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On the Threshold of Charlatan Centuries

February 16, 2009


Ah! oui, devenir légendaire,
Au seuil des siècles charlatans!
Mais où sont les Lunes d’antan?
Et que Dieu n’est-il à refaire?
Jules Laforgue

Few things are sadder than the truly monstrous. Nathanael West, The Day of The Locust (1939)

A friend recently sent me a copy of Evelyn Waugh’s interview on the BBC’s Face to Face. Recorded in 1960, it’s a startling illustration of how far television has travelled in 50 years. The journey has been relentlessly downhill. Waugh perfectly demonstrated the distinction, now lost on most viewers, between being celebrated and being a celebrity.

His piggy eyes glistening with malice in his plump face, Waugh made no attempt to hide his disdain for the medium. At one point, his interlocuter John Freeman asked the great writer why, given his obvious distaste for self-revelation in particular and television in general, he’d consented to appear. Waugh answered, “… poverty: we’ve both been hired to talk in this deliriously happy way”, and looked thoroughly bemused, as if he couldn’t conceive of any other reason why anyone would appear on television.

I felt like cheering. Such candour in similiar circumstances from a modern novelist is unimaginable. Oh, Will Self or some-such might say it, but they would make clear that they were being ironic, jokey, self-mocking. Waugh was simply being matter-of-fact.

Of course, in those days people who appeared on television were celebrated for things they did that had nothing to do with television. Their celebrity was based on a hinterland of accomplishment, talent and experience that had fuck-all to do with television.

Today’s TV personalities can hardly be said to exist outside television. The likes of Ross, Wogan, Brucie and Paxman don’t, as far as I can tell, actually have personalities. What they have is a thin skin of tics, tropes, catch-phrases and well-worn routines that are thrown over the armature or skeleton of their television personas. Television is their personality.

Does this matter? Yes, it does. It adds to the general de-sensitising and coarsening effect of television, to its discomfort with reality except as a background for cruelty and contempt. Which brings me to Jerry Springer and reality television, my particular bête noirs.

In the 18th century, people used to pay to tour Bedlam (St. Bethlehem Hospital) and be entertained by the lunatics; they would pay to see a bear tormented by dogs; they would pack a picnic lunch to attend a public hanging. The performance of the hangee, if insufficiently entertaining, would be booed. But we’ve outgrown that kind of callous, brutish indifference to the suffering of others. Right? If only…

In Nathanael West’s great novella, Miss Lonelyhearts, a young man working for a Brooklyn newspaper is given the job of being the paper’s agony aunt. His cynical editor, Shrike, assures him that he’ll be entertained by the experience and at first, he is.

Slowly, however, it begins to dawn on the young man that all those illiterate, ungrammatical scrawls written on sheets torn from a child’s excercise book are cries de profundis.

The teenager born without a nose who yearns for love, the boy whose sister has been raped by their father, the woman whose husband wants to add another to their large brood despite her terror that another will kill her…Miss Lonelyhearts begins to understand that these are real people, really suffering and really crying for help.They’re not a freak-show staged for his amusement. The realization drives him mad.

I was reminded of West’s blackly comic satire when I first watched The Jerry Springer Show.

“It’s hilarious,” aquaintances assured me. “You’ll love it. The most unbelievable trailer-trash…the clothes…the hair…the stuff they come out with…hahahaha.” So I watched.

Now, I’m no hot-house flower and I’m not easily sickened but The Jerry Springer Show sickened me.

The people being put on show and goaded into fighting drove the audience into paroxysms of delighted laughter. They laughed at the endless profanity of the uneducated and barely literate. They laughed at the ugly clothes of the poor, at their terrible teeth, their awful hair, their pitiful jobs and their gimcrack trailer homes that would blow away in the next big wind.

But all I saw were people in pain, pain made worse by their inability to properly articulate it. Miserable lives made more so by bafflement and incomprehension. Suffering human beings. To the audience of jackals and hyenas, their minds dulled by television and their hearts licensed to harden by celebrities like the repellent Springer, these poor, fat, ugly, miserable people–who had probably never once in their lives had a lot of anything they liked–were freaks.

Laugh at them or send them to gas-chambers: what did it matter? They weren’t really human, after all.

If, like many educated and articulate people I know, you laughed along with the audience then perhaps you should hold a wake for your humanity.

And don’t give me any of that bullshit about viewing it in a post-modern, ironic way. If you laughed along, you’re just another jackal, another hyena, another degraded and degenerate tool of television’s de-humanizing machine.

There’s really no need to send to know for whom the bell tolls… is there?

  1. BaronCharlus permalink
    February 16, 2009 9:16 PM

    ‘And don’t give me any of that bullshit about viewing it in a post-modern, ironic way.’

    Amen and well said. These things degrade in all directions; the audience in the studio, the producer, the ‘guest’, the viewer…everyone is diminished.

  2. February 16, 2009 10:00 PM

    “…miserable people who had probably never once in their lives had a lot of anything they liked…”

    You’re forgetting the beer and incest.

    Meanwhile: those wretches in aggregate are the living Godd that your Bushes and Obamas and heads of various networks bend over backwards and dance happy to avoid pissing off; I wouldn’t worry too much about them. *We’re* the ones in danger, my friend. Let us never forget.

  3. mishari permalink*
    February 16, 2009 10:30 PM

    Somehow, I can’t help feeling I’m a damn sight better equipped to handle whatever life throws at me than all those poor saps, whether it’s a new Ice Age or the Apocalypse.

    …and those people are no more likely to vote than I’m likely to eat Jimmy Dean Spicy Chocolate Flavour Pork-On-A-Stick…

    Besides, my family were already old when my ancestor Khalid ibn Jabal Al-Adwani spoke with the Prophet Mohammed 1400 years ago. We’ll be around when the Bushes and Obamas have vanished from the memories of man.

