Wednesday, March 19, 2008

No Maggie No!

Two days ago I read an article in The Guardian by music critic John Harris about David Cameron's thwarted attempts to have his picture taken outside 'Salford Lads Club'. The story goes that the MP for the area, Hazel Blears, having got wind of Cameron's ruse, dispatched a group of flunkies with placards marked, "Salford Lads Club not Eton snobs" and "Oi Dave - Eton Toffs Club 300 miles that way", to ambush Cameron's photo-op.

Recounting the story at a Labour Party conference Blears announced that she "couldn't resist it" and sent Cameron a picture of herself outside the afformentioned club. They play their games and we try and get along with living our lives.

For those of you that are slightly bewildered by this non-story about a spat between politicians trying to pass itself off as a comment on class-conflict, 'Salford Lads Club' was where Morrissey et al were photographed for the inside cover of The Smiths 1986 LP The Queen is Dead, as if that is meant to mean anything to anyone living in 2008.

Then again, maybe it means quite a lot if you're a middle aged rock writer with a romantic view of a desolate past where dole cues ran for miles, the young and the old were abandoned by an uncaring goverment and the beast called Thatcher ruled with an iron fist! Moreover a place where clear lines were drawn between Left and Right, Conservative and Socialist, Tory and Pinko, wrong and right!

Harris' central agrument is that the new vogue for politicians wanting to appear in touch with popular culture, is damaging the culture’s ability to have something to say, against the government, against the establishment, against authority of any kind. Harris says, "It's as if those songs have been retrospectively robbed of their political charge and rendered kitch - just more stuff to be stuck on the great collective playlist, and shuffled beyond any meaning." I don't think too many people were interested in whether Ted Heath or Harold Wilson were fans of The Beatles or The Kinks, they're supposed to be worrying about more important things.

He singles out the Tory party and specifically David Cameron, complaining that Dave is trying to co-opt 'anti-Thatcher' songs from the 1980s by The Smiths and The Jam, in order to boost the image of his caring, socialy responsible, hoodie-hugging Tory Party.

It's the kind of article you seem to see a lot of, using the facts in a bald kind of way that serves its own purpose and denies the rest. In this case, retrospectively rendering creative decisions political. It imagines popular music as a kind of battle ground, a place for division and taking sides, and "lies that life is black and white".

For my money just about the only thing more dull than a politician talking poilicy is a muscian trying to force-feed people their political views, and a self-righteous critic taking ownership of something that was never theirs is even worse. I think what I am talking about is the difference between politics and Politics. Every action is political, if you care to look at it in that sense. Just as everything is ideological, social, sexual, depending on who's glasses you decide to wear. Most people don’t see things in quite such a polarising way.

Who wants to listen to an earnest, right-on, socialist like Billy Brag whinge about Thatcher? "It says nothing to me about my life." He apparently jumped at the chance to have his picture taken with Gordon Brown, recently. Bragg said, “Yes! At last! I can send a clear message to the Cameronistas that there's absolutely no chance of them fucking co-opting me.” Well, quite, and its this kind of self-important egoism that makes Billy Brag one of the least inspiring figures in music. That and just in case he’s had a complete irony bypass, on the issue of being co-opted - by allying yourself with Gordon Brown, you already have mate.

Sunday, March 16, 2008

Show me the money!

There are no jobs for intelligent university graduates who want to get along and get a job. I’ve been looking for one for far too long. I’ve been unable to get even the most basic office job because I don’t have ‘office experience’, whatever that means. It’s a room, with people, computers and telephones. What else is there to understand? Seriously, am I missing something? It’s not like I’m being picky either. I’ve tried for everything.

Almost all of the advertised jobs I see are secretarial and administrational. Not only would falling into one of these be an appalling waste of talent – though, I would take one right now, of course, you’ve got to get some kind of foot on that ladder, even if it’s one you’ve no interest in climbing (Tim from The Office – ed.) - but I’m never going to get one of those jobs ‘cos I don’t have the legs.

