Archive for December, 2009

A story about someone who had sex.

December 13, 2009 1 comment

Back in the country where I come from, a long time ago, this would have been a story. An almighty scandal of a story that would haunt that individual until the day that individual died or emigrated. It would have affected their career, their place in society, their ability to carry on a normal life. It was not a civilised land, the country I come from, back in the good old days. It was a land where pugnacious moral custodians stalked the parishes, careful to mark any and all who night deviate from a strict – and usually unwritten – ethical code with the mark of the beast.

But time rolls on and I live in London and I work in the public sector. At regular intervals I look around and find that life is quite remarkably civilised. Fair hiring practices, transparent firing practices, and an absolute understanding that if you live your life within the boundaries of the law, your behaviour will not be noted down, used against you and gossiped about by vacuous creeps. We have laws about it and everything. It helps, of course, that we are ten years into a new millennium and no one who could conceivably call themselves civilised would create a massive public commotion over a person having consensual sex. No one would really say that this was a horrific betrayal of the trust we so naively placed in them, unless that person was the betrayed partner of the sex-having person in question. We have decommissioned the pillory and the public stocks, and we’re mighty chuffed with ourselves, unless we’re Mail readers. We, as a society, don’t judge a person’s ability to do their job on how they manage their private life.

Unless they’re really, really good at their job. Unless they’re famous for their ability to do their job. Because if they were so spectacularly good at their job that they had become world-renowned for doing their job then it would be very, very important that we know who they had sex with.

Halleluiah, I’m back in 1950s Ireland. I missed it the first time round what with not having yet been born, but now though public obsession with media figures I, too, can begin to imagine what it was like to live in a thoroughly nauseating moral autocracy.

The lovely thing about our particular moral autocracy is that we don’t have to believe in the values it espouses. Not really. We certainly don’t have to make claim to living by them. No, we just have to follow the tabloid-esque stories and spend our godforsaken lives ruminating about them like the bovine cretins we apparently are.

Conceive of it, if you will: a teacher in this country, in this year, publicly denounced and mocked in the press for what I believe is known as ‘marital infidelity’. Named, photographed, stalked, harassed. Career prospects in doubt because no employer will wish to be associated with so degenerate a monster.

Switch the picture: it’s a doctor now. Does that make it any better? If it was an actor? A politician? Now we’re getting places. Or, say, maybe, a figure in popular sports. Ah, why didn’t you say so? Yes, that provides ample justification for bored commuters to turn what passes for their attention to the lessons learnt so well from Arthur Miller. He’s a fucking witch!

And so we end the first decade of the twenty-first centaury with the news headline that a man had sex. Don’t worry – it’s not as though much else of note happened in the last ten years. Fin de fucking siecle indeed.

Pass me a drink.

We live round here too, oh really.

December 8, 2009 2 comments

So, four hundred thousand people (and counting) have joined a campaign to make Rage Against the Machine Christmas number one. So bleedin’ what, you might ask? Four hundred thousand people (and counting) have so little to do with their lives that they’re willing to spend a goodly portion of their December crowing about how this time we’re going to show the X Factor, put Simon Cowell in his place, take back the true meaning of Christmas, save independent music.

As with any group larger than four, never mind four hundred thousand, this one probably contains a lunatic element that genuinely believes in some of these reasons. I’m in the unusual position of having a little faith in my fellow beasts, so I’m going to assume that most of the four hundred thousand (and counting) do not think that downloading a song will bring about the end of a popular game show, make a multi-millionaire music mongul cry into his turkey dinner, save the purported meaning of a Hallmark holiday or make much practical difference to the world besides a nice festive bonus for Sony.

But I’m in. Because when I saw this group it made me grin like a maniac.

Besides telling me that arguments I’m not making are silly, the main beef against this jolly little campaign goes thusly:

Why do you just have to hate something because it’s popular? 13.5 million people watch the X Factor and it makes them happy. Why does that make your toes curl with bitter, twisted resentment? Why do you have to be such a mean-spirited cow about something that brings bovine amusement to the masses, you elitist little prig?

Well, as best I can gather it’s about fifty per cent genetic and fifty per cent environmental, but I’ll stick to the latter for today.