  4. mishari permalink*
    February 16, 2009 10:47 PM

    …anyway, Steven, aren’t you contradicting yourself? Just yesterday, you said:

    “…what people ignore is that the *hard* (and heroic) work is not to be done on (or “within”) The System, it’s to be done on (within) ourselves. The world is shitty because people are shitty. Everyone stop being shitty.”

    I agree. People who are entertained by rancid, toxic crap like Jerry Springer are shitty people in my book. I want them to stop being shits…

  5. February 16, 2009 11:09 PM

    Two different propositions. Prop A: the “lumpen” are the big assed beast the evil bastids ride like a pre-historic yak through the jungle of History and Prop B: the epochal social changes we hanker for (ie: no more war or poverty) can only happen one human at a time. Where’s the contradiction?

  6. February 16, 2009 11:10 PM

    uh oh… my response was absorbed by gremlins, I think…

  7. February 16, 2009 11:11 PM

    Ah ha! there ’tis

  8. mishari permalink*
    February 16, 2009 11:24 PM

    “…epochal changes…can only happen one human at a time.”

    That’s simply not true. Take the the rise of Islam, for example.

    The wild, lawless tribes of the peninsular (my own family’s name translates as “the enemies” or “the aggressors” or “the adversaries” giving you some idea of the norm in those days), tribes much given to raiding and blood-feud and worshipping numerous Gods, became, in a handful of years a unified, monotheistic people, complete with codified laws and a powerful purpose.

    One at a time is good but it’s too damn slow, dude…

  9. February 16, 2009 11:36 PM

    Springer was entertaining for a few shows until the fact that these people might actually be real people and not just being all faux extreme to get on telly started to dawn on me. Hey people will always want their bread and circuses and at least this way doesn’t kill anyone off! It’s that Jeremy Kyle who should crawl away and die – gets people on his show to look superior to them, but by all counts is a rude and thoughtless cretin in real life!

  10. mishari permalink*
    February 16, 2009 11:43 PM

    Punkerbell? Oh, well…at least it ain’t pink.

    I’ve mercifully been spared exposure to Kyle but the Dead Ringers version gave me a fair idea of what I could expect, should I ever take leave of my fucking senses and actually watch the man…

  11. February 16, 2009 11:56 PM

    I suppose I should’ve been more explicit in restricting the type of change I meant and during what point in history I was referring to. Whatever changes the rise of Islam brought *then*, we are where we are *now*, and it’s not a good place…. it may very well be an end-of-the-end-of-the-world precipice we’re break-dancing along. And if everyone in the energy-and-materials-sucking “developed” world had scaled the consumption down to a *sanely basic* level not very long ago, not only would the planet feel healthier… and so forth. Why would it have been so hard to do?

    I was given a shiny, black new coupe (a Ford Granada, to date myself: bicycle-spoke hubcaps!) as a teen. Well, I’ve hated cars since forever, and consider them (along with guns and TV) one of the Great Satans of the planet. Via air pollution, the destruction of wildlife for highway expansion, the oil wars, etc., not a small chunk of the modern world’s ills can be traced to the automobile. I’m not saying the internal combustion engine should be banned, but I think its use can be minimized. I think the technology for replacing the auto as we know it has been there for decades. We don’t need all these fucking cars, and without the massive American addiction to gas and oil, would not the geopolitics of our day be different?

    Anyway: long story short: I drove that car four fucking times (including to get my license). There was considerable pressure but I opted to walk.

    As an adult (except a rejuvenating stint in Southern California), I’ve always made sure to live in a city with a healthy mass transit system, and where getting about on foot is possible. Conscious choice. I’m not rich (some in my family were but I botched that inheritance long, long ago): I figured out how to live ethically, and well enough, nevertheless.

    It’s not easy but it can be done. Again: I’m not saying we should go off the grid, but when I see people hopping in the SUV for a two-block drive for pizza, or zooming through the everglades on hovercraft, boomboxes blaring,I think: it’s *your* fault, you cunts.

    We could change life on the planet *today*. But we won’t: to inconvenient. So, things will continue as they are. Until the logical conclusions *force* the change. Which is when it’s too late, traditionally. But that’s what I mean by changing one human at a time, and why political solutions are cyclical and often ambiguous. Ie: yeah, Bush is “gone”… but 60 million fuckers who voted for him twice are still very much there, just waiting for the next round.

  12. mishari permalink*
    February 17, 2009 12:12 AM

    I don’t disagree with a word you say. I had a long love-affair with the internal combustion engine but it has to be seen in context.

    In my youth in Kuwait, there wasn’t a fuck of a lot else to do except race around in expensive sports cars and take a lot of drugs. I outgrew it (the cars, I mean).

    I now cycle or walk everywhere. I don’t fly unless there really is no other viable option. I long ago realized what was important to me.

    Human warmth and affection, books, music, art, conversation, nature, good food, animals to gaze at me adoringly (something my wife obstinately refuses to do, ditto my children, damn their dwarvish ingratitude)…stuff like that.

    I daresay you’re right about the necessary impetus coming too late. I dunno. Although it probably seems cowardly, I just keep my head down and hope that when the shit well and truly hits the fan, we’ll have time to make it to my remote bolt-hole in Spain (completely self-sufficient: water from a spring that has never apparently run dry, electricity from solar panels and a small wind genny).

    I guess you have to conclude that given the stupidity of the masses and the ditto plus venality of the politicians, you just have to look after your own…

    Sad but there it is…

  13. February 17, 2009 12:17 AM

    My own painstakingly slow technique is to raise a child so subtly/ cleverly that she won’t end up epitomizing the antithesis of my views on all this (laugh)…

    What else can I do? The change (for good or ill) is a generational process. From me (and my Beloved) to our daughter to her daughter to her daughter’s son, and so on. Existential patience required.

  14. mishari permalink*
    February 17, 2009 12:24 AM

    Amen to that…

  15. February 17, 2009 12:41 AM

    I too like to walk everywhere – don’t drive, can’t drive, won’t drive – not sure which, but passed the theory test so “in theory” I can drive which seems wholly satisfactory! maybe I’m missing something, but I find I’m a lot freer and less stressed than the drivers of this world … and less scared of snow.

