Monthly Archives: June 2009

It Felt Like a Kiss

I’ll be in Manchester this weekend, at the Kraftwerk gig (just had to mention… sorry!)

Now I’m also hoping I’ll be able to get tickets for ‘It Felt Like a Kiss’, a show put together by film maker Adam Curtis and theatre group Punchdrunk from rare archive footage.  There’s a taster available here and from the interview with Mr Curtis it sounds worth a look:

My aim was to try and find a more involving and emotional way of doing political journalism on TV.  I decided to make a film about something that has always fascinated me – how power really works in the world. To show that power is exercised not just through politics and diplomacy – but flows through our feelings and emotions, and shapes the way we think of ourselves and the world.

His film the Power of Nightmares looked at the way politicians create and then play on our fears to increase their power over us.  There’s an interview about it here, but in case you didn’t see it, the gist was that, like advertising which shocks you with a problem you never knew you had and then seeks to sell you the solution, politicians create bogeymen and then try to convince us that they are the only people with the power to save us from them.

The new one promises to include a look at America’s rise through the 50s and 60s, with pop, TV and film, and then show the darker side of the American Dream.  If I can beg, borrow or steal a ticket, I’ll report back next week…

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1Q84

Very excited to read today that Haruki Murakami has revealed some of the inspiration for his new book:

Murakami has now admitted that he had “long wanted to write a near-past novel similar to George Orwell’s futuristic novel 1984″

Only slightly tempered by this:

It proved an instant bestseller in Japan when it was published at the end of May, but there is no word yet about when an English translation will be forthcoming.

Now that should be all the inspiration I need to become fluent in Japanese…

In the same article, Mr Murakami also talks about how he writes, something he also covers in the excellent and translated into English, ‘What I Talk About When I Talk About Running’,

In my case, if I start out by thinking about the plot, things don’t go well. Small points, such as my impression of what is likely to occur, do come to mind, but I let the rest of the story take its own course. I don’t want to spend as long as two years writing a story whose plot I already know.

This is the way I write too, although it is definitely more time-consuming that way, so it is heartening to learn that Murakami’s been working on his book for two years!  It is also not the way my English teachers at school would have encouraged anyone to write, insisting when we wrote stories in class that we spend time planning them out, ensuring they had a beginning, middle and an end, before we were allowed to start writing the things.  I am sure they meant well, but it leads to formulaic writing as well as taking some of the fun out of discovery.  Part of the appeal of writing something longer, which I’ve been doing for about a year now, is that I am telling myself the story first.  I only have a vague idea of how it is going to end and a faint hope that if I am enjoying the tale, one day other people might do too…

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Normal service resumed

In a bar last night, the DJ played Pulp’s Common People and the crowd, a drunken mass of former St Martins sculpture graduates, sang along without a shred of self-awareness to cause them disquiet.  I felt like pointing out that he was singing at them, not for them, that if you called your Dad he could stop it all, you could stop pretending to enjoy yourselves in these dingy bars, where the smoking ban did more harm than good because now there is no fresh nicotine smoke to mask the smell of the bar, and flee to Fulham where you suspect you would secretly be happier and leave me to enjoy Shoreditch the way it used to be before people like you “discovered” it.

Luckily I managed to resist the urge, which is why I am now sitting here typing these words and not in the Royal London having my spleen stitched back together.  It rarely pays to be the one to point out the ironies of the day, just ask Juvenal.  So instead I sit there in seething misanthropy, before fleeing the place to write something nasty about the clientele on the Internet.  Much braver, I’m sure you’ll agree.

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And though you tell me that you love me…

It’s the weekend, at last.

The sun is (almost) shining, I’m going out dancing tonight, life can’t be all hate, hate, hate.

Time to put it all to one side for 48 hours – click on the link below and enjoy!

