Friday, November 23, 2007

Bernard Manning: From Beyond The Graaaaaaaaaaaaaave

There are plenty of weird things in life. Eyeballs that secrete milk, salmon that travel thousands of miles for a shag, women who can fire ping pong balls from where the sun does not shine. But I think having Bernard Manning who is now dead presenting his own televised obituary has got to be at least up there with hermaphrodites. Apparently Manning gained some kind of psychic insight into when his demise was going to occur and so set about making a film about his life and saying goodbye to people for Channel 4. Or he might have known his death was imminent because his kidneys were playing up due to his diabetes, the programme didn’t make that clear.

What was made clear from the first minute was that this was going to be a bizarre fucking programme if ever there was one. Watching someone look down at themselves lying dead in a coffin and taking a chair at the funeral service, chuckling along as if the speakers were making birthday speeches through the magic of blue screen is a pretty unnerving way to kick-off a programme. It’s the televisual equivalent of arriving at a large scary castle in the middle of a dark stormy night and having the door answered by a hunchbacked Igor character.

The theme continued throughout as well with Manning being filmed picking out a coffin, cracking jokes along the way. And the weirdness didn’t even stop there. Oh no. Clearly Manning wanted to raise the ante in the surreal stakes so we were treated to him sat in a spot-lit chair in the middle of a stage answering moral questions about his life from a man in a box dressed as St. Peter. All very symbolic yes, but when you’re dealing with a man who even has to turn his obituary into a slice of entertainment you know that this is a mind already slightly askew to the norm.

These moments were interspersed with clips of his best gags (not all of which I was shocked to learn were racist) and a kind of documentary trying to answer the question ‘Bernard Manning: Fat racist bigot, or Britain’s funniest comedian?’ Not really a question in my eyes, there are 127.8 British comedians funnier than Bernard Manning, but I could see the point they were trying to make, and it is an interesting problem.

Unfortunately this is where the programme hit a bit of a snag. For a documentary to be good it has to be objective. And it was in places, there were honest interviews and footage that commented on a lot of issues surrounding Bernard Manning. However, it is a bit of a challenge to stay unbiased when a man is weeping into a camera making his final farewell speech to his family. And it jars horribly when there’s a clip showing Manning singling out and mocking the one black man in the audience, followed immediately by a real heart tugging moment with Manning close to death. I found myself thinking, ‘He’s a bit of a racist cunt… but I’m so sad he’s not with us!’ Confusing to say the least. Then again, humanising an apparent racist is better than labelling him and making him a symbol. Symbols be divisive.

At other times they felt the need to play totally inappropriate wispy spiritual music over the top of his gags, as if to remind the viewer that he’s dead. Like that wasn’t made abundantly clear from the start. It’s this ridiculously saccharine way that we have to venerate the dead which meant it was difficult to make as balanced a judgment as if it had been shown when he was alive. Which would’ve undermined the concept a little.

That aside, on to the big question: was Bernard Manning just a big fat racist and is there a place for his brand of comedy in the world? Well for starters his brand of comedy was first and foremost in his ability to tell a gag. Stephen Fry was quoted as saying that Manning delivered a joke better than anyone else. And as we all know, if Stephen Fry said it, it must be true. If something is said in just the right way it triggers off some bizarre involuntary spasm in the brain that produces a physical response. It doesn’t entirely make sense but it’s one of the nicer things about being of the species homo sapiens.

Gags also require a setup and racist characters are perfect for this. They provide a character that is different or ridiculous to laugh at. All comedy is based on someone else’s tragedy, or whatever the damn quote is.

This is why I wasn’t sure if Bernard Manning was actually a racist or just a comedian with an act. The programme wasn’t sure either. It flipped back and forth between implying that he was actually a racist, due to his upbringing and the time he came from, and then implying that it was actually just an act, just a joke, harmless and all that. There was a clip from when Manning went on the Mrs Merton Show in the 90s, when it all went completely tits up for him. She asked him directly, “Are you a racist?” to which he replied, “Yes” and went on to explain how there are “some people I like and some that I don’t”. Meanwhile, Future Manning was looking back on the incident saying that it was a show that set people up and he was trying to do that to her and, in his eyes, out funnying her. Then there was the one about when Bernard told a joke about policemen beating black suspects at a police event. I couldn’t tell if it was all an act aimed at offending anyone and everyone, or if these really were deep-seated racist beliefs.

