Pop culture


Activism&Africa&Global politics&Pop culture03 Jul 2005 12:51 pm

No, sorry. I can’t just leave it.

Did any of you see Madonna’s performance? Did any of you watch Geldof’s bit before that? Without vomiting your spleen into your lap?

In case you were mercifully elsewhere, here’s what happened. Bob Geldof went into a foggy rant along the lines of “DON’T LET ANYONE TELL YOU THIS DOESN’T WORK”. Then an enormous picture of a starving Ethiopian child appeared on the screens. Then Bob says “This girl was 10 minutes from death when this shot was filmed” – leaving aside all questions of whether it would be considered appropriate to film children 10 minutes from death if they weren’t brown – and then shouts “BUT BECAUSE OF LIVE AID, SHE SURVIVED! AND HERE SHE IS NOW!”

And on walks a beautiful fully grown woman with an expensive hairdo and perfect makeup, and everyone cheers, because WE DID THAT! We saved the pretty lady! We Westerners, with our benevolent rich rock stars and kind hearts, we who were prepared to sacrifice a whole day of our lives to watch a rock concert and perhaps give a few quid out of our beer budget! We, who wear matching wristbands and are polite enough not to question the inexplicable participation of pensionable dullards like Annie Lennox, Sting, Pink Floyd and The Who, are saving lives! We are, quite frankly, heroes! Go us! Go us!

And then Madonna walks on, snogs poor Birhan Woldu – for this is she – and feigns tears of self-congratulatory joy. And grabs Birhan’s hand, and punches it triumphantly into the air. Never one to miss a front page opportunity, she does this for quite some time.

I cannot find words to do justice to the offensiveness of this spectacle.

From the parts of Live 8 which I saw, I didn’t hear a single person on any stage mention the reasons Africa is impoverished. Not one. From watching this show, you’d think that global economics pivoted on the willingness of ageing prog rockers to reform.

As ever, RedOne and Gerry neatly sum up the tragedy of Geldof and Bono co-opting the G8 protests. If it hadn’t been for this flamboyant point-missing exercise, the rumble of very real G8-based dissent seen a few months ago may have built into an epoch-defining roar.

And if that’s not a good enough motive for Blair et al to hold hands with Geldof and Bono and support their impotent efforts, I don’t know what is.

I’ll leave you with a nice quote from Robert Newman:

Q: If you could talk directly to a room full of G8 leaders, what would you say?

A: “Here are your Guatemala work visas, we will come and pick you up from the Dole/Chiquita banana plantation in a year’s time, by which point your views about capitalism may have altered enough for us to have a sensible discussion.”

Soundtrack to this post: Grasping Claw – Headset

Activism&Africa&Global politics&Pop culture01 Jul 2005 07:52 pm

“The countdown to Live 8 continues”

If your idea of top quality entertainment is white male middle-aged millionaires playing guitars, you’re in for a treat tomorrow night.

I’ve said enough on the subject, so I’ll leave the cringeworthy, misguided event to speak for itself.

Soundtrack to this post: Rock Is Dead – Marilyn Manson

Activism&Africa&British politics&Global politics&News media&Pop culture20 Jun 2005 07:52 pm

I’m a busy, tired, cynical fox today. This is not so much a post as an attempt to convey an eye-rolling “Hmph” in three needlessly wordy paragraphs.

Fact 1:
In 1985, Bob Geldof’s Live Aid raised £40m for famine relief in Africa, half of which was spent on long term development plans. By Geldof’s own admission, Africa has become even poorer over the intervening two decades. So here comes Live 8, jumping alongside the campaign to ‘Make Poverty History’.

Question: Do you think this self-congratulatory dadrock-fest will change world leaders’ minds about their policies towards Africa, or will they use it as an excuse to applaud themselves about a few paltry figleaf changes (e.g. doubling aid) while ignoring the actual reasons why Africa is impoverished (e.g. the IMF’s demands, the World Bank, the double standards of one-sided ‘free’ trade)?

Fact 2:
Tony Blair wears a white wristband (or, as the hilariously ultra-conservative Telegraph puts it, a “bangle”). He started wearing this – complete with subtly shortened jacket sleeve – in the run-up to the election. Naturally. All in all, he is making a sustained effort to draw attention to his part in this expertly choreographed campaign.

Question: Do you think Tony Blair has any incentive to argue (or intention of arguing) for 100% of African debt to be dropped?

Fact 3:
Bono, a man so ferociously egomaniacal he is prepared to incur the financial and environmental cost of flying a hat to Italy in first class, has also lent his name to the cause.

Question: Would Blair, Bush etc be so eager to trade positive publicity opportunities with this multi-millionaire businessman if his involvement was genuinely subversive and radical?

Soundtrack to this post: Pull Up The People – M.I.A.

