Thursday, 27 September 2007

Anonymous Dwarfs

Heist was on TV last night; an under-appreciated, does-exactly-what-it-says-on-the-tin, little gem, which I highly recommend.

It also has a very weird association for me, because when I was on the committee for my university's film society we invited the director, David Mamet, to give a speech shortly before we screened it - and he graciously accepted. (He was in the area at the time, I hasten to point out - he didn't fly in just to speak in front of a lecture theatre full of greasy students.)

But to our surprise, rather than talk about the film, he chose instead to - and I swear I'm not making this up - deliver a psychoanalytical reading of the fairytale 'Rumpelstiltskin'. And it was an hour-and-a-half long. And he wasn't even joking.

And it was so dull, you would rather have flogged yourself with a Cat O' Nine Tails than have to listen to it. I remember at one stage turning to whisper "let's get out of here" to my friend Alan, only to find that he'd folded his coat into a makeshift pillow, laid it out on the desk in front of him, and gone to sleep. And was actually drooling.

It was a mercy when it was over with, and we could watch a snappy, entertaining little film. (Come to think of it, the main reason why I like Heist so much might have been because it followed such a load of drivel. You could probably have sat me down in front of Earth Girls Are Easy after that speech and I would have put it in my Top Ten Best Ever List.)

I did notice a link between the film and Mamet's speech last night though: there's a piece of dialogue right at the end that goes something like this:

Mickey (played by Danny Devito): We're going to stay right here until you can guess my real name!

Joe (played by Gene Hackman): What is it?

Mickey: Rumpelstiltskin!

Joe: What was it before you changed it?

Perhaps Mamet has anonymous dwarfs on the brain.

Anyway, full of great dialogue, as you'd expect from a Mamet film, although maybe you have to have a certain sense of humour to appreciate lines like "Everybody needs money! That's why they call it 'money'!"

Tuesday, 25 September 2007


I left the writing to noisms for a bit; I took last week off as a kind of final break before I get down to the serious business of writing up my thesis, which more or less begins now. I spent last week at home for the most part, pulling together a few last pieces of research in the afternoons, while spending my mornings clearing out clothes, books, junk, unwanted presents, anything and everything that I came across and didn't want or need.

It wasn't an easy thing to do either, clearing out the clutter; you come across something that you haven't seen for a long time and it invariably provokes some kind of memory to come bubbling to the surface. The book that you don't want was a Christmas present from someone you haven't seen in a long time; the clothes that you've never worn because your friend got the wrong size (I'm a big guy, but dammit people I'm not an XL!); the hat that reminds you of a friend who hurt you.

I kept the latter, if only because I've systematically been throwing out everything else that I associate with her (the ball's in her court; it's been a year and I've not heard from her once). I debated putting it in the bag for the Salvation Army, came very close to doing so, but realised that I didn't have a winter hat and it might be worth keeping. Plus I've thrown out everything else that makes me think of her... I feel like I need to keep something.

Associations with objects and possessions is one of the reasons why I don't really go in for digital music or e-books. I do have some mp3 files on my computer that I have downloaded, but the bulk of my music still comes to me in the form of CDs. Sure, after that I copy it on to my computer and port it over to my mp3 player, but there is something about having this little disc of plastic that is quite special. I have no idea when or why I downloaded a track of Andrea Bocelli singing with Christina Aguilera - but I know that I got Illinois (which has, after many listenings, a lot of other associations in my head too) when I was out in Manchester just after Easter, whilst out shopping with my friend Alice, and that we visited Urbis afterwards.

There's something quite powerful about the associations we make with the objects and possessions that we accrue over the years, and I'm not sure that it's a good thing. They can bring so much happiness in some of the memories they invoke, and at the same time have such a hold over us at other times. Maybe a life of simplicity would be better, but there's so much that I would find it hard to part with...

Monday, 24 September 2007

Death of the Author?

So, the end of the literary novel is at hand. Can't say I'm greatly upset. "Literary" fiction has always been, for me, a by-word for boring, pretentious flab, and I can honestly say that the only "literary" writers still active today who I genuinely admire are Milan Kundera and Donna Tartt. Non-genre fiction has not been interesting or attractive since the 1950's, when it lost its ambition to speak about the human condition and started instead to contrive ways to offend, shock and intrigue in order to sell.