  16. February 17, 2009 9:34 AM

    If you need someone to blame. It’s me. I’ve just been working for 2 days in Valencia. 1 vehicle with our show in it driving from Manchester through France and Spain and 3 people flying from Manchester. My carbon footprint must be the size of an ogre’s.

    Any good I do eco-wise is immediately offset by my job – driving around the UK and Europe – which I suspect is a microcosm ( or whatever the word is ) of how governments do things. Press the easy buttons and carry on as before. Or worse get into carbon-trading which seems to be a way of not doing anything about it but appearing to and foisting the problem onto to some poor third world country.

    But there it is – it’s me and I don’t even know how to drive. I am a symbol of all that’s bad.

    Mishari – the DVD’s arrived so thanks very much.

  17. mishari permalink*
    February 17, 2009 10:07 AM

    Good. (BTW, you do realize that everything is in the form of .avi files and can’t just be popped in the DVD player?)

    I guess people think that their little contribution to the problem makes no difference, given the scale of the problem. The trouble is, everybody thinks like that.

    What really ruins my repose is the thought of 1.5 billion Chinesze and 1 billion Indians who all want what the West has taken for granted for the last 50 years. Cars, fridges, air-conditioning, etc.

    I keep hoping that nature will force people’s hands, that some super bacteria that consumes petro-carbons will wipe out the world’s oil in 6-12 months, giving them no option but to throw every resource at alernative energy.

    People who keep wittering on about the destruction of the planet have mis-understood the problem. The earth will survive and re-generate, no matter what. In a 100 million or 500 million years, something else will crawl out of the ooze and begin the long climb toward sentience. We, however, will be long gone.

    Nothing of us will remain except our television and radio signals traveling out into the universe.

    500 million years from now, beings in a distant galaxy will receive The Jerry Springer Show and Big Brother. They’ll decide we cannot be suffered to exist and send a mission to destroy us…

    hahahaha…those new earth creatures are in for a nasty shock.

    Our toxicity will long outlive us.

  18. February 17, 2009 10:34 AM

    I agree too much activity about eco- problems is about trying to sustain an unhealthy human lifestyle rather than looking at it in the long-term.

    I’ve long thought that fleas are in fact the peak of evolution – no faulty spinal system, the eggs can hang around for years until detonated by a warm-blooded presence, effortless energy to make them leap. So a super-flea is poised to inherit the earth – perhaps a more plausible theory than freep’s super race of Sting-hungry mole crickets. However fleas are dependent on other life-forms so if Freep can solve the pop-reggae dependency of his arthropods he may win this argument.

    Pop-reggae now mentioned at least 4 times. How many blogs can boast of that?

  19. mishari permalink*
    February 17, 2009 10:44 AM

    Combine a flea, a cockroach and Peter Mandelson and you have a creature that is impervious to everything except the entropic heat death of the universe…

    …and, actually, I wouldn’t bet against the beast surviving that. It would be “intensely relaxed about being super cold…”

  20. BaronCharlus permalink
    February 17, 2009 11:33 AM

    CDs just arrived, Mishari. Fantastic. Enjoying the lo-fi Rio vibe first, then Eddie Lang. The John Hurt is a masterstroke. I have his 1920s recordings but nothing else. One of the greats.
    I’d have him sing at my funeral if I could (although his songs generally revolve aroud murder and death he sounds so…compassionate? amused? spellbinding)

  21. mishari permalink*
    February 17, 2009 11:55 AM

    Glad to hear it, Baron. The bloody posts are so fucking unreliable one just never knows.

    Yeah M John Hurt is wonderful. I thought you’d like that and the Brazilian lo-fi is perfect for days like today…kind of aural sunshine…although they’re just as good on a sunny day…

  22. parallax permalink
    February 17, 2009 12:31 PM

    Hey, great blog mish. It opens up how packs work en masse, and it’s not a pretty sight. I’ve never watched, from whoa to go, an episode of Jerry Springer, or Judge Judy, or Oprah … and yet I’m familiar enough with them that I know what they’re on about, and subsequently what you mean when you deride them … how does that work? They (*reality* TV shows) are so invasive that snippets, reviews, conversations constantly make reference to them, so you end up absobing what they’re on about by frigging osmosis.

    It’s a bit like Jade Goody. How come I know who she is? We have the Big Brother franchise over here, but like any other franchise it’s designed to be parochial. I know about Jade Goody because the UK press makes reference to her all the time, as though she’s a mascot or some sort of touchstone. So I googled to find out why so much bile was being poured onto a name (a person).

    And now I see she’s in the news again indeed Michele Hanson (sans reference to Rosemary) is using Goody as a monument to ‘ordinariness’ and a beacon for how that should be valued.

    Which brings me to … if we want to remove the barrier between people that jeer and the targets jeered … shouldn’t we recognise that everyone dies sometime – not only celebrities. Tragedy will visit everyone eventually. Why is it celebrated in this instance? Is it to make people feel better after their crowing. Do they feel embarrassed standing and booing from the stalls of the new empire’s colosseum?

  23. mishari permalink*
    February 17, 2009 12:41 PM

    Yeah, it’s all very weird indeed. I’d rather drink a bucket of cold vomit than watch Big Brother. The mercifully brief snippets I’ve seen told me all I needed to know. Of course, I’ve been called a snob because, you know, I’m not down with the peoples entertainment.

    Well, fuck that. Let’s have some new entertainment or get some new people.

    But this Jade Goody malarkey is bizarre. She was for a while the most detested and derided woman in Britain. Why, I couldn’t tell. Because she was vulgar? Who did they expect to find on Big Brother, for fuck’s sake? Bertrand Russell?

    Now, apparently, she’s a heroine because she’s dying…or because she’s sharing the whole process with the tabloids.