I don’t think poor old Bernard did either. The lines between comedy routine and personal life blurred long ago. Which is fucking obvious given that he took part in this headfuck of a concept for a television programme.

If it was all just an act then there is something to be said for being controversial and saying things that society doesn’t necessarily see as acceptable. I am a firm believer in the fact that anything can be funny if presented in the right way. The problem for Manning was that his style of comedy was so out of date with every other modern comedian. When he first started out, it was ‘just a joke’. Comedians told jokes, they were there to make people laugh and so to certain extent it didn’t matter what they said. Nowadays though the role of the comedian has become much more one of social commentator. Manning’s excuse that it was just a joke and you shouldn’t take jokes seriously doesn’t hold water now when it comes to a topic like racism. Modern comedy aims to attack and ridicule racism, to mock it rather than use it to get a laugh. The likes of Gervais get away with being controversial because it’s done with a sense of irony, you’re laughing because he’s playing an idiot character, you know he doesn’t really mean it. When looking at Manning I was trying to apply that same sense of playing a character to see if it would fit. Doing that was a mistake, more likely than not he was just a good old fashioned racist, as were most people then. And probably still are.

Whatever, it doesn’t matter. Comedians become big and famous because they’re saying what people want to hear. Once the crowd want to see something new, the comedians fade into the background. Manning wouldn’t have become big when he did if racist jokes weren’t acceptable and funny at that time. And if he didn’t have racist jokes he still would have succeeded because he was a funny guy, but then he would have faded out into obscurity. It’s just because everyone cares so much about racism that we’re still talking about him. Why? His views used to be the majority, he said them because he was a comedian, they’re not relevant now, let’s move on.

Manning knew he could stay in the public eye if he kept up the racist act, and everyone allowed him to do it despite changing attitudes because they wanted to stare in at him in that curious way that people have observed social freaks through the ages, be it Imperial Games, Freak Shows, or Big Brother. Everyone wants fame, Manning was no exception. The most damning part of the whole show was when Manning was trying to defend himself to a comedian and the director of a comedy school. When he got in a tight corner he started getting angry and saying that these two were nothing, he’d played the MGM Grand in Las Vegas, what the fuck had they done? As if being famous and talking to lots of people makes your view better and right. Yeah, the Nuremberg Rallies were pretty well attended too (fuck Godwin’s Law and fuck you).

It seems some people will do anything for the attention; even play up to the fact that people think you’re a racist if it keeps people talking about you just a bit longer. No one wants to fade out and be forgotten; the proudest thing about Manning’s life to him was that he would be talked about for a long time, that he’d live on past other comedians. Which said more about him and everyone else than the rest of the programme put together.

Bernard Manning’s final words to the people of the world were, “Get fucked the lot of you.” At least I can agree with him there.

Saturday, November 17, 2007

al-qaeda: slightly less scary than timid moles

Once again, this post was at the cutting edge of relevance on the 2nd July when I originally wrote it, but given that there haven't been any terrorist attacks since I guess it's still true.

if i were in a position of command in al-qaeda right now (which i'm not in case any of you mi5 people are watching) then i'd be seriously considering putting all the british cells on indefinite hiatus round about now. the point of terrorism is, surely, to win your case through fear and terror. not to make yourselves look like a bunch of incompetent nincompoops.

9/11, 7th July, both terrorist attacks that genuinely shocked the world and changed a lot of what we now take for granted. since then... well, it hasn't gone so well for those dippy terrorists. everytime another bomb fails to go off or a plan gets foiled, as it has done repeatedly since 7th july, they start to become less and less scary. blowing up a car must be one of the easiest things in the world to do. lots of petrol, a bit of fire, ba-da-bing ba-da-boom. they manage it in baghdad on a daily basis. obviously their basic explosive training is at a slightly higher level in iraq.