The Daily Telegraph's discovery that Jordan, the topless model, has sold more copies of her 'novel' Crystal than the entire Man Booker Prize shortlist then, should not come as a surprise - because nobody wants to read boring, pretentious flab. In fact, without the help of old "literary" fiction stalwart Ian McEwan, whose On Chesil Beach sold 110,000 copies, the entire shortlist of five books would have managed just 10,000 sales between them - only 6% of the total achieved by Crystal (300,000):

That Ian McEwan sells well should, in my view, signify the death-knell for the genre anyway, because: a) McEwan is an awful, awful writer - a turgid stylist with idiotic plots - and is bound to turn more and more readers off "literary" fiction for good, and b) because his success is symbolic of the tendency amongst book reviewers to believe a book is good just because it's written by a well known writer who tells them that it's good - and that tendency can only result in ruin.

I'm not greatly worried. In fact, fiction sales in the UK increase year after year (from 51 million in 2001 to 70 million in 2006), because the genres are in rude health - and, as should be evident to just about anybody who reads widely across different genres, the best writers around nowadays write genre fiction: Ian Rankin, Henning Mankell and Barbara Vine in crime; M. John Harrison, Gene Wolfe and George R. R. Martin in fantasy; William Gibson and Dan Simmons in science fiction; John le Carre in thrillers. Real writers, in other words - the ones who write good, stylish prose about interesting stories involving interesting characters, which also somehow manage to tell us something about ourselves. What "literary" fiction used to do in the days of Graham Greene, F. Scott Fitzgerald and Ernest Hemingway.

So hooray for Jordan, and hooray for one day not having to listen to people raving about Ian McEwan. And maybe next year's Man Booker shortlist will include books that people actually want to read.

Friday, 21 September 2007

Blame Your Boss

Three council workers in South Wales have lost their jobs because of using ebay too much; apparently around two hours each day when they should have been working, they were instead trawling for bargains on the net. No great controversy there, right? If somebody were to spend two hours a day watching DVDs in the office, nobody would think it at all untoward for them to lose their job, would they?

But no. The council was also partially to blame, according to union boss Mark Fisher. Some people get addicted to certain websites, you see, and it's the employer's responsibility to ensure temptation is not "put in the way" of staff in this regard.

That's right: self-discipline and resisting temptation are virtues that council workers in South Wales should no longer need. It isn't your own responsibility any more, folks - if you waste your own time, and company time, that's just your boss's fault for trusting you to behave like a responsible adult.

I can't help wondering if the union would have stood up for the workers if they'd been spending two hours a day on cigarette breaks. That at least is a real addiction; but then again, smokers are the new lepers so I can't imagine anybody kicking up a fuss.

Thursday, 20 September 2007

The Sex Lives of Us

Radio 4 have recently been running a series of programmes entitled The Sex Lives of Us, which aims to "explore sexuality in modern Britain". A bit of early morning titilation never hurt anyone, but I'm puzzled as to how some of the episodes have been billed.

Today, for example, we have Mariella Frostrup chairing a discussion on "whether our current propensity to start having sex earlier, more often and more randomly in the past means that we treat it as just another pastime rather than a duty to maintain the species". I mean: what?

Firstly, I've always been suspicious of claims that we now have sex earlier, more often and more randomly than in the past. I might be pursuaded to give you more randomly (more randomly than in the 1960s, though?), but how on earth does anybody know how often people in the past had sex? And the idea that people in modern Britain start earlier is preposterous: during the industrial revolution girls were commonly married by the age of 14. In the Victorian era and the 1950s people perhaps talked about sex less often, but that's hardly the same thing.

Secondly, when have human beings ever had sex out of "duty to maintain the species"? When has it ever not been an enjoyable pastime in its own right, that people want to do because it's pleasurable?

It seems utterly bizarre to suggest that at any time in the past people felt any "duty to maintain the species" - they might have felt a duty to maintain their family, but it seems more likely that they procreated for the same reasons we do: because of what children signify and the fulfilment they bring to a marriage. The underlying reason is, of course, because producing children is the way our genes copy themselves from one generation to the next. But even that isn't "maintaining the species": it's maintaining the DNA. And nobody has ever used that as the main reason for making love.

Sometimes I really do wonder about some people. Why assume that human beings fifty, a hundred or a thousand years ago were fundamentally any different in their attitudes and emotions than we are now?