    Rancid, moronic, base, vile…I dunno, I’m running out of epithets for the kind of society we’re allowing ourselves to become.

  24. February 17, 2009 1:11 PM

    The Jade Goody thing is weird as apparently cervical cancer screenings have recently gone up since she aired all in public. So the celebrity endorsement seems to work for everything.

    One of my cousins ( a doctor ) did health work right across Central Africa from West to East. She said that the choice of Geri Halliwell to front various health campaigns was actually quite canny as most of the teenage girls whom the schemes were aimed at had Spice Girls posters on their walls. So the message got through. She thought it a pity that Halliwell was too dim and seemingly too self-obsessed to carry on with it – her face was far more effective than a doctor who knows his onions to get the message across .

    The message appears to be horribly mixed up so that celebrity gets equated with responsibility. You want to be a pop-star but in doing so you have to sign up to some extra social responsibilities. We ( rightly ) don’t trust politicians but we do trust some pop singer or footballer. Odd.

  25. mishari permalink*
    February 17, 2009 1:22 PM

    I’m all for some good coming of this, Al (though I think I just read that testing services for cervical cancer have been overwhelmed by a sudden onslaught of women wanting to be tested) but the flip side is far less appealing.

    What happens when Beckham or Dopey Spice or whoever urges us to vote for the BNP because they’ll preserve English values (whatever they are. I used to think I knew…tolerance, decency, modesty, quiet courage…not any more)?

    It’s bad enough having witless slebs telling me to buy Brand X insurance, for all the world as if some sleb bimbo spends her free time reading actuarial tables…

  26. Captain Ned permalink
    February 17, 2009 1:25 PM

    I expect that theatregoers will be treated to Jade: The Opera or Jade: The Musical sometime soon. Leading role to be assigned after a public vote presided over by Lord Lloyd Webber and Graham Norton. Queues for the opening night will extend across several streets, and the whole thing will be showered with Olivier awards. An inspiration to us all.

    Isn’t the latest McCrumb piece the most soul-sapping thing to appear on the books blog for quite some time?

  27. February 17, 2009 1:30 PM

    mishari When Posh ( and I did write Bosh there for a minute – apt ) and Becks tell us to vote BNP then the apocalypse will have arrived. It can’t be long. As you all know I’m not the cynical type and I believe in the old carnivalesque idea of turning the world upside down but this wasn’t quite the upside down world I had envisaged..

    Oh well as Ben Mandelson of 3 Mustaphas 3 used to say – forwards in all directions.

  28. mishari permalink*
    February 17, 2009 1:31 PM

    I dunno, Cap’n…we’re faced with an embarrasse de riches these days…could be worse though. What price Chad Newkey Boredom sneering at public libraries for being full of old people, poor people and unfashionably dressed people with bad haircuts? The same article slated second-hand books because they’re, you know, soiled

    That such an article appeared on the BOOK BLOGS was the absolute low point for me…

  29. February 17, 2009 1:38 PM

    OK, so I used to watch Big Brother, I admit it. What put me off it was ashamedly not the people on it, but the way that what had started off as a watchable (although you may disagree, but believe me the first one was full of a nice mix of normal people) social experiment had turned into some kind of Thunderdome, where the contestants seemed to have been picked purposefully to piss each other off and some contentious loud-mouthed racist or bigot or supremo-stupido is thrown in there to stir it all up and ultimately get ripped apart by the rest of the pack. I was suffering some kind of lathargic insomnia one night, where even the changing of channels was beyond me, and ended up watching the live feed when I clearly saw one set of events happen at about 4 a.m. leading to a big punch-up. By the time it was “edited” into the catch-up show the next day the events had been completely changed to make one party clearly culpable, who then got chucked out. I saw it with my own eyes and it was a whole different story in reality. The problem with these shows (well the main problem) is not that the masses are becoming obsessed with watching some of their number make fools of themselves, but that the “Big Brothers” behind these shows are whipping up the frenzies by misrepresenting the events, so as to get the most drama out of them. So actually it’s Unreality TV – drama really but just with actors who do it all for free… I can’t work out why Channel 4 is having such a money crisis, they don’t have to pay most of the people who appear on their channel. Anyway – that’s your pain-point – the people running the shows, until the cash cow has keeled over then they’ll continue to milk it. The only hope is that people will get bored of watching them. The BB figures have gone down, so maybe it will continue to dwindle until it disappears…?

    And as for the media/tabloids/magazines (Heat etc) they have similar manipulation at the core. They made Jade famous for being a loveable thicko, then vilified her for being a racist pig (which was just her being part of the pack which the show had put her into), and now she’s a hero again as someone said. Ultimately she doesn’t know when to quit showing herself to the world because these bloodsuckers keep on convincing her she’s needed. She’s needed to make them money, yes.

    It really does annoy me how people can’t see these magazines for what they are. I’m not the world’s brightest, but even I can see they are run by money-grabbing schizophrenics who say that a celebrity is too thin one week and too fat the next. Argh… (breathe, breathe)

  30. mishari permalink*
    February 17, 2009 1:43 PM

    Channel 4 is a travesty of what it once was. The endless property porn, food porn, surgery porn, freak shows (The Boy With…, The Worlds Fattest, Thinnest, Tallest…)

    Only John Snow and the news are worth watching anymore. I treasure the sight of Snow losing his rag with the vile Mark Regev…you’d never see that on the beeb.

  31. Captain Ned permalink
    February 17, 2009 1:55 PM

    That Pukey-Bumption nonsense was quite a while ago, though, wasn’t it? In fact, he hasn’t been seen much on the blog since the snotty-old-books debacle. I expect his delicate sensibilities were unsettled by the ensuing frenzy of outrage. His absence is keenly felt.