i begin to worry (actually, not worry, hope is probably a more accurate word) that the uk is the craggy island of the terrorist world, where all the big thickos are sent because they keep embarrassing themselves in front of all their other terrorist buddies. the buck-toothed ones who keep tripping up over their robes and setting their beards on fire by accident while osama mutters, 'this is another fine mess you've got me into al. why i oughta!' is it just me, or was the image of a bumbling idiot stumbling out of a burning jeep the kind of thing you'd expect frank dreben from naked gun to do? it's not scary it's just a bit... well, sad really.

i'd love to have seen the look on those clowns' faces when they realised it had all gone pete tong, frantically pressing the detonator, wondering why the bomb's not going off, realising that, d'oh!, they've left the plastic in the oven and now they have a group of angry glaswegians kicking the shit out of them. although the look on their face would be difficult to spot given the hideous burns. come on, glasgow airport? it's got to be the hardest fucking airport in the world! they should've known they were entering a world of pain before they even started.

well, they probably did realise that, but assumed it would be followed by eternal paradise once they detonated the bombs. arhahahahaha!! fucktards. al-qaeda is meant to be the biggest threat to this country and they can't even make a bomb that explodes. the irish could manage it and they're the butt of all the idiot jokes. and they're doctors as well! the fact that fuckwits like this are allowed to operate on sick patients worries me more than their aborted feotus attempts to cause panic. they shouldn't be shipped off to some unknown prison to face torture, they should just be shoved in the stocks so that people can walk by and laugh at how utterly rubbish these evil cunts are at doing the most basic of all terrorist activities. they are idiots.

well done al-qaeda, you have succeeded in making me not so much scared, more tickled pink with your complete incompetency at scoring more than a couple of lucky hits. consistency is what's important in life, and it's something these dippy tarts seriously lack. thank fuck.

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Zombies Ate My Neighbours

Last night a worrying thing happened. I was sitting quite calmly looking at Facebook, hitting ‘refresh’ repeatedly, when all of a sudden the lights went out. Not only that, my speakers cut out, the TV died and I could hear shrieks of terror from flats above and below (they might have been mine, I can’t remember. Trauma does terrible things to the memory). My worst fears had been realised, it was a power cut. It was emergency time.

Some people may have wondered about their loved ones, others may have gotten out the candles they had specially prepared for such an event, a select few may even have used the dimming of lights to make an inappropriate move on a loved one. I have to confess my initial thoughts were how to best plan for the oncoming zombie invasion.

I immediately ran a sink full of fresh drinking water and started searching for weapons. The best I could find were a few empty wine bottles for projectiles, a guitar for close range combat and a gun with a single bullet if worst came to worst. Next I pondered food. Obviously a supplies run to Scotmid was necessary for survival, but was it worth the risk of taking on extra zombies by heading up to Waitrose and having an all round more satisfactory ration supply?

A few sirens blared past the window and I sat tensely, waiting for the screams of people running down the street, away from those with no desire but to tear flesh from innocent faces with their teeth. Those neither living nor dead, with no goal but to consume every living thing within their bloated guts. The only beings that may very well bring about the end of humankind.

It turns out my intense paranoia was slightly misplaced. T’was merely a power cut that had affected various patches of Edinburgh and caused no end of anecdotal trouble for various Edinburgers (stupid stupid word). The news that it had been caused by a fire at a substation did nothing either to alleviate my worries at the time though. I had recently watched an episode of the West Wing where Russia covers up a nuclear missile blowing up in a silo by claiming that it was a fire in a substation. If those ruskie bastards thought they were gonna fool me over the invading pinko zombie hoard by using one of the oldest Cold War tricks in the book then they had another thought coming.

No, I was definitely wrong. There were no zombies approaching, the end of days was not here, we were all going to be fine. The worrying thing about the whole episode is that I wasn’t the only one with such paranoid delusions. One of my flat mate’s biggest phobias is the zombie attack scenario, so she too was planning our best means of escape and survival. Oh how we laughed at our unique sense of humour.

Nope. Turns out that most of my friends had had similar thoughts. To the majority, a zombie attack was the most logical assumption to make. Mentioning to one comrade via text that sleeping with a cricket under their pillow wouldn’t be such a bad idea was met with ridicule at the very notion of not being fully prepared with an EMP bomb for the robot armies that were at this very moment descending on our nations.