Time Passes

Apologies for not writing for some time. After the conference last week (which was more or less everything I thought it would be) I had a busy couple of days trying to construct a computer program before I was through with uni. I'm now towards the end of a "week off" but in truth it's been somewhere in between a working week and a holiday.

I've been to the cinema a few times, watched a couple of DVDs, but have also spent quite a few hours pouring over diagrams of knots (have I ever mentioned that my research area is knot theory? I'm not sure that I have...) to put together one last piece of research before the calendar flips over to October and I start writing up in earnest. With a bit of luck, a lot of hard work and a hope that I don't develop carpal tunnel syndrome I should have my thesis finished not too far into the new year.

I sort of promised myself that I wouldn't go to uni at all this week, but I ended up on and around the campus on Tuesday afternoon to meet a friend for a drink. The campus was overflowing with freshers, as term starts properly next week. You almost couldn't move without treading on some spiky-haired poser wearing a "funny" t-shirt and a sticker prominently stuck to his chest advertising some infamous student bar crawl.

That preceding sentence makes me feel old (and quite catty too, come to think of it). Seeing all of those "kids" the other day makes me feel old. It's eight years since I started university, and things (social, entertainment, internet) are so different now. Most of them will be younger than my little sister if they're going straight from high school to university.

To be fair to them though, my problem isn't so much with them as with what they represent: another summer over, and almost certainly my last summer at Liverpool.

(this post might very well be all the proof I need that I shouldn't blog first thing in the morning; let's hope that I have something other than minor observations and insecurities to offer next time)

Wednesday, 19 September 2007


An interesting episode of Tribe last night. I was initially suspicious of the series, because it sounded like it was going to be either a set of lurid depictions of hunting and weird drug visions, or else a sort of elegaic look at disappearing noble savages who live a life of peace and harmony amongst the birds and the butterflies in the forest. Actually it's neither of those things - it's just a glimpse into communities of people who happen to live very different lives to us, but constantly surprise us as to how similar we all are. In that, I find it one of the few generally life-affirming programmes on TV.

It was fashionable at one stage for anthropologists such as Margaret Mead to proclaim that cultural patterns vary so much from culture to culture that in some societies it is the women who hunt and fight while the men stay at home and cook, in others sexual promiscuity is encouraged, and in others everybody is pacifist. In fact, even were it not for the masses of evidence to disprove those ideas, documentaries like Tribe give the lie to them; the people in those obscure, isolated societies are unusual only in one aspect - that they do not conform to any of the preconcieved notions of 'strangeness' that we might expect. In fact, we wouldn't find them any different in attitude or character to the people we meet from day to day in highly developed Western societies.

I recently came across reference to Donald Brown's list of Human Universals, a set of qualities found in all human societies, and that range from "abstractions in speech and thought" to "gossip" to "males more prone to lethal violence" to "hairstyles" to "disapproval of stinginess" to "thumb sucking" and "husband older than wife on average". The list is a huge one, and its contents really should be banal but are in fact fascinating because they essentially disprove the still-fashionable concepts of cultural relativism and societal moulding.

I remember when I went to stay with my friend Daisuke's family in Shikoku, the least developed of Japan's main islands: a place of craggy mountains and deep forests where exiles used to set up home in feudal times. As we sat around eating yaki-niku one night, Daisuke's dad suddenly blurted out that "everywhere you go, the culture is different, but the people are the same". True, and something that should be more commonly acknowledged.

Tuesday, 18 September 2007

Freedom of Blah

I watched This Film is Not Yet Rated last night; for those who don't know of it, it's a documentary that sets itself up as an "expose" of the US film ratings board, the MPAA, and also as a kind of attack on censorship. Basically it's lots of talking heads getting uppity and self-righteous and muttering words like "fascist" and "unconstitutional" while making fun of conservatives.

I dunno. I find it hard to get myself worked up about freedom of speech issues, especially when what we're talking about is not the imprisonment and torture of journalists or political or religious leaders, but the slight inconvenience of film-makers who hate people interfering in their artistic vision - which usually involves showing women's naughty bits and 'unconventional' sex scenes. I mean, I like women's naughty bits and unconventional sex as much as the next man, but I've never watched a non-porn film and wished that it had more of those things - that sort of scene in a film has always struck me as a rather sleezy peek into the sex-life (and fantasy life) of the director, which I can frankly do without.