    I’ve not watched any Big Brother for years. As Tinkerbell said, it started off as a mild, inoffensive, boring, piece of fluff – disagreeable more for the way in which it ate up the TV schedule and generated so much witless media chatter than for any inherent nastiness. Then it was packed with types guaranteed to clash in the most spectacular way, all at the cynical instigation of vicious, money-grabbing programmers heeding the every word of their callow Barleyesque acolytes. What followed has been a disgrace. But for anyone who, like me, hasn’t been keeping abreast of the most recent developments, the so-called quality newspapers have been good enough to provide ample commentary.

  32. mishari permalink*
    February 17, 2009 1:57 PM

    …not least of all the Grauniad, which I believe bloody live blogged it. Bah…

  33. February 17, 2009 2:42 PM

    Live blogged it? LMAO ;-D

  34. mishari permalink*
    February 17, 2009 2:48 PM

    …I kid you not.

  35. freep permalink
    February 17, 2009 4:38 PM

    That old Puritan Milton got it fairly right:

    Fame is the spur that the clear spirit doth raise
    (That last infirmity of noble mind)
    To scorn delights, and live laborious days.

    Once fame is easily got (like money, admiration, cars, turnips, certificates, publication, jewels, pineapples and bunions) it ceases to be of much value. This isn’t a moral matter, just the product of thought. I don’t believe it need be a puritanical society that deplores an addiction to fame. Fame generates its own weak and marketable morality, and is dull. (Uttered from Olympus)

  36. mishari permalink*
    February 17, 2009 4:43 PM

    How’s the weather up there? Hera bothering you much? The woman’s a bloody nightmare, even if she is a Goddess…

    You’re absolutely right, though (unusual for a God)…my objection to the whole debased and sordid spectacle is based as much on aesthetics as morality.

  37. freep permalink
    February 17, 2009 4:51 PM

    The air is thin, mishari, which makes Hera pant a little – though perhaps that is caused by my glowing potency.
    I blame that there televisor and the soaps. We had a soap opera running here among the gods before TV, before electricity, and we never made a bean out of it. Once the gods have gone bankrupt, you’d think the little humans would draw some lessons …

  38. mishari permalink*
    February 17, 2009 4:56 PM

    …ah, television…half Greek, half Latin…no good was ever going to come of such a bastard word, Your Luminescence.

  39. February 17, 2009 5:03 PM

    One of the main defenses of BB is that the people who criticise do so because they don’t like to see working class people, warts and all on TV. Julie Burchill has made a fortune writing this stuff.

    What they seem to miss is that BB isn’t an outpouring of working class expression but is all about needy young working class people being exploited by middle-class producers who know how to push their buttons.

  40. freep permalink
    February 17, 2009 5:09 PM

    … not so much needy, al, as spendthrift. After all, 20 years ago, nobody had a mobile phone; now yer average teen spends fifty quid a month on texting etc. If that’s ‘needy’, what does ‘poor’ look like?

  41. February 17, 2009 5:21 PM

    freep I meant emotionally needy rather than materially needy. Should have made that clearer.

    I think the producers are very good at picking out that type of person who will respond “well” in the BB hothouse environment. Hence all the kicking off about nothing that goes on.

  42. mishari permalink*
    February 17, 2009 5:28 PM

    Yeah, there seems to be this relatively new phenomenon at work, young people who appear to believe that the reality of their own existences can only be validated by appearing on TV and the concomitant ‘fame’.

    Apparently, the fickle nature of that jade and the sudden rise and precipitous fall of countless others seems to serve as no lesson at all. Are they all just hopelessly thick or what?

  43. mishari permalink*
    February 17, 2009 6:25 PM

    Scientists find a way to divert sex-crazed elephantsheadline in today’s Independent

    …Mrs. Mowbray will be pleased.

  44. February 17, 2009 6:35 PM

    Is Sting involved in this?

  45. mishari permalink*
    February 17, 2009 6:37 PM

    …almost certainly. Tantric pachyderm erotica accompanied by lutes…go on…you know you want to.

  46. February 17, 2009 6:58 PM

    I remember the exact moment when Channel 4 changed. It was when many years agoI was looking through the schedules and saw they were showing the film “A Knight’s Tale” and I thought to myself, “That’s a bit of a commercial film for Channel 4 to be showing”. And that was it. It wasn’t a gradual process. They used to show obscure foreign films and cutting-edge TV; then one day they just showed Hollywood films and wall-to-wall drivel. Admittedly, they always showed American sitcoms.

    And why this connection in our society between what is “cutting edge” and what is puerile – as if the two concepts were interchangeable? (Oh, something about breaking taboos, no doubt – art’s excuse for pornography).

  47. mishari permalink*
    February 17, 2009 7:11 PM

    Channel 4 is fast turning into what Ch.5 was when it first started…nude weather girls and wall-to-wall imbecility to make a cretin weep.. With a few exceptions, terrestial TV is utter shite.

    I watched The Book Quiz again last night, only because I take a sort of grim satisfaction in knowing so many more of the answers than the knuckle-heads they have competing. When did the whole fucking world turn into morons? Was I asleep?

  48. mishari permalink*
    February 17, 2009 7:44 PM

    Holy Moly…anybody seen the Giant Valencian Rabbit, soon to be appearing on a menu near you (if you’re in Spain)? Have a look here. I’m must have one for Pongo to play with. On second thought, that rabbit looks capable of turning carnivore…

  49. freep permalink
    February 17, 2009 8:41 PM

    mishari, I think such a rabbit might profitably be introduced to the Northumberland alligator; it may be the only way to save the human race from such monsters:

  50. mishari permalink*
    February 17, 2009 9:18 PM

    The fabled Alnwick Alligator…I especially liked the “Ladies and Gentlemen 1s each, Tradesman and Servants 6d each.”

    The potential for fraud must have been enormous…ladies and gents dressing down…

    ” I assure you, my good man, I am a blacksmith…observe my leather smithy’s apron..quod erat demonstrandum. A 6d ticket and be quick about it.”

