do. For instance when pushing for a 'maximalist approach' - trying to get the UN to endorse all US goals in Iraq in a single motion - he thought he was being set up to take a fall (p.221). Eventually Powell comes to realise he is expendable over the WMD issue, as CIA descriptions of rocket launchers prove unreliable (pp.440-441).

The basic difference between Powell and his 'crazy' antagonists is that he had a soldier's appreciation of some of the logistical difficulties in what they proposed: hardly the basis for an anti-war movement.

Friday, March 04, 2005

Totally Wired

Check out my obituary for Hunter S. Thompson, which appears here.

Meanwhile, for some time now I’ve quite fancied watching an episode of The Wire. It features a fair number of Oz and Homicide alumni in a Baltimore setting and is from HBO, which frees it from some of the constraints placed on US network TV. In the UK it shows on Fox 289, exclusive to those with a Sky digital box until recently. In neither transatlantic location do I have access to the show, until last Wednesday night, when episodes seven and eight strayed onto an old decoder box, part of the detritus that provides an infrastructure for my life as a viewer. Needless to say, it’s quite good. Nice to see J.D. Williams in action as Bodie, although these episodes are from 2002, so I’ll have wait another decade to catch up with the show properly.

Regular readers of this blog will know that I subscribe to Hoac, part of the H-Net humanities network. Recently it has turned into a sort of ersatz Cold War, with allegations of Stalinism and some timewarp Stalinist hackery on both sides. ‘Was Dalton Trumbo a scumbag' has been another theme to clog my inbox of late. (He spent a lot of time smoking in the bath, according to the San Francisco Chronicle, so today's health police would disapprove.) Maybe it’s time to split HOAC into an academic mailing list and a chat room for folks to chew each other out on: life’s too short.

Screenwriter Dalton Trumbo with his wife, Cleo, listens a...

Dalton Trumbo, accused of being a Communist, makes a stat...