The Loneliest Jukebox

Graham Barnfield's weblog, being gradually replaced by his Twitter feed -

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Wednesday, May 31, 2006

The New New York Intellectuals

Last week I went to a conference entitled Libertarian Hawks or Cultural Communitarians?: Neoconservatism and the Legacy of the New York Intellectuals. It was striking that around half the panelists had little to say directly about the conference's titular themes, apart from acknowledging a passing familiarity with the ideas of Daniel Bell. It seems that a close intellectual proximity to Nathan Glazer and his 'middle generation' of NYIs has become a rhetorical device for distancing oneself from the New Labour project. Hence the contributions of Geoff Mulgan, mumbling 'progressive nationalist' David Goodhart and demographic consciousness merchant Eric Kaufmann of Birkbeck College. Scholars who've studied the New York 'family' exhaustively, such as Nathan Abrams, were left making contributions from the floor.

Least convincing was Michael Lind, now calling himself a neo-paleo-neocon [sic], which he says makes him a supporter of New Deal politics in the present day. To Lind, the problem with neo-cons is their foreign policy preoccupation, whereas what's needed is some truly neo-con domestic policy. His well-publicised claim that Trotskyists are running the Pentagon no longer features in his explanation of world events. On hearing him speak it's clear that much of his argument is about some kind of personal journey through politics; he's about eight years older than me and started off as an intern for Jeanne Kirkpatrick, gradually drifting towards the centre ground.

A correspondent writes: 'I have the impression that the "moment" when it seemed like a good marketing strategy for self-promoters to explain the neo-conservative "coup" as somehow "Trotskyist" has now passed. But the need to find some clever new label will always be with us. In this case, "neo-paleo-neocon" doesn't make much sense to me (as a cultural historian) since the New Deal was the founding moment of the new (social democratic) liberalism in the U.S., leaving the traditional liberalism to the libertarians. Oh, well, they will probably change the label again before we can figure it out.'


Tuesday, May 23, 2006

Cross-channel contagion

Happy slapping comes to France, according to Le Figaro magazine. I'm also featured in the story. Needless to say, when subject to a Google translation, the article is almost complete gibberish:
'On his Internet site, Dr. Graham Barnfield, specialist in the subject, affirm that “the idea to even divert itself by filming free attacks against passers by, schoolmates or passengers in public transport is not foreign with the popularity of the emissions of telereality”. And to add: “The telereality has an impact on our glance, on our attitudes. Today, the humiliation of a person became a source of entertainment within the framework of these emissions. It is not astonishing that teenagers try to recreate their own version.” In response to the analysis of Dr. Barnfield, a young anonymity answers by these words on the blog of the same site: “I return right from England where I did myself of the happy slappings. To put a tart or right a small slap at somebody it is funny. You do not worry, since my return I already started in France! ! !”

Monday, May 22, 2006

One sensible reporter; another journalist sold a pup

To Welwyn Garden City, where another happy slap killing took place. Except it didn't quite happen like that. Callum Latham, now a teenager with a manslaughter conviction, had friends with assault videos recorded on their phones. To impress them, he shattered Richard Topp's jaw and watched as the man fell fatally. The link to happy slapping is tenuous and - without a camera present - it's hard to say it was the motive. Meanwhile Mr. Topp's family are more forgiving than vengeful, with his fiance giving Latham a bible and his father Mike Topp saying "I don't see the point of a huge sentence. It doesn't achieve anything with kids like that."

So without a lobbying family and with common sense limiting how far the local story can be linked to the national panic, this case looks like fading quickly from the national scene and becoming a mess for family members on both sides of the courtroom to sort out.

Woof! Did you know that the new form of happy slapping is dogfighting? Just two streets away from my former home? Err, except it's not really. An anonymous witness said this had been taking place, the second time she'd heard 'dog screams' in six weeks, but no-one saw anything. The three alleged fight dogs seemed totally unharmed when inspected by police. But it would be a yelping, crying shame if the local newspaper missed the national bandwagon.