  51. freep permalink
    February 17, 2009 9:37 PM

    Which is preferable:
    (a) a queue of 40 tradesmen and servants struggling into the back room of a pub to see a proper alligator and sink half a gallon of weak porter, (and probably being conned as it might be cousin Jim in disguise)? or
    (b) a couple of million junior managers and call centre operatives lounging about at home swilling Chilean Merlot and watching people like themselves flex their ‘personalities’ in the BB room? (And definitely being conned because the pennies from their phone calls convey the illusion of a democratic process)
    I would go for the alligator every time, even if it was a Tory alligator. And if there were no alligator available, I would go to the pub and pay 6d to see The World’s Tallest Scotsman in preference to any of those falsities on TV.

  52. mishari permalink*
    February 17, 2009 9:43 PM

    I’d even prefer to pay 3 quid to see an average sized Scotsmen…in fact I often do, the landlord of my local being a confirmed skirt-wearing, caber-tossing, haggis-inhaling model of prudence…..

  53. February 17, 2009 10:55 PM

    I’ve just been working in Valencia and didn’t see any of these rabbits. Although there was something disturbingly large and hairy for sale in a modern, sorry, cutting edge furniture shop.

  54. mishari permalink*
    February 17, 2009 11:34 PM

    Did you take your giant pig to Valencia, Al?
    The Spaniards are awfully keen on pigs, you know.

    You could have introduced your giant pig to a giant rabbit…who knows? Given time and wine and moonlight, perhaps we would have pork-flavoured giant rabbits…

  55. February 18, 2009 8:39 AM

    The pig has seen action in Spain and will be there again this year. We took our compost heap this time

    Yes a Spanish Rappig could make us all a fortune. We ate at a restaurant which would have no problem selling rappig dishes to its customers. There was an obscene amount of ham hanging from every possible part of the restaurant even for Spanish establishments.

  56. BaronCharlus permalink
    February 18, 2009 11:08 AM

    I once met a woman at a party who wrote for one of those ‘true life’ magazines; the ones with cheap photographs on the cover and headlines like ‘hubby cheated on me – with his own mum!’ She described how she would trawl council estates door-to-door asking if anyone had a story or knew of one. Anyone who spilled their scandal got £250. “It’s enough for a holiday for one of them,” she said, or something like that: “They’re so thick”. I forget why she thought these people were thick, what her proof was. What I do remember is the sneer on the woman’s face, the smile as she said it. Full of loathing. She knew what £250 means in those places. That, to me, is the relationship that makes BB, Trisha, etc possible.

  57. sean murray permalink
    February 18, 2009 11:52 AM

    (Tries might and main not to gibber on again about the splendour of Miss Lonelyhearts… )

    I binned my telly years ago when it became clear its presence was like that of the biggest arseholes I´d ever met, a presence that would eventually provoke violence if encountered in real life. Why would I want in my home the equivalent of these diddies yacking incessantly away at their inane, brainwashed, vicious shite? The no TV rule cost me one ditzy girlfriend but has been well worth it overall, I´d say. As for the half-decent stuff, there´s always dear old bittorrent.

  58. parallax permalink
    February 18, 2009 12:00 PM

    baron … you decked her right?

  59. February 18, 2009 12:01 PM

    I grew up with a TV always on ( well from 6 o’clock anyway ) so have no problem blocking it out. In fact at times I appear to be watching but am thinking of something else entirely. This could be dementia of course but I always manage to make it back.

    It’s all made easier these days because there is literally nothing worth watching on it other than football/Simpsons ( for the 23rd repeat )/ David Attenborough, all of which were I more internet savvy I’m sure I could find elsewhere.

  60. BaronCharlus permalink
    February 18, 2009 12:10 PM


    Not my style. I probably hid behind the sofa.

  61. mishari permalink*
    February 18, 2009 12:24 PM

    Too true, Sean. Everything I might want to watch is available as a torrent. Now and then there’ll be something of interest but the TV is very rarely on in my house. It’s got worse, not better.

    Where are today’s The Ascent of Man or Civilization or The Shock of the New or Life on Earth., the Pinter, Beckett and Shakespeare productions that used to be regular features?

    I blame Ant and Dec…

  62. parallax permalink
    February 18, 2009 12:52 PM

    you hid behind the sofa? wimpofarious :) – but you mind-decked her right? well, of course you did because you’ve just expressed that here.

    Did you voice-response deck her? Like ‘you’re talking a pile of shit and how do you justify that…?’ or was it one of those parties where the responsible driver steers you away from the action and you end up ranting about what a bunch of cunts they are in the car on the way home?

  63. mishari permalink*
    February 18, 2009 12:53 PM

    That last scenario sounds horribly familiar…

  64. parallax permalink
    February 18, 2009 1:05 PM

    story of my life mish …

  65. mishari permalink*
    February 18, 2009 1:10 PM

    Actually, it used to be a lot worse. Very few people were capable of steering me away from the action, often resulting in ugly scenes.

    My wife, however, renders me as meek as a lamb and can steer me any damn way she pleases. Just as well, really. Fistfights at my age are so very infra dig…

  66. February 18, 2009 1:20 PM

    The telly has got worse, but I blame the credit crunch…

    I can’t believe someone would produce such wonderful giant cuddly rabbits just as alternative sources of meat – I’ll have one as a pet, they look really cute.

  67. BaronCharlus permalink
    February 18, 2009 1:29 PM

    Wimpofarious? Probably. Isn’t it more fun to smile, nod and let someone condemn themselves with gentle, friendly encouragement. Don’t you find ugly thought fascinating? I’m not fond of confrontation but I’m also not that bothered about trying to rescue idiots from themselves. And attempt to argue or reason is an act of mercy which not everyone deserves.

    That’s my (de)fence and I’m sticking to it.

  68. parallax permalink
    February 18, 2009 1:56 PM

    well, sort of, baron … but the enigmatic smile is a bit McCrum isn’t it? Like, you don’t engage simply because you know you’re right.

