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Monday, May 23, 2011

The only way is downhill

OK, so The Only Way is Essex. It's a reality television show. It is part of a newly-distorted genre of reality television in which 'real' people are given scripts and told to live out their real lives using said scripts. What happens is generally uneventful - some have even whispered 'boring' - and tends to revolve around nightclubs, beauty salons and the love lives of a small group of unremarkable 20-somethings who live in the county of Essex.
It's completely brainless, full of pretty colours and fake tits and youthfulness, and as such it's become, with crushing predictability, very popular.

What it is NOT - and not so long ago, I'd be laughed at for even suggesting such a sentence might ever be necessary - what it is definitely NOT is a BAFTA-winning television programme.

And yet, and yet: last night, this ludicrous, candyfloss bit of televisual fluff won the audience award at the BAFTAs. Not only did it win, it beat Downton Abbey, which was the MOST WATCHED NEW DRAMA OF THE PAST DECADE, with 12 million viewers.

Now, fair enough, it was the Youtube viewers award, which necessarily means the voting process was going to be utter nonsense: getting the general public's opinion on anything is always a ridiculous idea (just ask David Cameron).
Indeed, the sponsor of the award tells you everything you need to know about who was doing the voting - I'm surprised they were allowed up that late on a Sunday.

But still, there's something depressing going on here that we ought not to really ignore.

I don't DOUBT that the red-topped newspapers this morning will be heralding the show's win at the BAFTAs as a triumph of working class righteousness, a joyous celebration of cultural egalitarianism. And so they must - it was their chuntering on and on about the bloody programme for the last 2 months that helped give it its momentum.

And no DOUBT anyone who complains publicly about this win will be howled down by these same tabloid harridans, who will insist that watching young women called Sherri glueing Swarovski crystals to their waxed and buffed pudendum is a cerebrally-enriching experience on a par with reading Tolstoy.

Palpable nonsense. Tabloid journalists are not idiots, but what they are saying is that it's OK for their READERS to be idiots; nay, their idiocy should be feted, encouraged and fed continuously for fear that if folk looked up from their vajazzles for too long, they might take more of an interest in what the not-stupid folk are getting up to. Or, to paraphrase the mighty Bill Hicks, "Go back to sleep, Britain, nothing to see here".

What this BAFTA win is, once a-fucking-gain, is a celebration of the stupid, a glorification of the not knowing. A world where The Only Way Is Essex is regarded as "like, really brilliant" and worthy of a BAFTA is a world in which thinking is, effectively, something to be sneered at. In this world, to be educated is to be posh, to demand basic standards in one's cultural output is to be stuck up and out of touch. It's a world in which real, 'down-to-earth' folk are not expected to be interested in decent drama that (god forbid) someon talented has actually bothered to write, and which might (heavens above) feature the odd crinoline or multi-syllabic piece of dialogue.

DOn't get me wrong: there is a place in our cultural landscape for The Only Way is Essex. Of course there is. If there wasn't then it wouldn't get such big audiences. But for the love of god, it's imperative that we know it for what it is.
I'm an avid fan of The Apprentice (I particularly enjoy the way Alan Sugar's face crumples like a disappointed sphincter whenever he tries to tell a joke) but I enjoy it for what it is: trash telly. If I wanted to learn anything, or be mentally enriched, I'll watch something else.

Not all television is created equal, just as not all writing is equal: if that were the case, English graduates would be swotting up on Catherine Cookson. Or even (lord preserve me) Tony Parsons.
The fact that they aren't doing so doesn't detract from the intrinsic value or popularity of the trashy stuff, either: Catherine Cookson is still, I believe, the most read writer in the English language.

Say it with me, folks: it's acceptable to watch shit TV. We don't have to justify it by telling ourselves it's worthy, OK?

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Fancy Dress

As probably the only family in Britain (or so it would seem) who did not pay any attention to the Royal Wedding, I realise I am on shaky ground in commenting on the whole affair, but today's whinge by the low-level former Royal Sarah Ferguson about not getting an invite did grab my attention.

The Duchess of York has told US talk show host Oprah Winfrey that not receiving an invitation to the royal wedding was "difficult".