I suppose the thing that immediately switches my moral indignation off is the fact that what the film was really about was money: the directors interviewed made great play of their wounded auteurship, but the biggest gripe seemed to be that the MPAA was too strict in rating films NC-17, and this hurts a flick's ability to reel in the cash. Films rated R can get lots of ads, trailers and posters, you see, but those rated NC-17 are often inadequately publicised because of questionable content. This obviously makes it more difficult for the film-maker to generate income.

In other words, it's not that the MPAA censors films. (They don't.) It's that they make recommendations about how to make cuts, so a film can become an R rather than an NC-17. Film-makers don't like that; they'd rather the MPAA collude with them and give the rating that allows them to make the most money, and that's what it boils down to.

Fuss over nothing? Right on.

Friday, 14 September 2007

Mindless Pendantry

One odd new development in the evolution of English (the polite way to say: a newfangled expression that gets on my nerves) is the use of the word 'forces'. As in, "there are now 6,500 British forces in Iraq." Well, no, there are three forces actually - the army, navy and air force. There are 6,500 members of those forces. When did 'forces' become a synonym for 'personnel'?

And while we're at it, let's stop saying 'chocoholic', shall we? The food isn't called 'chocohol', after all.

Why am I so pedantic? Good question. Because it keeps me busy, mostly.

Thursday, 13 September 2007

All About Chemistry

She wore a raspberry beret - the kind you find in a second hand store.

It's funny how chemistry works. That attraction between a man and a woman - where you can't quite explain why, but that person just makes you want to do to them the kind of things you can't write about in a family blog such as this - is often put down to pheremones, but I'm not so sure. Firstly, it doesn't really explain chemistry between gay people, which I'm sure must exist. But more importantly, it doesn't explain how you can find someone intriguing and sexy just by their voice, which I often find when listening to the radio. Pheremones aren't transmitted by radio waves - or else our understanding of biology is way off. So where does that come from?

I think I have the answer. It's because radio voices are disembodied, so you're free to imagine whatever body you like is the owner of said voice. If I hear a woman without being able to see her, chances are I'll fit that sound to an attractive image. I suppose this means that people on the radio are the ultimate fantasy: they're real, so they have that quality of authenticity, but you're free to imagine them looking however you want.

Blame Radio 4's Kirsty Young for setting me off on this train of thought.

Wednesday, 12 September 2007

Pet Hates

I'm in the mood for a good rant, and quite a few things have irked me over the last few days. They are:

  • The obsession with climate change, to the extent that politicians now barely talk about anything else. Yesterday the Conservative Party proposed that big out-of-town supermarkets should be forced to charge parking fees, which I think is a great way of levelling the playing field to help small local businesses, but which was only presented as a way of cutting CO2 emissions by discouraging people to drive. Politicians only seem to care about wooing Middle England, and because Middle England is a flock of sheep who've bought the climate change argument wholesale, the policiticans have to join in the 'baaing' wholeheartedly in order to grab votes. What happened to the idea that we should just be trying to make Britain a nice place to live in? Because that's the better argument for this scheme.
  • The sections of the liberal left wing in this country who seem to actively want coalition troops to fail in Iraq, because if the whole thing is a disaster it will prove them right and they can use it for their political advantage. Yesterday Simon Jenkins wrote that the gains from the surge are 'worth nothing' because they won't be 'embedded politically'; I felt the urge to yell "Speak for yourself, mate!" - I know if I was living in Baghdad that, first things first, a reduction in car bombings and sectarian violence wouldn't be 'worth nothing' to me.
  • The proposal that pregnant women should be given £200 by the government to encourage them to eat more healthily. Yes, you read that correctly: it is actually thought that by giving all pregnant women one-off cash payments they will buy healthier food. Leaving aside the sheer idiotic naivety of the scheme, what annoys me in particular is it feeds into this ridiculous myth that eating healthily costs more money than going to McDonald's every day. As if the only thing keeping an unhealthy-eating pregnant woman from going to the grocers is because it's prohibitively expensive. It isn't. Absurd. These people really do believe, you know, that if you just throw money at a problem it will go away.
Well, I feel better now. Something more sensible tomorrow, perhaps.

Tuesday, 11 September 2007

Living Abroad

Mamiko's friend Kumiko recently returned to Japan after a year in the UK and is apparently now desparate to come back; she plans to spend a while working and saving before jumping on a plane back to Heathrow.