    I don’t know if I’m right which is why I’m prepared to biff it out and take it on. I want to know why someone is passionate about something – maybe their drive/passion is worthwhile. Just because I don’t get it doesn’t mean I shouldn’t take some headspace to try to understand why it’s important to them. Y’know why does the force of their determination need an audience? I’d be fucked if I thought that I absolutely knew why I was protecting the barricades unless I was constantly being asked what the struggle was for.

  69. BaronCharlus permalink
    February 18, 2009 2:06 PM

    ‘I don’t know if I’m right which is why I’m prepared to biff it out and take it on.’

    Of course I agree with you. But, as I said, I consider engaging in debate an act of respect. I’ll argue harder with someone the more I like them.

    It was years ago and, thinking back to my situation at the time, I was probably wondering if she could get me a job ;-).

  70. mishari permalink*
    February 18, 2009 2:11 PM

    No, no, no, Baron…you? Haunting sink estates in a search for prurience? You were made for better things…

  71. February 18, 2009 2:23 PM

    If you all want to biff it out – there’s a “debate” ( the usual rent-a-debate in fact ) going on at the GU Theatre blogs about the Caryl Churchill play. The anti-semite claimers are on top at the moment.

    Personally I’m like the Baron. After previous youthful experiences I’ve discovered that there’s no point in arguing with some people and the fact you can’t be arsed doesn’t mean a thing.

  72. mishari permalink*
    February 18, 2009 2:29 PM

    I just read Howard Jacobson’s rancidly dishonest take on it over at the Indy…I expected rather better of him.

    Al, did you by any chance watch the Pinter doc last night?

  73. February 18, 2009 2:37 PM

    No it was 3 episodes of the Wire series 4 all the way last night.

    What gets me ( and gets all of us I suspect ) is the unwavering quality of the debates. The people posting are not the usual theatre blog droners-on ( guilty m’lud ) so I’m guessing they Google “anti-semitic this or that” and alight on what pops up, argument at the ready -.

    God I’m naive aren’t I?

  74. mishari permalink*
    February 18, 2009 2:50 PM

    My understanding is that various websites devoted to defending Israel at any price alert their cyber-drones who then bombard any article that’s less than adulatory of Israeli govt policy with accusations of ‘anti-semitism’. Bah…

    What do you think of S. 4 so far?

  75. February 18, 2009 2:57 PM

    Exactly – everything scrutinised for the political possibilities rather than any consideration of how the things is produced which might add the valuable nuance to the meaning.

    Series 4 very good. Chilling opening episode with the nail gun and the realisation of what they are doing with it. The ensemble leads at the moment have minor roles so you don’t get tangled up in soap opera characterisation.

  76. parallax permalink
    February 18, 2009 3:14 PM

    Baron: ‘I consider engaging in debate an act of respect’

    yes, I understand.

    And this is a really interesting point – so what criteria, check-boxes, in your mind (or any one else’s mind who participates in this blog medium) decides who’s worth engaging/debating with?

  77. parallax permalink
    February 18, 2009 3:21 PM

    .. continuing that question in context: given that this particular blog of mishari’s suggests that reality programmes creates a cultural divide between the watchers of performers from the scum echelons

  78. BaronCharlus permalink
    February 18, 2009 4:52 PM


    ‘what criteria, check-boxes, in your mind…decides who’s worth engaging/debating with’

    Good question. Online, certainly if I’ve seen someone in previous debates/rows demonstrate no ability to adjust/examine their position and motivations or show a sense of humour or if they often resort to point scoring, personal attacks, specious pedantry or wild overstatement then I’m unlikely to bother mentioning it should they say something I don’t agree with. Once or twice I’ve got so angry I’ve posted something but usually regret it; either because I was too cranked up to express myself well or because I’d allowed myself to be deliberately cruel. I try to put it into me pomes instead. Basically, if I think I’ll enjoy the exchange, have something to offer or might learn something, I’ll have a go.

  79. February 18, 2009 5:50 PM

    My understanding is that various websites devoted to defending Israel at any price alert their cyber-drones who then bombard any article that’s less than adulatory of Israeli govt policy with accusations of ‘anti-semitism’.

    I certainly saw that in several (overwhelmingly pro-Palestine) debates over at 3Quarks Daily during the last Gaza massacre. Also couldn’t help noticing the preponderance of pro-Israel/Hebrew Google ads lining the right side of my screen. Well-orchestrated.

    Which is why I’m afraid that the “West” is about to see some sort of… erm… fear/revulsion-inspiring “event” again soon. Well, along with the increased incidence of off-putting beheadings I’ve noticed in the “news” of late…

  80. February 18, 2009 5:52 PM

    (I see I forgot to bracket my quotation from your comment) Not any more–Ed.

  81. February 18, 2009 11:50 PM

    Thanks, Ed!

    (Why can’t the GU Mods be a force for good, in this manner, rather than kobolds of spite and stink and bother?)

  82. mishari permalink*
    February 19, 2009 12:02 AM

    …because they didn’t watch The Lone Ranger when they were small.

  83. February 19, 2009 12:45 AM

    Well, you may find this interesting (although perhaps this belongs in the other thread): my maternal grandfather kept horses, and he’d pay us niggardly amounts of pocket money to polish his massive old saddles. Before I came along, he kept a horse *in his garage*, but by the time I was born, he was renting space to keep a couple on a far away farm, and drove out a few times each year on solo vacations in order to ride.

    He loved the TV series “Gunsmoke” and watched it religiously (as they say) on Sunday evenings, and had my grandmother reading him Western pulp over breakfast every morning; he gave me the job once but I was too young and had no euphony . I have pictures of my mother and her father (and an uncle or two) on horseback, but the *one* time I scurried up a horse (at the age of nine or ten), I hated it (too far off the ground and entirely too bumpy).

    Meanwhile, my maternal grandmother’s great-grandmother (on her father’s side) was a full-blooded Cherokee (named Francis) who supposedly lived to the age of 117.