"I wanted to be there with my girls," the former royal said.

The woman concedes that being caught out flogging 'an audience with' her grimy ex-husband for half a million quid a pop might be the reason for the snub (d'ya think?):

The duchess was caught on video last year offering to sell access to Prince Andrew for £500,000 ($818,000).

"I felt that I ostracized myself by my behaviour, by the past, by living with all the regrets of my mistakes," she said.

but she still thinks it would've been nice to have joined the party. She says:

"It was so difficult... because I wanted to be there with my girls and to - and to be getting them dressed and to go as a family," the Queen's former daughter-in-law said in the interview taped on 6 May and due to air on Wednesday.

Ah. 'Getting them dressed'. What she means, of course, is that if only that bloody old baggage the Queen hadn't been so sour as to ban her from the nuptials, THIS wouldn't have happened:

Oh, ah, sorry, no, I meant this...

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

This man is not my grandpa

You know, as a sort-of-ish member of the journalistic profession (and not, the last time I checked, a fan of sadomasochism), I probably shouldn't be saying this: but one has got to admire Max Mosley.

In case we've forgotten (it's been a while)... The man was caught out by the tabloids in the most excruciatingly embarrassingly public way, with his pants around his ankles and a collective of grubby and slightly unsavoury prostitutes walloping him with riding crops and the like. So far, so what? Except for one detail: he is, as his name would suggest, related to a long-dead right wing fascist, and as such,the News of the World were desperate to stitch him up. In fairness, Mosley did quite a bit to help them, by getting aforementioned group of bottle-blonde lovelies to dress up in Nazi uniform and (if memory serves me correctly, as it usually does where peculiar sordid detail is concerned) pick imaginary fleas off him and shout fascistic nonsense at him. But whatever you think about the man's bedroom antics, it doesn't change the fact that there wasn't really much justification for the NOTW to come after him. Mosley certainly felt that way, anyway: he successfully sued the newspaper for printing the initial story and (would you believe the sheer front of the man!) has just taken his case to the European Court of Human Rights to seek a change in the law.

He lost, as one might expect, but as I say: He's got some brass neck, that Mosley. You can't help but admire him for not crawling, humiliated, back into bottom-spanking obscurity.

"This is just about whether the newspapers should have the right to publicise very private aspects of people's lives which there's no public interest in at all - it's just purely for titillation and to sell newspapers," he told the BBC.

Being walloped by a bunch of Nazi hookers is, I would hazard, an unusual way for a grown man to get his jollies, and doesn't exactly speak well of the morals of the man, but Mosley would hardly be the first middle-aged man to enjoy a bit of spanking. Taken in isolation, the facts of the case are really, when all is said and done, quite mundane. Before his tabloid 'expose', nobody had heard of Mosley, so one could not reasonably argue that his being dragged through the public gutter was in the public interest.
No: the reason why the NOTW wanted his scalp is not because of who THIS man is, but because of the man from whom he is descended - Oswald Mosley. When viewed through the strangely distorting eyes of the News of the Screws, Mosley deserved to be brought down because his old dad was a Nazi. And I'm afraid I can't agree with that.
The judge in Mosley's case said he had to protect the media's "right to freedom of expression". But the right to bring a person down because they don't like the politics of a person's family - and not, let's be clear, based on anything that the man himself has done, outside the confines of his own bedroom at least - is not a right that the tabloids should necessarily own, and to suggest that this agenda need 'protecting' is slightly sinister in its implication.

Ex-motorsports boss Max Mosley has lost his European Court of Human Rights bid to force newspapers to warn people before exposing their private lives.

He said the Strasbourg verdict was "disappointing" but he may appeal, to keep fighting for tighter privacy laws.

In 2008, the UK High Court awarded him £60,000 damages after ruling the News of the World invaded his right to privacy by reporting on his sex life.

Victory might have led to new privacy laws, which press bosses oppose.

Mr Mosley, 71, said of the judgement: "[I'm] obviously disappointed, but it's satisfying that they've been extremely critical of the News of the World.

"I think they've underestimated the danger from the UK tabloids but obviously they're the judges and one has to respect their decision."