I think it’s safe to say that we all watch too many movies. More worrying than that though is the extent to which we rely on electricity in order to live a normal existence. Thousands, if not tens of thousands, of years of human civilisation has been living without electricity. It was simple: you went to bed with the sun, you got up with the sun. In between you’d fill in the time by banging rocks together. I’m guessing. Well what else was there to do to keep yourself entertained? I suppose you could pray for some kind of device that would keep you and your family amused.

Then some bright spark came along and invented electricity. Which is awesome and everything, but we really are dependent on that stuff. The reason myself and everyone flipped out when the power went down was because we saw ahead of ourselves the ultimate bleakness that lay in the abyss where there was no internet, no television, no computer games, no light, no cooker, no radio, just the endless black. No entertainment, nothing to shut out the tedium of life. These visions of zombies and robots flooding the streets were just the natural reaction of a species being plunged into the unknown. Of course some poor bastard panicked because they were working on their essays in the library and made the rookie error of not regularly saving their work. For shame.

The nice thing that came out of this was whole sorry mess was that despite our jonesing for electricity and the automatic reaction in the Edinburgh consciousness that a simple power cut = Armageddon, at least we were all prepared and knew what to do in the event of a zombie infestation. And if you didn’t know what to do, start drawing up emergency plans that you can follow in the case of an outbreak of zombies, robots or velociraptors. It’s not if, it’s when.

Monday, November 12, 2007

Homeless On The Streets of Edinburgh

Tramps fascinate me. Not so much in a ‘Ooh, fascinating! Let’s a don an old jacket, grow a beard, grab a bottle of White Lightning and join their tribe in order to learn their ancient and mystic noble traditions’ kind of way, more in a ‘What the hell…?’ kind of way, where the blank can be filled with such phrases as ‘is he drinking?’, ‘is he doing?’ and ‘is he saying?’.

Outside Bedlam Theatre there is a bench that is dedicated to the memory of a student who died a few years ago. This bench is set in concrete and raised about two feet from street level on an extended wall that runs around the front of the theatre. If you sit on it you get a beautiful view all the way up George IV bridge, with the striking dome of New College in the distance. It really is a lovely bench, the perfect kind where you can sit comfortably, relax and watch life happen around you.

In tramp circles it is known as The Bench (emphasis entirely necessary). When tramps arrange to meet up and achieve whatever goal they have set themselves, they meet at The Bench. It is a beacon, a focal point which pulls any tramp within range inexorably towards itself. Fair enough, it is a lovely spot especially for those whose lifestyle means they spend a lot of time outdoors, and it adds a nice effect to the name Bedlam. This is why at any hour of the day The Bench can be found draped in tramps whose goals today seem to be the same as yesterday.

Given that I spend a lot of time at Bedlam I regularly come into contact with these folk. They’re all harmless enough, they stick to themselves, drink and occasionally stumble into the building whilst looking for some kind of mysterious object. Divining anything more about their habits is a challenge due to the lack of the most useful human skill: communication. When a flaky, bleary-eyed, reeking (sorry but they do have a certain fragrance about them) individual lurches towards me and garbles a few sounds, sniffs a bit, rinses and repeats, I normally respond with a few half-hearted ‘Yeah mate’ replies while smiling vaguely, until one of us sort of wonders off. It’s not exactly a melting pot for stimulating conversation.

Now I’ll admit to not being the most natural at making conversation with people I don’t know, but I think of much of the communication problem lies with the gallon per hour intake of White Lightning that your average sized tramp will get through. That much booze can’t be good for you…

It’s not uncommon for those of us who may occasionally and responsibly enjoy getting pissed to be struck with a mind-numbingly brilliant thought that everyone else must hear. In your head you’re coherent, urbane, insightful but for some reason your audience don't agree and start wondering why exactly they’re friends with you. Thankfully you get a good night’s rest and the next day brings the terrifying eye of sobriety and past mistakes are swiftly rectified or ignored.

Not so for the tramps. A constant intake of alcohol means that they never break out of that drunken state. It must be confusing for them. Inside their own heads they are a sparkling font of witticisms but for some reason no one will listen to them, and I can’t help but feel that might be a little frustrating for them. But that’s not really a problem because they pretty soon forget it all anyway.