Incidentally, Aldriche Way is within earshot of an extremely reliable source of dog screams...*

*...immortalised in the novel Sharking and the film It Was an Accident, if that's the right word... (click links to buy).

Wednesday, May 17, 2006

The CNN Effect

The book of the same name refers to 'the saturation of Western viewers with non-stop, real time news footage'. Earlier this month I added to this saturation, with appearances on Paula Zahn Now and CNN Live Today. There's transcripts to each this link (TO ORDER A VIDEO OF THIS TRANSCRIPT, PLEASE CALL 800-CNN-NEWS OR USE THE SECURE ONLINE ORDER FORM LOCATED AT, says CNN).

I'm quoted as saying "If you were a career criminal, the point is to make the evidence disappear. If you're a happy slapper, you're manufacturing evidence against yourself. It's that use of humiliation as entertainment that makes it so disturbing. " Regular readers will know that already.

Tuesday, May 16, 2006

Quentin Tarantino re-revisited

Maybe it's a generational thing, being a media academic who got his certificates in the 1990s, but I often find myself writing about Quentin Tarantino. The latest installment appears in the new issue of Reconstruction, an e-journal where I'm an affiliate editor. It's a review of Fred Botting and Scott Wilson's The Tarantinian Ethics. (The review links to several of my earlier articles.)

UK readers can buy the book here.

US readers can use this link to do the same:

Monday, May 15, 2006

Odd Synod - Highlights from Last Year's Meetings

There was at least one strange discussion going on at the Anglican Church's General Synod last year, as reported here, as the Archdeacon of Coventry (Ven. Mark Bryant) asked the Secretary General:

"Times Online of 14 September quotes the Church of England as dismissing as ‘silly’ a paper from
Dr Brick of Paisley University’s School of Social Sciences regarding the iconic status of David Beckham. Does the Secretary General consider this comment to show the Church of England as willing to engage with contemporary culture?

The Secretary General: I am happy for Synod members to make up their own minds as to whether ‘silly’ was a reasonable response when a member of the Communications Unit was asked by The Times for a comment on this story. For those who missed it, it featured an international conference of 120 academics discussing Dr Carlton Brick’s claim that ‘Beckham the brand is all about salvation, redemption, even resurrection’ and the suggestion that the footballer ‘may be the nearest thing we have to a new Messiah’. Having said that, there are of course innumerable examples of the Church around the country engaging effectively with contemporary culture for the sake of the Gospel. Church House Publishing’s books Evangelism in a Spiritual Age and Mission-shaped Church both provide valuable resource material [click links to buy - GB].

The Archdeacon of Coventry (Ven. Mark Bryant): What advice did the member of the Communications Unit concerned seek before dismissing a reputable body of sociological research as silly?

The Secretary General: I hope that Synod will not get into a mindset of expecting staff to have to clear every action with a particular committee or with this body. We employ professional staff and I think in this case the member of the Communications Unit who was asked for a response by The Times reached a judgment and one that I am perfectly happy to back. I have to say that Dr Brick himself did subsequently give a rather a helpful quote. He said ‘He is just a footballer. This guy can’t bring peace and harmony to the world and there is something fundamentally wrong in using pseudo-Christian iconography which implies that he can’. So I think that the Communications Unit was on the right lines!

The Bishop of Coventry (Rt Revd Colin Bennetts): Without entering into the pros and cons of the substance both of the answer and the Question, I think there is still an issue - and I would value a response to this - about what it means when the press, and the media generally, say ‘The Church of England says …’ when some of us, who have to field that kind of comment at a local level, do not necessarily associate ourselves very willingly with what is being said here.

The Secretary General: It is a very real question and one that the communications team and a number of others grapple with a lot of the time. We do our best to put up spokesmen in response to national enquiries, very often drawing on lead bishops and chairs of councils, but on an issue like this some you get right and some you do not. The point, however, is well taken: nobody can speak for the Church of England, as I think the Archbishop of Canterbury himself has reminded us on a previous occasion.