My first reaction when I was told this was to think "The madness gets to us all." Then I thought about an old friend G, who spent a year with us in Canterbury and, upon returning to New York immediately started pining for Olde Englande. Or Carly, the Australian rugby fiend I used to know who just can't stay away from this place, and consequently spends her life flitting from country to country but somehow always ending up back in Brighton. And I realised, hey, maybe Britain isn't all that bad.

At the same time I realised something a bit more profound, which is that, no matter where you live, you'll find something to miss about it when you leave. More importantly, the wrench of forcing yourself out of your comfort zone can be so painful that it makes you want to do anything to reverse the decision: I definitely experienced that when I first got home after three and a half years in Japan, and it's no exaggeration that you approach it with a sense of mourning, as if you've lost a close friend - there's a grieving process you go through for the life you used to lead.

And you should never underestimate the power of reverse culture shock to discombobulate and confound. I'll never forget the night I arrived back in England, stepped off the plane, asked the woman at the information desk where to go to catch a bus, and recieved only a sigh and a sour look and a muttered grunt in reply - as if I was a petulant child being indulged with great reluctance. A Japanese person would have bent over backwards to help, and
there could not have been a more pithy summary of the difference between the two countries. But I suppose Japanese people returning to Japan must see similar failings that they've never really noticed before. Such is the nature of living abroad, and why it's worth it.

Monday, 10 September 2007


The second Lord of the Rings film was on TV last night; I enjoyed watching it, but was surprised at how poorly it's stood the test of time. I loved the films when I saw them in the cinema - really came out of them raving - but now I understand that it's mainly because they are such great cinematic experiences rather than great movies.

That's not to say there aren't wonderful moments. But the flaws stand out to me as sore thumbs now: the hyping up of Legolas (really a rather minor character in the books) into some sort of superhero (Elf Man, he could be called) and his sometimes embarassingly silly stunts; the plot inconsistencies (Treebeard gives a shout and literally ten seconds later all the Ents in Fangorn are by his side, a la Liono from Thundercats); the odd lack of tension in the battles despite all the digital brilliance.

Worst of all are the continuous comic nods to the audience, like Gimli's running joke about dwarf-tossing; the books had some humour of a kind, but it was never a knowing humour, and as the chief virtue of the books is the fact that they present a consistent world without any reference to our own, those jokes really detract from the authenticity.

Maybe it's because I'm a bit of a LOTR boffin. I feel very uncomfortable with this new-found acceptance of 'geek culture' - fans of Buffy and Star Trek and whatnot are really just modern-day trainspotters, it seems to me - and I've never been able to understand why people manage to get so excited about films, books and TV series that those things become a way for them to define themselves. But what can I say? I read The Fellowship of the Ring at the age of 11 and was smitten with the thing, and have remained so ever since. I'm one of the few people in the world to have read The Silmarilion several times over. I know all the competing theories as to who Tom Bombadil really is (but not why he's so annoying). I've even physically forced myself to try to read some of Christopher Tolkien's History of Middle Earth books.

To a person like me, the films are full of great moments, but characterised by real own-goals, like how the elves suddenly turn up at Helm's Deep to help the Rohirrim, when the entire point of the books is that the elves don't give a crap anymore and it's for humans to do everything for themselves. I suppose it's symptomatic of the fact that it's a film made for a mass audience, whereas Tolkien was just writing the things as a hobby to keep himself occupied between fighting wars. And if Peter Jackson had been too true to the books, we might very well have ended up with Brian Blessed popping up as Tom Bombadil half way through the first film, with the consequence that nobody would turn up to watch the others.

The moral of the story being, I suppose, that I wish people wouldn't make films of my favourite books. But I know that's never going to change.

I'm faintly embarrassed by this entry, but there you are: I like fantasy literature and that's that.

A Meeting of Minds

I'm off to a conference today, sitting here on the train as we wait to depart. As per usual, it's not the direct train that I was going to take (that was cancelled) so instead I have to go to Manchester and get a connection there. A bit of an inconvenience, but stoic that I am I will bear it.

Conferences are strange animals: I'm not sure what the public perception of them might be, but when I first went to one I expected it to be a lot of very clever, highly cultured and socially sophisticated people sitting and listening to (and understanding!) other extremely clever people. Of course, this illusion was well and truly shattered within minutes of arriving at my first conference. Sure, people there might be clever, and some of them might be cultured and sophisticated (and some of those are very keen that you should be aware of that), but by and large they're just regular people.