Memory loss is huge when you’ve drunken that much alcohol. I worry that these tramps are like Guy Pearce in Memento, without any ability to formulate new memories. The last thing they can remember is leaving the house, saying ‘I’m just heading out for a quick drink.’ As far as they’re concerned they’re still on that same bender, any chalk that falls onto the slate that passes for their memories is wiped clean with a healthy dose of alcohol every 12 hours. They go to sleep and wake up bright-eyed and bushy tailed, looking forward to that day off work they promised themselves ‘yesterday’. Of course, after a while they must cotton on. Become aware at the back of their head that they’ve been living the same day for a while now, they've met all these tramps before and their clothes are getting a tad scruffy. That’s when the switch flicks and they embrace the psychosis induced by their ethanol-rotted brains.

Possibly. I don’t know. I’m probably insulting some group of people when I imply that all tramps are insane preachers of some drunken gospel. This is not my intention. There is of course a veritable rainbow of folk who make the homeless community such a vibrant place, from the smiling Big Issue seller trying to get their life back on track right through to the hard to identify mass in the gutter. And the alcoholic tramps probably have sad stories and they should be sympathised with, not mocked by some arrogant cock who’s never had to worry about spending a night on the streets or being dependent on alcohol to such a horrible extent.

Fair point, but I still find the insane lifestyle of the tramp an enjoyable curiosity.

Technicians: The Unsung Villains

This article was originally printed in Noises Off, the daily magazine for the National Student Drama Festival and was written in response to an article 'Technicians: The Unsung Heroes' by Joseph Coates. As you can tell, it angered me somewhat...

Shakespeare was more of a genius than I realised. Not only did he write some of the most beautiful and influential plays in the history of literature, but he did it all… without tech! That’s right, he was happy for his plays to on at venues where the concept of the gobo hadn’t even been considered. Somehow he felt that a stage in the middle of a field was sufficient for the full weight of his plays to come across. What a fraud. That’s right, a fraud! At least that’s what Joseph Coates would have you believe.

Alright, it’s a facetious point to start with, theatre has moved on leaps and bounds in the last 40,000 years since Shakespeare’s time. Tech is now as an integral part of theatre as any other aspect. I’m not interested in belittling tech. No, instead I’m interested in belittling the moaning, pathetic, pre-pubescent, hormonally confused excuses for people that disguise themselves as techies of varying descriptions. But it’s unfair to talk about all techies like they’re one homogenous blob of angst. The word ‘techie’ is far too broad a term that applies to too many different people. Instead I’ll divide them into two categories, for simplicity’s sake let’s refer to them as the ‘talented’ and the ‘shits’. And it’s these ‘shits’ that are fucking it up for the rest of us.

I’ve had enough of hearing the same childish and unnecessary complaints from these people. Let’s have a look at just a few of these ‘shit’ comments: “Without us there would be no light. Literally.” Think someone’s got a bit of a God complex going on here… perhaps there’s a missing part of Genesis where it mentions that first God invented techies who were then graceful enough to invent light but I’ve yet to hear of it. Besides, I’m not a genius but I know how to flick a fucking light switch. Fair enough, it wouldn’t be the most impressive tech in the world but since the age of two I’ve literally been able to turn on a lightbulb.

Another typical ‘shit’ comment: “We technicians are the glue that hold you actors together.” Arrogance on this scale is so mind boggling it must be genuinely retarded. Actors get together months before a show, they rehearse and work together over a long period of time and this probably goes a long way to making them the self-obsessed luvvies (I’ve got to get some balance in here) that they are. But it’s the job of whichever poor bastard is directing them to make sure that they are a cohesive an functioning whole, the ‘shits’ a) don’t want to get involved and b) wouldn’t have the first idea how to communicate with someone from then outside world.

Please don’t think I’m talking about all techies here. Some of my best friends are techies (although unfortunately they’re not also gay, black or disabled). Let’s take a moment and consider these ‘talented’ individuals. The most important thing to say about them is that these ‘talented’ are competent. They know what they have to do and they do it quickly and efficiently with no dicking about and without that high-pitched whining that attracts dog-bitches on heat to the theatre. They have ideas, imagination. They communicate well with the director, they take an interest in the show from an early stage, they’re amicable to all the cast.