Pop culture&Self&The art of blog06 Jun 2005 10:11 pm

I haven’t written much – or anything, really – about music on here. If you knew me in Real Life, you’d think that was a strange anomaly. As I’m getting slightly bored of the same old same old (sorry blog), perhaps it’s time for a mini-change.

So, inspired partly by Mr Swiss Toni’s seamless integration of music and narrative, I’ve decided to add a soundtrack to my posts from now on.

Don’t worry, it won’t be in the form of incidental music jangling away while you read. That’s terribly annoying when you’ve got music on already, as you may well have. Instead, I’m going to designate one single song to be the soundtrack to that post, and write that song title at the end of the post.

It might be chosen for obvious reasons, or it might not. It might be because the lyrics match the theme, or it might be because the sound evokes my mood at the time of writing. It might be for the purposes of lame punning or bathos. It might be because I’m listening to it while writing. Hell, it might be for no sensible reason at all.

Nonetheless, beloved reader, you shall have it with my compliments.

Soundtrack to this post: Joga – Björk

American politics&British politics&Pop culture&Self&The art of blog21 May 2005 12:16 pm

Hello ladies and gents. Apologies for the lack of service lately, but these things happen on this blog occasionally I’m afraid. It’s all part of my plan to lose all my loyal readers and end up blogging into the ether with nobody watching. No, not really.

Hope you’ve all had a staggeringly good two weeks, or thereabouts.

I’ve changed my mind slightly since the election. Although I still dislike Galloway as a person, I’m very much enjoying his one-man anti-war tirades. He’s an arrogant fellow, to be sure, but great value as an orator. Watched his Senate performance from beginning to end, and I’m sure it was a lot more entertaining than the latest Star Warszzz.

Obviously, none of you Brits are reading this now, because you’re all at the supermarket buying 400 cans of lager (in preparation for the FA Cup this afternoon) and a selection of continental delicacies (for your ultracamp Eurovision party tonight). Right? No?

British politics&Pop culture06 May 2005 01:30 pm

Mark has handily pointed out that the video of George Galloway and Jeremy Paxman’s now legendary post-win interview is available to view on the BBC website. I can’t get the sound to work, but hopefully you’ll have more luck.

British politics&Pop culture&Race03 May 2005 11:39 pm

I have been unable to write any substantial pre-election babble in the last few days, due to the fact that:

  • we are effectively being asked to choose between killers, racists and dullards, and this is monumentally disheartening;
  • I watched that Tony Blair/Jonathan Dimbleby programme on Monday night and almost imploded in a fit of rage when some astonishingly dim woman started bandying around drivel like “political correctness gone too far” and “ignoring the indigenous people of this country”. WHAT INDIGENOUS PEOPLE, you halfwit? The Saxons? You’re a purebred original, are you? Even though humanity probably began in Africa and – whoops! here’s where your argument falls down – migrated elsewhere? And how can you have too much correctness? Either something is correct or it is incorrect. There are no degrees of correctness. This is like saying something’s “very unique”. Either it is or it isn’t. No excess or varying shades are possible. If you had bothered to master the language of the “indigenous people of this country”, you’d know. AAAAAAAARRRRRRRRRRRGHHHHHHHH.

And relax.

I still plan to watch the whole pantomime live on Thursday night though. If you’re very unlucky, I may end up throwing some live real-time coverage of it on here. Tune in! Or go to bed, or whatever.

Hope you all had delightful May Day bank holiday, Britishers. Hope you non-Brits had fun too, even though you didn’t get to take Monday off work.

Activism&Pop culture25 Apr 2005 07:36 pm

This week is TV Turnoff Week, when TV addicts go cold turkey (click grainy lo-fi picture above for proper details).

Don’t be startled by the idea of a week without the gogglebox. Other things you could do with your leisure time this week include:

  1. Meeting friends
  2. Inviting friends round to your place
  3. Reading a book
  4. Writing a blog post
  5. Painting a wall
  6. Baking a cake
  7. Going for a run
  8. Taking up a musical instrument
  9. Clearing out that cupboard/loft/shed and selling all the unwanted tat on eBay
  10. Devising an anti-establishment plot and recruiting volunteers from your local pub*

(* just my little joke, Officer)

The possibilities, quite literally, are endless. As the theme tune of shambolic 1970s British children’s programme ‘Why Don’t You’ implored us: “why don’t you just switch off your television set and go out and do something less boring instead?” (I wonder if anybody at the BBC noticed the irony of this anti-passivity message coming from a TV show. Hmm.)

Enjoy your week!

+ and here’s a Guardian story about the TV Turnoff project +

British politics&Pop culture&Race05 Apr 2005 12:50 am

I’ve just watched the Channel 4 documentary Kilroy’s Week With The Gypsies. It followed idiotic hobby politician Robert Kilroy-Silk’s week-long expedition onto a gypsy residential site. The gypsies in question were about to be evicted.