I am very ambitious and would really like to be a writer/film director in the future. Both of which I understand are long term goals. Both of which I am trying to work towards in my spare time. But how do I get a job in between times? (answers welcome!) So I can have some cash, so I can do some of the things I want to do outside of trying to get a job, so I can better myself, move on, move out, move up and repair a fractured sense of self-esteem/self-worth/self-control in my life, my country, my world.

My employable skills: Number one would have to be my writing. I do it very well. I could comfortably supply copy for any of the national film magazines I read. Writing reviews, features, interviews. The same goes for music magazines or newspapers. I have a passion for both. I’ve sent letters to about a dozen of them – no response.

I could do a good job in PR, whether it be for a business to business marketing magazine – I have applied to some of them and, presumably, had my application laughed at. The advert read: “ideal for a literature graduate looking to make a start in the industry.” How I didn’t get an interview for that one is beyond me. I’m the ideal candidate!

I would gladly work in marketing, as much as I loathe the cacophonous noise of advertising that surrounds us at every turn. It still ticks most of my boxes. It’s creative, its working with others, it’s valued, and as one particularly obnoxious commentator pointed out on a recent BBC show about advertising, “”We’re not Communists are we?! We’re all trying to make money!”

Or I could work for the radio. I have some experience working for the university radio station, which I enjoyed enormously.

Moving to another area is not an option. That requires money, which means having a job, which is what I can’t get. It’s one of those viscous circle things.

How does a fully rounded human being go about squashing themselves, their ideas, their individuality so they can go into the world of work and earn a crust? Is that something you need to do? If university is about opening your mind to the possibilities the world has to offer, getting a job is surely about closing it again, or maybe that should be not being able to get a job is about closing it again, cutting off parts of yourself so you can fit into a structure, a time, a table, a timetable. Maybe this is the kind of thinking that’s stopped me getting a job.

Right now I’m mad about this and I’ve got a right to be. I’ve got to hate someone and it’s going to be the government, the job centre, the system, the society, ‘cos it sure as hell is not my fault. I’m doing everything I can. I’m a very intelligent university graduate who can make a success of anything I turn my hand to. I have realistic goals as well as dreams I intend to follow, and I don’t understand why I’m not being given the chance, and just in case there’s any confusion, I couldn’t be more serious.

Monday, March 10, 2008


Watched the 2006 Best Picture winner, Crash, last night and as is so often the case I find myself torn between two opposite points of view. Some people told me Crash was hokey and contrived and stupid and rubbish, others told me it was political and important and intelligent. Ten minutes in I was wrestling with whether I thought it was good or terrible and my conclusion is this….

I think it is a film that asks to be taken as a whole. At times I was annoyed by the lack of a story, wanting a thread to follow, but as the film goes along and the characters begin to intertwine I found myself liking it more. By the end there were enough moments that smacked an emotion punch (and boy do some of them hit hard!) for me to like it… with some reservations.

I feel like a lot of the films problems would have been remedied if it had been better directed. Paul Haggis is a very good writer - he was pivotal in revitalising the Bond franchise with Casino Royale, he also wrote Million Dollar Baby, which makes a very interesting companion piece to Crash. But when it comes to direction, he directs everything in the style of coverage, with slightly wobbly cam, which isn’t quite documentary shaky but isn’t Speilbergian precision either. There is little sense of an eye for telling a story, almost as if the camera is a nuisance rather than a tool. This gives the film a floaty, flimsy quality, which does the lightness of the film’s conceits no favours.

Finally, upon its release, lots of people talked about race and politics in the film, but there was very little talk about the obvious religious subtext. Firstly, the film is set at Christmas; there are lots of Jesus and Mary and Santa figures littered about the place, and the whole film is about ideals concerning innocence, compassion and forgiveness. It is clearly intended as a kind of parable.