Tech runs, usually a source of immense pain to all involved, are relatively painless under the guidance of the ‘talented’. Whatever they’re spending their time doing you can rest safe in the knowledge that they’re doing it for a reason. They know that good tech is subtle. When an audience is trying to concentrate on the emotional context of a naturalistic play they don’t want to be distracted by garish and out of place lighting that happens to be ‘cool’ according to some ‘shit’. And when the ‘talented’ have done a good job they know it. They don’t seek praise like some three-year old begging for acknowledgement for the fact that they’ve managed to eat their food without spilling it down their bib. A nod and some words of praise from one professional ‘talented’ to another is enough because theirs is an art too subtle and complex for most laymen to appreciate.

Not for the ‘shits’ though. Faith in a job well done is not enough for them. Let’s have another look at the Gospel according to Coates: “When was the last time you heard someone say, ‘Who did those lights? They were cool! What about that sound? It was beautiful!’” Just because no one’s said it about your tech, doesn’t mean it’s never been said. In a recent production of Iolanthe I saw, a huge functioning waterfall at the back of the stage got one of the largest and most appreciative rounds of applause of the night. In a production of the Cosmonaut’s Last Message To The Woman He Once Loved In The Former Soviet Union the tech were brave enough to suspend two actors playing cosmonauts 30 feet above the stage. In another play, Sour Heart, there were at least 15 televisions spread out and around the stage that at various intervals played videos, images, etc. and all at separate times.

All of these plays got countless praise for the bold directions that the tech had taken from members of the public, even if they didn’t quite understand how much work went into it. And these are just three of the most recent shows I’ve seen. The ‘shits’ moan and complain as an excuse. It’s a mask used to disguise the lack of self-confidence they have in their own work. The fact is that when tech is exceptional people do appreciate it. When an actor is good people appreciate it. When an actor is appalling everyone knows who they are and will single him or her out. When the ‘shits’ completely bollocks up a show they have their anonymity to hide behind from the public.

Things have to change. No longer should actors be stuck in 10 hour long tech runs and abysmal first night performances because the ‘shits’ are too lazy and unskilled to get the lights and sound rigged properly. No longer should the ‘talented’ be tarred with the same brush as the ‘shits’. And no longer should we be subjected to the same repetitive ramblings of those with delusions of grandeur.

Friday, November 09, 2007

Hell Ain't No Bad Place To Be

An article from June 2007. After going back over things I wrote a few months ago, I'm starting to notice some recurring themes...

I love the BBC website. Whenever I’m feeling particularly drained of ideas I just have to make a short trip there and I know I’m going to find an example of cutting edge, hard-hitting journalism which will inspire me to put fingers to keyboard and voice my opinion on the most important of current affairs. Or not, as the case may be with this article which makes the shockingly obvious claim that six out of ten of us Brits are opportunistic criminals.

Yes, it’s time to face facts and realise that when someone receives more change than they’re meant to they’ll keep it anyway. The dastards! Or when given the opportunity to take cash-in-hand for a job so as to avoid paying tax* most people will choose that option. Who would’ve thunk it?! Clearly these groundbreaking researchers are correct in saying that there is no “law-abiding majority” and that the respectable middle-classes are a “seething mass of morally dubious, and outright criminal, behaviour”. Maybe now this problem has been highlighted we can all join hands and combat this problem together.

Alright, enough of the crap sarcasm. I honestly don’t know why they bothered wasting billions of pounds on this survey when they could’ve just paid me a £5 million consulting fee so that I could tell them that people are, in general, opportunistic bastards. The fact that there was even the suggestion that middle class people are more morally upright than lower class people is a view which is frankly insulting, na├»ve and belongs in the Bronze Age when it might conceivably have been true*

Actually, no. Not even in the Bronze Age could it be said that people wouldn’t commit a ‘criminal’ act if it was advantageous to them. It really gets my goat when tossers make this comment, which I’ve heard more times than, “Fuck off Richard”,

“People talk about not having to lock the door in childhood, and I remember that myself. There is unquestionably more opportunistic crime. I would have to say that behind that lies a decline in belief in God, and a culture of hedonism, self-fulfilment getting on, and materialism.”