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The Rewrite Squad

So today The Times struck a blow for openness and honesty in public life, with a blistering exposé of… an anonymous detective constable who had been writing an often amusing blog about the trials of modern policing.  Blogger ‘NightJack’ had taken the newspaper to court, seeking an injunction to prevent the publication of his identity, but was unsuccessful in his High Court action.  The full judgment can be read here.

The Judge was clear that the action failed because

blogging is essentially a public rather than a private identity

[at paragraph 11],

and, while I can sympathise with NightJack, it is difficult to see how the opposite could be true.  Whether you anticipate being read by your mum and a few mates, or aspire to a readership of the entire population of the British Isles, when you put your witterings up in a corner of the global interweb, you are ‘in publishing’ baby, maybe not on the scale of Condé Nast, but certainly according to the language of the libel laws.

And once those thoughts are out there in the wide world, you have no right to try to stuff the genie back in to the bottle, as the judgment also notes,

if the allegations and observations made by [Night Jack] were themselves contributing to a debate of general interest, as he undoubtedly thinks they are, I cannot see why the proposed publication in The Times would not be worthy of the same classification.

[at paragraph 23]

So having published, it is not up to you how far the dissemination goes.  Blogs are built on links and if a more popular site links to yours and the debate goes global, well, hey, isn’t that just the beauty of the internet?

Of course, it is also obvious that when writing about one’s day job, any organisation will be less than sympathetic to attention brought to bear on exactly where they are going wrong.  The witness statement from NightJack’s solicitors explicitly mentioned the fear that

identification as author of the Blog might have an adverse effect on his working relationships

No shit, Sherlock.  The Judge outright rejected this piece of deduction, stating at paragraph 28:

I do not accept that it is part of the court’s function to protect police officers who are, or think they may be, acting in breach of police discipline regulations from coming to the attention of their superiors.

An argument that the blog was being produced in the officer’s spare time was also rejected and again, it is difficult to see how any alternative conclusion could have been reached – especially given the subject matter, he may have been writing in his down time – but he was still writing about the job.  The Judge noted in the final paragraph that, in his view, there was,

a countervailing public interest in revealing that a particular police officer has been making these communications.

Following that idea through to its logical conclusion, perhaps the public should be horrified that a serving police officer has no proper arena to raise his concerns about the ‘service’ he is ‘delivering’ other than a blog page?  The tone of The Times piece was all mock-outrage about the confidentiality that Jack might have breached, with nay a mention of what happens to whistleblowers, who often find themselves drummed out of the profession they love.  Especially, it seems, in the cases of doctors, nurses and, er, police officers, we are increasingly leaving those at the sharp end of public service delivery without the budgets to do the job properly and without any means to communicate about failures and ways to improve, other than channels which may ultimately end up in them being shown the door.

It is important to note, too, that the Honourable bloke on the bench in this case was that friend to Private Eye, Mr Justice Eady, who despite his reluctance to extend the protection of English law to members of Her Majesty’s police force, has no qualms about using it to assist such worthy candidates as the son of the president of Congo-Brazzaville, chiropractic practitioners and Saudi bankers.

Of course, the NightJack exposé wasn’t the first time brave investigative journalists fearlessly exposed the crooked, black hearts beating behind the anonymous masks of some of the best known bloggers.  The writer of ‘Girl with a one track mind’ was also at the rough end of some sensationalist reporting by The Times and The Daily Mail, following her shocking crimes of being a woman who both enjoyed sex, and wrote about it.  Interviewed after the event, the writer said that she used a pseudonym to

ensure privacy for oneself and others, not because I had any shame

I imagine it is the second part of that sentence that convinced the Fourth Estate that they had a moral obligation to publish her name, birth certificate and mother’s profession in order to protect public decency from the wanton hussy.

Similarly, the identity of the writer of the Guido Fawkes political gossip site was exposed on Newsnight, following some rather bizarre attempts by that program to cloak his identity, a strange move when it could be argued that he already had quite a profile for racy goings-on and his real name was something of an open secret amongst journalists.