Kilroy, fresh from writing one of his inflammatory newspaper articles on travelling communities, went along to “experience a gypsy lifestyle from the inside”. This seemed to be rather the wrong way round, but better late than never.

From Channel 4’s point of view, it was commissioned in the not unfounded hope that Kilroy would say lots of bigoted and stupid remarks on camera. But the subject himself was clearly approaching it as a PR opportunity. He reined in his outspoken views wherever possible, though some seeped out at the edges.

Kilroy was visibly shaken by the fact that he was expected to sleep in a caravan, so he opted to spend most nights in a local hotel instead. Let’s face it, the absence of an on-site sunbed was always going to cause problems. But he did bunk down one night, after complaining about everything from the water pressure to the length of the fold-out bed. Claustrophobia was unavoidable – imagine having to squeeze such a colossal ego into a confined space! – but he struggled on gamely. The big orange hero.

The main thrust of his Romany hosts’ complaint was that they were being evicted from land they’d bought, on the whims of planning laws. His response was predictably simplistic and ill-conceived – “Well, why don’t you just buy houses instead?” – and in the end, the families were evicted.

Evicted from their own land, remember. Not squatting. Not using public land for residential purposes. They had just contravened planning regulations by parking caravans on the site which they owned outright. It is evidently easier for Tesco to get planning permission to build yet another superstore than it is for a Romany community to plant their temporary living structures on empty land which they have paid for in full. Go, as they say across the Atlantic, figure.

In response to this bizarre interpretation of property laws, travelling communities have requested that councils designate areas for them to stay. If they can’t just buy their own land and use that, what else can they do? Unfortunately for them, councils have been under no legal obligation to provide sites since 1994. Guess what? That means they don’t bother.

Now there are too many Romany families chasing too few sites. Those who are evicted from the land they legally own are forced to park on roadsides or borrow friends’ back yards. They’re unwelcome with the tabloid-baited locals, who fear the unknown and “the mess”, and entirely abandoned by the local authorities which are supposed to serve all British residents.

I’m sure the fact that nomadic people live outside the tax and electoral roll structures has absolutely nothing to do with governmental indifference to their welfare. Just as I’m quite sure the hatemongering tabloids don’t pick on gypsies, immigrants and those below the poverty line solely because they’re groups without the financial clout or consumerist inclinations to matter to their advertisers.

Oh wait, no. I do think that.

You know, our world is packed with cruel ironies. (Terri Schiavo, a woman who fell into a coma as a result of severe bulimia, was starved to death by court order.)

It’s also full of frankly incomprehensible decision-making. (Michael Howard, a man whose own parents fled Hitler’s death camps for asylum in Britain, is Britain’s highest profile anti-immigration politician.)

And at the end of Kilroy’s PR-thirsty documentary, a voiceover told us that Nottingham Council had spent £500,000 in court proceedings to evict that single group of gypsy settlers from their very own land. That’s half a million quid. (Americans, we’re talking about not much change from a million dollars here.)

Did it occur to anyone at the council to:

(a) spend that cash on a designated site for the travelling community, as requested;

or

(b) waive those biased planning laws in cases where they are clearly ludicrous, to prevent the pointless expense of evicting families from land they have owned and occupied peacefully for years?

Apparently it did not. Vacancy at Nottingham City Council for someone with a triple figure IQ, then.

I don’t live in that council tax catchment area, but I’m pretty sure that my own council would have squandered my contributions in the same way. I’m ashamed that my tax can be used to persecute a group of people who choose to live outside the prescription of tabloid-sanctioned society. I’m ashamed at the despicable way in which the corporate media and the Tory party are manipulating public feelings about travellers, with scarcely a murmur of dissent from the usually garrulous Guardian-reading middle class. I’m ashamed that, in 2005, it’s still possible to openly discriminate against an ethnic group with a non-mainstream lifestyle and remain inside the law.

Is it just me?

American politics&Middle East&Pop culture01 Apr 2005 05:20 pm

I thought I’d spotted one of the BBC’s traditional April fool joke stories here:

US army to produce mid-East comic

The article describes how America’s latest propaganda efforts in the Middle East are targeted at young people. It claims a US government website is seeking storylines:

“In order to achieve long-term peace and stability in the Middle East, the youth need to be reached… A series of comic books provides the opportunity for youth to learn lessons, develop role models and improve their education.”

Ha ha, oh yes, very funny. Comics to brainwash the young! Arf. Satirical and close to the bone, but obviously not true. Nice try, Beeb. You nearly had me there. April Fool! (etc)

Then I noticed the story was dated 31 March.

Oh.

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