Such a statement is horseshit* through and through. The reason no one used to have to lock their door was because they lived in small, isolated communities where everyone knew each other. A criminal would have to be pretty fucking desperate/mentally challenged to nick something from a mate’s house and then try and flog it back to them down the pub. And if little Maddie went missing in a small Gloucester village, everyone would know who the local paedo was and a short lynching later everything would be gravy. Now that we live in an age where people can ship stolen goods on without breaking a sweat, it’s hardly surprising that you have to lock your door*.

Since when did a belief in God lead to better morals? Since when did being an atheist lead to better morals? Catholics rape small children, Muslims blow themselves up in crowded areas and atheists commit acts of genocide. Sure I’m generalising, but so are these pricks who constantly generalise about the world going to the dogs in the face off rapidly improving health care, technology, social equality and falling crime levels. So fuck ‘em.

I always laugh at those piss-poor anti-piracy adverts that ruin the first 30 seconds of whatever film you’re watching. “You wouldn’t steal a purse! You wouldn’t rob a bank! You wouldn’t rape a granny, defecate in her mouth and make off with her savings! Don’t steal our films!” it confidently states. Err… yes I cocking would if any of those crimes were as easy and consequence free as downloading an mp3 or the latest episode of Heroes*. Of course I don’t commit these crimes because I have respect for other people and don’t want to live in constant fear of vigilante OAPs. My moral compass is pretty straight but I won’t not do something that will benefit me and not harm anyone else significantly just because it’s against the law.

“If I thought something was OK, then found out it was against the law, I wouldn't do it. I would think it was wrong.”

It’s that kind of opinion I’m talking about. Laws are an integral part of society but I don’t think there’s a compulsion to obey them blindly. Take cannabis for example. I have no qualms with admitting that I regularly smoke joints, even if it is against the law*. And I don’t say that because I think it makes me cooler than those who don’t*, but because I personally enjoy it, I’m not harming anyone else by doing it and I think to apply the law to me and send me to jail for it would be a waste of everyone’s time and money. Speaking of drugs and petty crime, if you want to get rid of what I’m assuming people refer to as ‘lower-class’ crime then let’s tackle this whole issue of sick addicts turning to crime to fuel their addiction.

Anyhoo… I know I’m not alone in my views. After all, 6/10 people can’t be wrong. Right? We’re all ‘criminals’, we all take advantage of laws that are in place but aren’t a matter of life and death, so what? People are ‘allowed’, according to the law, to dick people over and do things to their advantage all the time. That makes them cocks, and also human. Taking more money than perhaps the government says you’re entitled too, whilst it is technically illegal, isn’t as bad in my sincere opinion as breaking up with your partner by spit-roasting their mum. Which is legal. Thank God.

Once again it all comes down to common sense. Something you and I have an abundance of and everyone else is in desperate need of in order to make this world a sensible place to live in. Don’t worry, they’ll catch up eventually.

Wednesday, November 07, 2007

Working On My TV Tan

There’s a piracy advert that always makes me laugh. It is not, as you may think, a recruiting video aimed at encouraging young students to join the pirate navy. There is no such thing. It is instead an advert that is designed to discourage people from buying pirated vitamins or downloading copyrighted minerals from the internet by equating these actions with such moral wrongs as stealing an old lady’s purse, shoplifting and flying a plane into a New York skyscraper because piracy apparently funds terrorism.

Unfortunately, rather than guilt tripping the public into giving up their immoral, barbaric ways and paying for their entertainment like they should, the advert has highlighted how certain rogue members, that make up the vast majority of the moral whole, will quite gleefully break the law without any ethical considerations or legal concerns if they think they’re going to get away with it.

‘You wouldn’t steal a car!’ the advert reminds us. If breaking into a car and selling it on cheap was as big a challenge as clicking a mouse once, twice, maybe three times in order to download a song, then there would be no cars left in the world. There would only be an endless, never-seen stream of stolen cars flowing like credit around the black market.