    Western-style lore was a biggie on my mother’s side of the family, but my Bohemian father would have none of it. I must say I tended (and tend) to side with him on this. I remember him sneering at a Remington (Fred) in a museum, once, saying “Americans think this is art”.

    But I *do* know the name of Tonto’s horse.

  84. mishari permalink*
    February 19, 2009 1:37 AM

    Me, I ‘ve always been fascinated by America’s expansion west of the Mississippi. From the Journals of Lewis and Clark to Cormac McCarthy’s apocalyptic re-invention of the Western novel, Blood Meridian.

    There’s somethng intriguing about the assortment of French, Scots, Irish and English trappers coming out of the North and East, Spanish conquistadores and French adventurers and soldiers of fortune coming up out of the South and West.

    The wild variousness of the tribes they encountered and fought or befriended–warrior tribes like the Cheyenne. Arapaho and Sioux, settled agriculturalists like the Hopi and Navajo, seagoing fisherman like the tribes of the the West coast.

    The grandeur and variety of the landscape, the fact that the law was what you made it and on and on…

    I’ve also read a great deal about the exploration and settlement of Siberia, Russia’s Wild West. I guess I’m fascinated by the idea of a frontier where so-called civilization becomes more rumour than fact, where you enter a realm of possibilities and unknowns.

    I bitterly regret that I won’t live to see space travel (cue plonky voice, “the Final Frontier”). Man, I’d be on a ship to another solar system or galaxy like a shot, just to see what was out there.

    I guess we must be content with inner explorations…but it’s no substitute for piloting a sleek, piratical space-sloop around the Andromeda galaxy, seeking whom I might devour…

  85. February 19, 2009 8:34 AM

    Kurosawa’s Dersu Uzala made with Russian money may be of interest. It’s about exploring the eastern reaches of the Russian land mass. The narrator figure is a Russian and Dersu Uzala is his Mongolian guide. Very much a Western type of relationship. It’s about man versus nature rather than shoot outs ( I’m afraid ) and although it’s clunky in parts it has some great scenes in it.

    This seems a recurring theme of my posts doesn’t it? Clunky films with great scenes. Perhaps I should spend more time watching something decent.

  86. freep permalink
    February 19, 2009 9:16 AM

    Alarming: Dersu Uzala is one of my oddly favourite films, with amazing sunsets; sponsored by an oil company, directed by Kurosawa. One of those great ‘art’ films that looks like it means more than it says. If you like snow, it’s brilliant.

  87. February 19, 2009 11:45 AM

    “I guess I’m fascinated by the idea of a frontier where so-called civilization becomes more rumour than fact…”

    True of any hardcore ghetto in America at this point! You don’t need a time machine or an expedition to parts unknown… just fly to Detroit.

  88. mishari permalink*
    February 19, 2009 11:57 AM

    True, Steven…but where’s the mystery? I know exactly what I can expect…poverty, violence, rage and a great deal of ugliness.

    I should have specified ‘ ..frontiers beyond which lies the unknown’

    Al, freep…I know Dersu Uzala. Beautiful film, if flawed.

    Al, so many works are flawed but contain elements that work beautifully…films, novels, poems, symphonies…I think you’re perfectly right to delight in beauty wherever you find it.

  89. parallax permalink
    February 19, 2009 12:20 PM

    freep & alarming: Just want to check, before I head to the DVD outlet, does Dersu Uzala have a Russian bride ditched off the sledge/sleigh to feed the wolves so that others can make it to safety?

    And – thanks for reminding me – I’ve just googled My Antonia only to find out that there’s a 1995 film adaptation with, wait for it, Jason Robards and Eva Marie Saint in the line up.

  90. February 19, 2009 12:28 PM

    ‘ ..frontiers beyond which lies the unknown’

    That’s where books come into it, I suppose…

  91. freep permalink
    February 19, 2009 12:34 PM

    para: Don’t remember a Russian bride at all; but then I haven’t seen it for 20 years. It first came out 1975. I think it’s an all-male cast, where there’s a slightly sentimental attachment grows between the noble savage / hunter and the team of purposeful Russian military surveyors.

    I suppose the point is that the military chaps learn much about nature and the human condition from this ancient man of the wilderness. The location is the Amur river, eastern Siberia, which is astonishing, very remote and prob not often frequented by film makers. Very interesting if you like Kurosawa, as I don’t think he’s ever made a prettier film.

  92. mishari permalink*
    February 19, 2009 12:34 PM

    Steven, Art in general, I’d say…

  93. mishari permalink*
    February 19, 2009 12:40 PM

    There’s a book I’ll have to dig out for you, freep. Damned if I can remember the title but it’s by a Russian doctor who found himself on the NKVD’s shit-list. So he fled East.

    He made his way on foot across Siberia, eventually crossing into, I think Manchuria and eventual freedom. Mainly, though, it’s a record of Siberia in the 20’s.

    It’s fascinating stuff. He was a curious, articulate, courageous man and it’s a great story.

    Did you read Colin Thubron’s very fine book about Siberia, entitled, erm…Siberia?
    Highly recommended.

  94. parallax permalink
    February 19, 2009 12:51 PM

    thanks freep – Kurosawa and *pretty* is an endorsement worth following up, and I’ll track down this robarts/antonia filum while I’m at it … sometime soon … my list of stuff to see and read may, however, outlive me :)

  95. February 19, 2009 1:17 PM

    para – the Russian bride off the sleigh sounds like an early film by Paradjanov ( who made Colour of Pomegranites ). Very poetic and painterly, very Georgian/medieval, lots of tableaux vivants rather than dramatic scenes.

  96. freep permalink
    February 19, 2009 1:25 PM

    Thanks mish, I’ll look up the Thubron Siberia. Have been out of the travel book habit for a while, so might be a good way back in.

  97. mishari permalink*
    February 19, 2009 1:45 PM

    Thubron is a cut above yer usual ‘I went here and saw this’ mob. Siberia is a splendid book. (I don’t have a copy anymore or I’d send it along)

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