Sunday, September 17, 2006

Are you dancing?

It’s one of those awkward social situations that is never addressed in etiquette books or advice columns but demands an answer. When with a female friend, how exactly should one act while dancing to Nine Inch Nails’ ‘Closer’?

For the uninitiated, ‘Closer’ has slow, pounding beats, a bass line so dirty it should only be played after the watershed and the repeated chorus of ‘I want to fuck you like an animal’. There’s something about the primal rhythm, the slow build up and the transcendental lyrics that make it impossible to resist attempting to move spasmodically to it, or as some would call it, dance.

So while at the bar, in a club, discovering that Goth nights have not moved on in over a decade, I hear the unmistakable drum beat kick in. Quickly grabbing my beer and change, I head over to where the others are, already on the dance floor, moving to the twisted beat. Putting my pint down I join the throng and start my interpretation of movement that would no doubt cause Vitus to look away in embarrassment. Lost in a fog of alcohol and the relentless rhythm it takes some time before I realise that, while silently mouthing the chorus, due to the dynamics of the dance floor, I am now dancing with a female friend and am suddenly slapped in the face with self consciousness.

I can’t read her expression as she looks at me and it suddenly occurs to me how this may be interpreted. Does she think this is some sort of courtship, a proposition? Is that a look of shock, disgust, invitation? Or is it just complete bemusement at the bizarre jerks and tics I’m making? How on earth did we end up dancing together? Did the others drift away? Did I move? Did she? A flush of panic rushes over me, not helped by my drunken guardian angel leaning towards us and highlighting the situation in a loud, vocal manner.

Trying to concentrate on dancing, avoiding eye contact as much as possible, I attempt to act as naturally as I can while suddenly wishing that the song wasn’t quite so long. Hoping for it to finish so I can return to my pint and pretend that this never happened. All the while wondering what on earth I was doing dancing to this song with a girl and what on earth was now going through her mind.

As the song finishes I think I mutter something to her about ‘loving that song’, hastily grab my pint and down nearly half in an attempt to extinguish the heat of embarrassment.

Until agony aunts and etiquette experts can come up with a solution to how this situation should be properly addressed, I have little choice but to start a campaign to ban this filth from our dance floors.

I’m just grateful that they didn’t play any Peaches.

Friday, September 08, 2006

Talking of the dumbing down of television...

It was recently announced that sometime footballer, failed memory man and fulltime idiot, Rio Ferdinand, is planning a follow up to his ‘World Cup Wind-Ups’ show. He’s planning to target his footballing friends and WAGS for a new kind of make over show. With several designers at his disposal, he’s going to transform their mansions in ways never seen before. Noting that millionaire footballers have more money than taste and every gadget possible, he’s going to great lengths to do ‘something special’.

Can you imagine anything more obscene? Footballers getting to show off their vast wealth while at the same time getting a free redesign and plenty of new gadgets. The only thing more distasteful than this was hearing of multi-millionaire pig bladder kicker, Frank Lampard, looking enviously at the yacht and surrounding wealth of billionaire Roman Abramovic and feeling a little bit sorry for himself.

The only saving grace is hoping that Rio’s taste for bling results in some truly awful d├ęcor, a massive fall in the value of the property and some very pissed off celebrities. And you can imagine my dread when I hear that Rio’s production company also have a reality TV show in development.

It’s just a shame that the press release didn’t read like this:

Rio’s Dole Scum Wind-Ups

Fresh on the heals of his groundbreaking show ‘World Cup Wind-Ups’, which was entirely his own idea and not some poor rip off of Candid Camera, Beadle’s About, Noel’s Gotcha’s or Punk'd, where millions of idiots tuned in purely because it featured his friends who also happen to play football for England, where he got to play some hilarious pranks such as convincing Wayne Rooney that he’d killed a dog and featured the hilarious footage of David Beckham risking injury as he escaped a moving car, Rio Ferdinand brings us his next TV brainchild, ‘Dole Scum Wind-Ups’.

Laugh along with Rio as he takes top Premiership players, convinced that their careers have prematurely ended, that they’ve lost every last penny and asset and that they’ve been deserted by loved ones and hangers on, and places them in a run down council flat. Watch the hilarity ensue as they go through the soul destroying and demeaning process of signing on for the pittance of £50 a week. Enjoy their exploits as you see them rejected for job after job, wishing that they’d actually bothered to get some qualifications rather than kicking a ball and dying just a little more with every single knock back.

Share Rio’s joy as we see them forced into mugging, stealing car stereos and selling their arses to 18 stone lorry drivers in an attempt to afford the very basics needed to survive. Guffaw at their decline into drug use as they try and find something to escape the relentless monotony of their wretched existence, trying to find something to help them transcend the utter, utter emptiness of a life with no hope, where watching those even worse off than you on the Jeremy Kyle show is the only respite.

Chuckle as these spoilt, pampered, overpaid idiots, who couldn’t even wipe their own arses without an adviser and agent present realise the truly privileged position they once were in, realise how lucky they were to earn more than most earn in a year each week purely for being able to kick a round object really, really well fall into deeper and deeper depression, wracked with the guilt of seeing how normal people have to survive and seeing just how obscene their displays of wealth were.

You’ll howl with laughter as one footballer, unable to cope with his bleak, dark, futile existence, a life with no dreams, where every single day is a battle to survive, finally reaches breaking point and in a bid to end the pain and despair opens up his wrists. You’ll be rolling on the floor as the ambulance crew battle to save his pointless life and Rio rushes in shouting ‘You’ve been merked!’