However, it is perhaps significant that each of the writers mentioned was enjoying a measure of success when exposed.  The Girl had seen extracts from her book serialised in The Sunday Times shortly before, which had helped to send it to the top of the Amazon pre-ordered paperbacks charts.  NightJack had recently won the Orwell Prize for political writing in the blogging category and Guido had been getting up the nose of more than one political grandee.  It is very easy to argue, especially in the case of The Girl, that The Times had danced the typical routine of building her up to tear her down, all in the noble interest of selling papers, of course.  Would the same paper have outed NightJack if he hadn’t been awarded the prize?  It is impossible to say.  However in recent months, it has become clear that there is a last-ditch battle being fought by the newspapers against the pesky on-line media, with articles mooting paid for content and other vanguard actions attempting to stem the flow of readers away from the hard copies to the computer screens.  Attacking the blogging stars as soon as they gain a profile is one easy way to reassert authority in the face of dwindling readership figures.

There are many reasons why a blog writer would choose to hide behind anonymity: to keep some mystique; to try to avoid any kind of cult of personality building up; in an attempt to let the work speak for itself.  I hope that you will not be too shocked to learn that I never sign cheques in the name ‘Julia Smith’.  Still, I believe that the creator of Winston Smith and Julia would not censure me for it, having chosen the name ‘George Orwell’ from a shortlist of four, as he worried that publication of ‘Down and Out in Paris and London’ would affect his day job as a teacher, or that unfavourable reviews would cause damage to his literary ambitions.  By the time of the publication of ‘Animal Farm’, as noted by Hilary Spurling, he had,

switched identities so completely that even his old school friends had to learn to call him George

So while it is true that The Times was probably correct in law, and it is also the case that writers should stand behind their words whenever possible, isn’t it also the truth that with this ruling all the papers have done is to take some of the fun and freedom out of blogging by narrowing the boundaries of online writing to those kept to by the now morally and financially bankrupt broadsheets?  They would tell you that it was more honest to be an E.A. Blair than an Orwell but in my humble submission, they would be wrong.

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Stop being a sap!

spray-on leggings

spray-on leggings

Yes, you read that right.

Release your inner anarchist in a Sid Vicious meets Agyness Deyn ensemble

That sound you can hear is either Sid spinning in his grave or me banging my head against a wall, I’m not sure which will be louder from where you are.  I can’t help thinking that it would be great if young people today managed to have a scene or a sound of their own that wasn’t immediately co-opted in order to sell them and old bastards who should know better spray-on leggings.  Remember: no punk’s wardrobe is complete without them!!!

Everything has become so safe, such a carbon copy of what goes before and any glimmer of musical innovation is soon picked over, labelled and packaged for easy purchase by mainstream wankers who know nothing and can’t be arsed to look up the ideas behind the sneer.  Safety pin earrings – can it get any weirder?

And maybe Sid himself would laugh, at his name being invoked to sell you some shit clobber, as Malcolm McLaren once noted,

if Rotten is the voice of punk, then Vicious is the attitude

and McLaren always knew that nothing quite sells like attitude.  Why bother to create your own point of view or opinion when you can just pull on the trousers you bought that day and take a shortcut to credibility?   We are empty people, devoid of new ideas and new ways of thinking, doomed to keep going round and round and round on the same wheel because that is the way it has always been.

So if you want to take something from punk, instead of the aesthetic, take the true attitude: the Do It Yourself approach to getting published, getting your music released or whatever it is that defines your success.  Just like this man says:

I will always believe in punk-rock, because it’s about creating something for yourself.  Part of it was: ‘Stop being a sap! Lift your head up and see what is really going on in the political, social and religious situations, and try and see through all the smoke screens’.

Joe Strummer, July 2002

”I will always believe in punk-rock, because it’s about creating something for yourself.
Part of it was: ‘Stop being a sap! Lift your head up and see what is really going on in the political,
social and religious situations, and try and see through all the smoke screens.”
(July 2002)

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