Meanwhile the current MeCCSA bulletin reports that my fellow MeCCSA members were able to pinpoint the exact place of Cop Rock in the UK TV schedules in 1990. (Pre-order '>the demented DVD here, but don't say I didn't warn you...). Now comrades, let us continue to convince the public that better paid university lecturers are good value for money. Forward ever!

Wednesday, May 10, 2006

Making me neurotic

The Newtown Neurotics. Don't these guys ever age at all? This weekend I saw the band from whom this blog takes its name and things seemed unchanged. Granted, Colin Dredd sits out most of the gig but has a worthy replacement called Don on bass. Meanwhile Attila the Stockbroker pogos episodically at the front and blokes my age in a mosh pit do air guitars, clenched fist salutes and all the rest with gay abandon. Before I can make comparisons with seeing dads dancing at weddings, I'm joining in. It's the 1980s again - let's kick out the Tories!

Missing from the fray was Janine Booth, who appears on the Neurotics live album under the nom de plume the Big J. Whatever happened to her?

Football clubbed: Steel city manure (and Man U)

Microsoft's current "dinosaur" ad campaign tells us the age of "I accidentally clicked reply all" is over. Not in Sheffield, where Wednesdayite Councillor Peter Price inadvertantly sent a "pigs" email about Sheffield United to all and sundry (story here). A spokesman for Sheffield United supporter's club said Mr Price should resign. "I know it's not earth-shattering but I still think it's very disappointing from a person in his position," he said. Price apologised, but added "the banter will continue". Doesn't he know the age of banter is over?

Meanwhile a correspondent with bigger fish to fry writes: "Being hated like/by [Manchester] United means you matter, hence when anybody from Chelsea is interviewed in the media they're desperate to say 'we're not respected enough, nobody likes us'. But unlike Millwall, the thing is Chelsea care about it (too much). Also Chelsea are desperate to drum up antagonism between themselves and United, hence recent 'outbursts' in Sunday papers, which interestingly have since been denied - maybe illustrative of the lack of conviction on part of Chelsea to play the 'nobody likes us' card. The ABU tag still belongs pretty firmly in United camp especially given the Glazer buyout and setting up of FCMU (or whatever they're called - I prefer FUCM). Even their own supporters would prefer anybody else but United. United still sit pretty firmly at the centre of the political economy of fear and (self)-loathing in English football." Quite.

Sunday, May 07, 2006

Nothing like a Dane

Generally, the international coverage of happy slapping starts something like this:

Another cell phone annoyance
"Happy slapping" sounds so innocent, but it is really sick. Now happening in Europe, this "fad" involves deliberate, unprovoked attacks on innocent people that are captured by confederates with cell phone cameras and shipped around to other phones or on the Internet for other sickies to see.
Some of the victims have been seriously hurt, including a teacher in France who was hit with a chair in front of his class.
As people continue to abuse cell-phone technology, look for more phone-free zones and places where, like the six-guns of old, you have to check them at the door.

[From Detroit Free Press, May 6, 2006.]

Knee-jerk reaction becomes industry standard. But not so in Denmark. When the story broke in Comon, I was pleased to be contacted by campaigners who wanted to stop a moral panic kicking off on their turf. After just three recorded attacks in Denmark, Danish politicians have proposed a compulsory systems of watermarking phone imagery (pictures and videos) so it could be traced back to the phone's owner. This has serious civil liberties implications and would waste resources while an unnecessary technical solution is found.

Fortunately a campaign against the proposals is also gestating. Good to see someone getting a frontlash in before the backlash begins.

Thursday, May 04, 2006

Local horror videos

Happy slapping comes to Burnley. For the first time, it has been reported, one of these attacks occurred in the Lancashire market town, once home to Ian McKellen among others. There are two ways to interpret this, seeing as most local newspapers will run an equivalent story soon, if they haven't done already. The first is to treat the contagion as having spread - think of those graphics superimposed on maps in the remake of Dawn of the Dead (buy it here). Another way to make sense of it by seeing local newspapers as hitching a ride on the national story as it rumbles on.

Which is ironic, as happy slap assaults are basically a local news story gone national in the first place.