In conclusion, if you approach Crash with a cynical, detached, British sense of cool you may well find yourself laughing at the films contrivances. But if you go in with an open mind, willing to receive an American fancy that dares to say, we might just work it out in the end, there is an enjoyable, engaging film waiting to be seen.

Friday, March 07, 2008

That joke isn’t funny anymore

Welcome to the new look BBC Three, made specifically for you, the ‘yoof’ of today. Auntie BBC doesn’t want to be your stern, finger-wagging, Catholic auntie anymore. This is something far less dignified; your embarrassing uncle, who shows up at a wedding, drinks too much, desperatly tries to be down with the kids, and vomits over one of the bridesmaids.

The tent-pole show in this ‘re-branding’ exercise is Lily Allen and Friends, a sarcastic cackle-fest with nothing to say. It wants to be frank and direct but settles for crude and horrible. Amid nervous smiles and drunken applause Lily Allen strives for incompetence, any conspicuous show of talent or ability might unsettle an apathetic audience.

The BBC3 controller, Danny Cohen, says his aim is "To reflect that it is a world buzzing with new talent… Youth brands today live or die by their openness to the creativity of their users or viewers," Presumably, he’s referring to the point in the show when viewers are invited to send in videos of themselves humping lampposts and mail boxes.

It’s not good enough to claim that shows like this are reflecting society back at us, just showing things how they are. Firstly, because it’s not true and secondly because I think television should be doing more than that. It’s also not good enough to shrug and say, well, it’s only TV. It’s time the people in charge of these things started taking some responsibility for what they produce.

Just a quick glance at the schedules, tonight on BBC Three we have, Freaky Eaters and Bizarre ER - “An angler with a fishing weight buried in his eye socket arrives at A&E.”

When you look at the contempt with which the BBC deals with programming intended for young people its little wonder they want to drink themselves into a hole. Where else is there to go? These programmes are stupid, complacent, and patronising, they don’t offer any sense of ideas, identity, or culture and if this is the best the BBC can offer young people they’d be better of scrapping the whole enterprise, marking it up as a failed experiment, not to be repeated.

Monday, March 03, 2008

Watched two very different but entertaining movies last night.

“It happens sometimes. People just explode. Natural causes.”

All in a days work for your friendly neighbourhood repo man. Repo Man is that most beloved of all things, a geunine cult classic. Hooray! Not a self-concious wannabe trying too hard to be culty but the real thing: a weird, off-beat, slightly hokey but genuinely original and strange creation. It also happens to have one of the best starts to a film of all time, a brilliant Iggy Pop theme song and punk soundtrack.

A disollusioned teenager played by Emilio Estevez, ‘a suburban punk’, gets fired from his job and happens upon Harry Dean Stantion, a repo man. Estevez soon becomes embroilled in the repo business and is taken under the wing of each of the would be father figures on the lot. They describe to him their philosophies on life, the universe and the repo business. Meanwhile there is talk of an alien invasion, time travel, the CIA and a mysterious car you hope you don’t run into.

“Feed the Idiot Box.”

The other was Spike Lee’s new millienium satire Bamboozled, which deals with reperesentations of black people on American television and in American society.

Damon Wayans plays an uptight, nasal voiced writer who works for a major television network in America. Tired of having his ideas for intelligent programmes about black people turned down, he pitches an idea for a show so offensive he will be fired and released from his contract. He schemes to revive the black and white minstrel show, and to his horror, the show is a massive commericial success, which garners him critical praise and awards too.

It’s an uncomfortable watch and a demanding one too. There is very little direction from Lee in terms of how you should be feeling or responding to the charcaters and the events they are embroiled in. Our hero may not be a hero at all.

The message is simple, as is often the case with satire: there is no such thing as black people, only black people. At least, that’s what I took from it, however, the film so ironical and multi-faceted, I would image, different people’s respones to it will be varied in the extreme.