The biggest misconception (I think) is that people sit there at conferences and take in everything that is being said. I think that that is rare, unless you have been an academic in your field for many years. It's still good to go, because as baffling as conference talks can be they are easier to digest than reading a paper, but still I generally find that I just get a general impression of the topic rather than any detailed knowledge. I signed up for this conference before I saw the schedule. As a result I think I can safely say that there will not be many talks that I will take understand a great deal about - but still I hope that I'll get something from them. And besides, conferences are great for "networking" and "getting your face known," and of course for catching up with people.

I'll write in the next few days from the conference I hope; the train is well on its way, and I'm going to sign off and do some Brain Training on my DS, lest I arrive in Sheffield with dulled wits.

Friday, 7 September 2007

Going AWOL

So I've left the blog to my old mucker zero_zero_one over the last few days. It's mainly due to a combination of trips to Dublin to sort out visas, job applications, and being all "writed out" from trying to finish off my damn thesis. Seriously, if I never have to read an article about cultural relativism again, it'll be too soon.

Anyway, I wasn't much impressed by Dublin, although I suspect it's one of those places that grows on you. What was most interesting about it was how similar it was to Glasgow and Liverpool - obviously the Irish connection. It had that same style of quietly magnificent Georgian architecture, the same mixture of poverty and new-found uber-development from European money, and the same sort of people - friendly and talkative but with an undercurrent of genuine steel.

It was especially similar to Liverpool in that it seems to rely heavily on past cultural glories for a sense of identity: in the case of Dublin it's James Joyce and W. B. Yeats; in the case of Liverpool, it's the Beatles and Roger McGough. Admittedly Dublin's references are slightly more highbrow. But there's the same sense of being defined more by the past than the future.

One thing about Dublin is that if you've studied a bit of Irish history you recognise most of the place names from dim memories of school text books. I enjoyed seeing Pheonix Park, site of the famous murders, for instance. It was also nice to be in the spiritual home of Irish Republicanism, given that my dad's side of the family are so into that aspect of Glasgow life, being Celtic-supporting mass-attending weejies. So I took a look around the Sinn Fein shop in honour of them, and also the Japanese connection, Shunsuke "He eats Chow Mein and he votes Sinn Feinn" Nakamura.

Wednesday, 5 September 2007


I read an article on BBC News a few days ago which struck me as quite curious. It was by a guy who had decided to spend a whole year living "brand free." In the first instance this was due to growing debts and so on, and the fact that he was suffering from some kind of compulsive behaviour. To try and put his finances back in the black and break the cycle of addiction he burned his clothes and started buying his food away from the high streets.

Naively it almost sounds like a plan, you know? Forced away from the big chain supermarkets you support local businesses, which I think could be a good thing. But when it comes to most other products and services... I'm not a brandoholic, and I'm very cynical about things like fashion in general (really, who decides what's in and what's out? How does that work?), but something doesn't ring true with his statements about buying his clothes from second hand stores. Surely at some point those clothes must have been made by someone, or did he only buy small business/tailormade second hand clothes?

How do we define brands anyway? As I recall from No Logo (it's a while since I read it - didn't noisms reference this recently too?) they're things that try to fill some niche in your lifestyle (we shop at Tesco rather than ASDA, I buy Sony rather than Microsoft). Boorman says that he had to give up TV and DVDs because of his "no brands" rules - but what about news? Surely even my decision to get my news from the BBC rather than Sky or Reuters is due to brand influence?

What about his computer? Even if his computer was bought from a small business and ran on open source software the components used in its construction reflect some aspect of the impact of branding. I accept that he could just say, "Oh I don't care what make it is," but there is a choice to be made there even if he said, "Just give me the cheapest thing that'll work." And his book deal, doesn't his choice of publisher have something to do with knowing who that publisher will appeal to?

Is trying to live "brand free" a brand in its own way?

Maybe I'm being too hard on him and his idea, there just seem to be some disparities about what he takes to be a brand and what I take to be a brand. I think that caring less about brands is a good thing, and I agree with him wholeheartedly on one of the final points in his article:

"By placing less status and emotional value on the things that we buy, we free ourselves from mindless consumption, allowing us more time and money for things which we know, deep down, give us greater contentment."