The internet is by its very nature an absolute bastard for copyright law enforcement anyway. The anonymity of the millions involved makes policing or controlling file sharing in any effective way as pointless a task as asking Sisyphus to push a boulder up Mont Blanc. It just can’t be done.

Radiohead’s recent decision to release their album on the internet for free/a charitable donation (if you feel that you’re the kind of person who just can’t bear to see these millionaire rock stars go without cash) wasn't a brave step in a new direction. I've been able to download albums for free for the past ten years now. It was just a sign that bands and labels have started to give up and realise that they can’t win the battle against the millions who are downloading their songs for free. They're going to have to adopt some new tactics to deprive us music fans of our cash, which is why more and more bands are starting to exploit t'internet for cash prizes.

Even Cliff Richard is using the internet to promote his new record. The more people that pre-order his next shitsandwich slab of fetid drivel online, the cheaper it will be when it’s released. If, for my pre-order, I received a section of Cliff’s vocal chords that had been forcibly torn from his throat then I would be more inclined to being seduced by such an internet bargain.

At the moment though the music industry is still a long way from using the internet properly to promote, sell and spread music to the public at large. In the meantime hopefully the TV industry will cotton on quicker to the advantages of internet based media. It doesn’t look good though given that they’re arresting internet pioneers like the 26-year old man from Cheltenham who ran TV Links.

TV Links was a magical place, full of joy and wonder. Where childrin could skip through a vast library of links to TV shows, cartoons, documentaries, anime and movies, a bottomless pit of visual entertainment. Almost any TV show you'd care to mention, from Red Dwarf to Louis Theroux and back again via QI, was available to all who ventured into that domain. And for free!

Now I like TV a lot. There are amazing shows out there, both old and new, a lot of which in recent times have come from America. From dramas such as the Wire, Deadwood and the Sopranos, to South Park, Heroes, 24, Firefly, Battlestar Galactica, the list never ends. There is not a chance I would be a fan of any of these shows or many others were it not for sites like TV Links.

Living the hectic nocturnal schedule I do, I’m never consistently in at the right time to watch television. This is why I missed 24, Lost, The West Wing and the Sopranos when they first came out. I simply could not guarantee seeing every episode and these shows are like newspapers, miss them for a couple of weeks and any reality outside your own becomes a distant blurry memory. If it weren’t for internet TV I would not know about these shows or many others because I would never have watched them in the first place. The internet has reinvented what it means to watch TV shows, a method which is far more liberating and accessible than any previous system.

The BBC’s World News channel YouTube and Channel 4’s On Demand program, which makes much of the Channel 4 archive available to watch for free online, are signs that the industry is waking up and using the internet the way it should be now that it’s possible to instantly stream near DVD quality videos, but it’s still not enough. It’s a stubbornness on the part of the TV networks not to see that this is the way a lot of people watch their TV now, and the number is only going to get bigger.

What NBC should be doing, for example, is hosting every new episode of Heroes for free on their website, surrounded by advertising, and with a guaranteed good connection. They would get millions more hits, they would know exactly how many people were watching it thereby making the horseshit ratings system a thing of the past, a whole new legion of fans would be available to watch the shows, and I wouldn’t have to trawl around loads of different websites trying to find one with a working, albeit illegal, link to the episode.

The entertainment industry needs to realise that it can’t win against the internet. Sure, TV Links was taken down but there were already another bunch of websites ready to take its place. One of the main reasons it was taken down was because of the links it had to pirated movies. But the thing is, pirated movies are rubbish. If given the choice between watching some shitty, grainy handheld camera version of the latest epic on my laptop screen, or the 50 metre screen, surround sound cinema version that will blow your head off, I’d always go to the cinema because that’s an experience you can’t recreate at home. And blockbusters still makes x hundreds of millions so they can’t be too badly off.

With music and television, however, the advantages of using computers and the internet to access the media compared to the traditional methods are numerous, just like the advantages of supermarkets over having to go out and gather all your food yourself from the wild. Instead of waving their hands about and complaining about how the ol’ grey mare she ain’t what she used to be, the music and TV industries should be at the forefront of internet entertainment, leading the charge and surpassing all the other sites that offer a vast range of TV shows for free. If only to save themselves the hassle further down the line.