Thirteen and a half million people. I mean, to be absolutely honest, I am surprised that four hundred thousand (and counting) want to join a Facebook group, pay seventy nine pence, and devote their online lives to making a seventeen year old song get to number one in music charts that no one has cared about since music became downloadable – but thirteen and a half million people? Think about it. That’s close to a quarter of the population of this landmass. Watching a game show that by dint of these numbers, and the definition of the world ‘popular’, now defines popular music in this country. Not just watching, but engaging. Not just engaging, but paying to make phone calls to vote for who gets a record contract and who doesn’t.

Thirteen and half million?! This isn’t a tv show we’re talking about any more – it’s a mass movement!

And yes, it makes my toes curl.

To start with the obvious, I don’t like the music. I have no earth-shaking revelations to make about this. You either like listening to people who are able to carry a tune singing a cover of a song in tune, or you’d rather listen to something else. I’d rather listen to something else. So far so good, because people like all sorts of music and we don’t all have to listen to the same thing. Hurrah.

Music – for me –  isn’t about a pretty voice. A pretty voice isn’t a bad thing, any more than a pretty face is. They should both fairly subjective. They both tend to be shaped if not defined by societal norms. They both have appeal and they can both make you money. And now they can both be rewarded with million pound contracts if you win the right game show. (The pretty face one is called America’s Next Top Model, as best I can tell. I’m sure it’s far more objectionable than the pretty voice show, but no one has told me too much about it. I think they’re scared to.)

There have been interesting articles written over the last few years about how the rise in emphasis on song writing since the sixties has destroyed the art, the traditions of singing. And fine, it’s not for me, I’ll take lyrics over voice any day of the week, as any good Bob Dylan fan would. If this game show was merely about picking the best voice it would be fairly innocuous. And I bet thirteen and a half million people wouldn’t watch it.

This is where my real problem with things begins. The X Factor and its ilk are not talent shows. They’re ‘reality TV.’  I’m not annoyed by what I consider the soulless castration of songs that once sounded good; what makes my stomach twist is the commodification of people.

This decade began with the rise of Big Brother. It has gone on to not just confine a disturbing amount of its cultural output to that genre, but to define itself by it in a much broader sense. This is the decade that believes the price you pay for making music isn’t slaving in a studio or tearing up the first seventeen versions of a song, or, you know, rehearsing – no, it’s handing over your personal life and privacy to a baying public. It’s about nice, normal people – millions of them – playing along with the worst elements of paparazzi scum. Wanna sell songs? Wanna be an actor? Thinking about a public career of any kind, including politics? We wanna know what’s in your fridge, your past, your handbag and your bed. It’s our right, as the viewing public.

In all the years of trying to ignore people wittering about the X-Factor, I have only twice heard people talk about someone’s musical talent – those talents were Leona Lewis and Susan Boyle. That’s it. And everyone talks about the X Factor a lot. They’re just not talking about music.

Those, for any who care, are my personal reasons for not engaging with the X-Factor. I’ll watch it the day someone does a cover of Niall Hannon’s classic Father Ted Eurovision entry and changes the lyrics to ‘My Lovely Voice.’ Not until then.

But thirteen and half million people want this, so you get it. It’s the nature of living in a society, in a democracy. I swear I might even be happy for you if I didn’t have to hear about it. But I do. The straightforward option of ‘not watching it’ isn’t nearly enough to escape. Because it’s not a TV show, it’s a cultural event uniting everyone who likes popular gladiatorial TV shows, all thirteen and a half million of you. Gladiator-twee. It’s the new black.

So this one – this tiny, hilarious gesture of futility – is for the four hundred thousand (and counting) who have to live here too. We’re stuck here. There are thirteen and half million of you and only four hundred thousand (and counting) of us. We live in a society where conversation from autumn to Christmas consists of updates about a game show that we hate. Autumn is the season after summer, and for the last ten years, that has consisted of conversations about a different game show, which I also hate. We go to work and people talk about this crap. We go out for a drink and someone’s yammering about it. If you forget your earphones, public transport is bound to inform you who got knocked out this week and how it was a miscarriage of justice. And ninety nine per cent of the time I resist the urge to tell everyone around me exactly what I think of them and their irritating conversational habits, how I hate their taste in music and how the program they watch devalues everything I think makes life worthwhile. I’m guessing four hundred thousand (and counting) others do likewise, because I haven’t heard of any X–Factor or Big Brother related murders or maimings in the news lately. We’re generally very restrained.

So the point is this, and only this: for one brief moment, we want to play a song. We think we should get a turn too. And if you play it very loud, and you listen very carefully, you might just understand why.

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