Tuesday, 4 September 2007

Some Interesting Blogs

Unlike noisms, I think that blogging about blogging is fair game to a degree. I agree with him in that I don't think that it's something that one could do often, but I think it's a subject that is more than a get out of jail free card. I read a few blogs that I find interesting, and since the night is wearing on I thought that I would just share a few of those that I like.

I've been reading Neil Gaiman's blog for years now, and I've found it a constant source of interesting and wonderful news. It's the mix of detail about his life and writing, along with links to weird and wonderful things that has kept me coming back. There are several authors who I really like that I wouldn't have come across if it weren't for them being mentioned in his journal, and there are some freedom of speech issues that I wouldn't be aware of had I not learned about the CBLDF through his writing about them.

And also, he writes so well...

Waiter Rant is a blog that primarily focuses on the (anonymous) writer's life and experiences as a waiter in various New York restaurants. Over time more details about his life and his observations on living have entered his stories, and they make his blog a real thought-provoking pleasure to read. He's a funny guy, but there's a certain world-weariness to his writing and thoughts too, and it makes for an interesting combination.

What Would Tyler Durden Do? is a blog that I've only come across in recent months and is largely a comical commentary on celebrity news. I read it largely to be shocked by how amazingly outrageous some can be; for a while I thought that it was a sign of the times, but then it dawned on me that the internet has just made the general public more aware of the shenanigans that the rich and famous get up to. WWTDD is pretty funny too.

Finally, I like Warren Ellis' blog, which I've started reading recently. He generally posts short thoughts and interesting links, and it's just a really stimulating blog. I like the short form of his posts, posting random, funny and interesting thoughts, and it's something that I'd like to do - but I don't think that this is the place for it.

But I might start something like that. I need somewhere to record the bizarre things that occur to me in and amongst the everyday. For example, during invigilation the other day I looked up to see a Chinese guy staring at me through the glass in the door. I held his gaze and he just stared back at me. After a minute he just walked away... Really, I mean, what on earth?

A few minutes later I looked up to see that a Chinese girl was now staring at me through the glass in the door.

What a weird and wonderful world we live in.

Sunday, 2 September 2007

TV (Reality?)

Finally Big Brother is over. I've tried to avoid it, because it's just so ridiculous now. I remember watching the first couple of series when they were on seven or eight years ago, when it seemed like a genuinely interesting concept. Originally it was sold as a kind of televised social experiment, with people spending nine weeks living together, isolated from the rest of the world, and having to complete various tasks in order to earn money to buy food. Their every move is recorded and while they have to cooperate for their day to day lives they're also in competition with one another, nominating each other for eviction which is then decided by a public vote. The ultimate winner of the contest walked away with seventy thousand pounds, and the daily TV shows had psychologists giving their insights into the actions of the housemates. (I'm saying all this in case your country doesn't have Big Brother, or in case it started in a different format in your country)

Now, seven or eight years on, Big Brother is quite simply ridiculous. People apply to be on Big Brother not for the experience, or for the chance to win some money, but because they think that they're in with a chance of being a celebrity afterwards. To get ratings as high as possible Channel 4 find the most outrageous people that they can to fill the house. Gone are the daily psychologist's insights (they must all be behind the scenes selecting the freaks, geeks and weirdos who appear on the program), instead we have multiple shows, with phone-ins about who your favourite is, daily updates about what has been happening and live coverage for over twelve hours of the day on one digital channel. The show runs for over thirteen weeks, is featured prominently in newspapers and magazines, and it's literally impossible to escape from it.

Big Brother is the show (in the UK at least) which is responsible for or has lead to a myriad of "reality shows" or "Z-list celebrity talent shows" that now seasonally grip the nation. There's nothing wrong with many of these shows' concepts per se, but the media hype that surrounds them, and the fact that you can't avoid hearing about them - the rampant sensationalism of it all - just disturbs me. I'm not opposed to television shows were people are put into strange situations, but I should be able to not have anything at all to do with it if I choose. Can we not have a serious reality show which isn't about pitting people against each other so blatantly for public spectacle and ratings?

I thought such a program might be coming, starting today in fact on Channel 4. In today's eco-friendly and environmentally conscious climate a programme showing how a group of regular people cope living on a rubbish tip seemed like an interesting proposition. They rely solely on what they find for survival, and when I first heard about the programme it seemed as if it would be an interesting thing showing just how wasteful we are as a society.

Then I saw a commercial for it: "Dumped - how will they survive living on a dump? How will they cope living with EACH OTHER???"

I think I'll give it a miss.