An Endemol production.

The inevitable 'why I hate big brother' piece

On the eve of their second series of Extras, Ricky Gervais and Stephen Merchant are already looking to their next project. Given their previous work you’d be forgiven for thinking that this would be another comedy show but the duo has other plans. Looking to the US for inspiration, they want to try something more dramatic, hoping to team up with HBO to produce a series to match the scale of America’s most successful shows.

When Gervais says that he can’t remember when he last watched a British drama, praising US TV series as innovative, audacious and brilliant, I can’t help but nod in agreement. Shows such as Lost, 24 and The Sopranos are high quality, engrossing shows that generate the ad man’s favourite, the water cooler effect. Each episode is highly anticipated and the day after airing, offices are full of chatter about the latest plot twist and development. Where are our UK equivalents?

These shows are not unique. The quality of US TV has been consistently good for a number of years now with HBO in particularly producing some of the best. A quick look at their current roster reveals The Sopranos, Deadwood, The Wire, Six Feet Under, Carnivale, Sex And The City and, the brilliant prison drama, Oz.

A quick look at the BBC, our so called bastions of quality, shows EastEnders, Holby City, Neighbours and How Do You Solve A Problem Like Maria?. With the notable exception of Dr Who, when did the BBC last produce a drama that was must see, that created the sort of buzz that each episode of 24 generates? Where are the modern equivalents of Boys From The Black Stuff, GBH, Cracker and Our Friends In The North? Since when did we have to rely on the US to create leftfield, gritty, original, groundbreaking drama? It used to be our forte.

Looking through the TV schedules is a depressing affair. We’re deluged with fly on the wall, reality TV type programs or Pop Idol, X-Factor type talent shows. And, though I’m loath to even grace the show with any sort of recognition, I blame Big Brother.

When Big Brother originally launched, it seemed fresh and original, an interesting social experiment. It wasn’t long before it was clear that it wasn’t so much social experiment as an excuse for a freak show, watching those most base of emotions, fucking and fighting, being enacted by members of the lumpen masses. Put into artificial situations and performing ridiculous tasks, all the time being pushed towards conflict and mental anguish by the producers in the name of ratings. And you could guarantee when things got remotely interesting, the sound would be muted out or the cameras switched to a nice vase. Most of the time though it was some people sat on a sofa.

Of course, the public watched in their millions and Channel 4 get an excuse to print cash. Cheap production costs, 3 or 4 programs a day plus live feeds, repeats and not to mention the various spin off shows that follow, making use of the last embers of fading celebrity before we get bored and move on to the next household. And the obscene cycle begins again, even more bastardised than before as those that enter are only interested in the fame it generated for the last contestants. It’s the TV equivalent of inbreeding and it’s not so much money for old rope as money for some old rope that has been filmed in a house for 3 months, been spotted at some C-list event and been given a show with a limited run on life outside the house.

This wouldn’t be so bad if it generated money for Channel 4 to invest in quality programs and with Film 4, quality films but it hasn’t. Instead it’s changed the landscape of UK television and generated more of the same. Seeing the success of Big Brother, every production company has tried to create their own version, hoping to have the same low production costs and high audience figures. Why spend millions on a high quality drama that, while critically acclaimed, only draws in a small audience when you can stick the plebs in front of a camera, make them perform humiliating tasks and pull in millions?

Similarly Pop Idol has created its own format of low cost, high reward TV that’s now widely emulated. Take some unknowns, get the public to watch them perform and vote for them, on premium cost phone lines obviously, then sell the CDs to the public when the winner is decided. Genius. As the saying goes, nobody's ever gone broke underestimating the intelligence of the general public.

It’s no wonder that we have to look to America for our drama. And until we stop lapping up the lo-com-denom television and Bulldog snogging Chardonnay is no longer the most talked about topic in the office we’ll get just that.

So good luck, Steve and Ricky. We need you.

I’m off to read Heat. There’s a great article entitled ‘Old Rope: My Big Brother House Hell’.

Saturday, September 02, 2006

The numbers game

A long time ago, I pinned my hopes on England winning the World Cup based on a rather tenuous link to the number 23 and my office sweepstake. We now know that theory was in fact utter nonsense.

Fortunately on my return from Barcelona, a couple of us chipped in for a sealed envelope sweepstake at one of the local pubs. Although the World Cup was under way no one knew who they had picked until the last envelope had been sold. After paying for the last one we opened it and discovered that we had Italy. The bar man running the sweepstake was less impressed on disccovering he had Angola.

In case you’ve forgotten, after the game finished 1-1, with Zinedine Zidane being sent off in extra time, Italy won the final on penalties. The player who gave away the penalty from which France took the lead, scored the equaliser, got Zidane sent off, scored in the shootout and helped win me over £30 was Marco Materazzi. His shirt number. 23.

Would you like an opinion with that?

“That’s a great film. The ending is so messed up.”

I muttered something about having already seen it and just wanting to add it to my collection, paid and wandered off wondering about this recent phenomenon. Why is it that shop assistants always feel the need to validate my purchases for me? I’ve already made my choice, using reviews, recommendations and knowing what I types of film I enjoy. I’m already in the process of paying for them so why is their opinion going to make the slightest bit of difference? It’s not as if I’m going to turn round and thank them as I had no idea what I was doing, had found myself lost in the DVD section and in a panic I grabbed the first things I saw based on them having pretty covers.

Also, why did he only remark on how good Audition was? What about my other choices? Granted Kika wasn’t warmly received when it was first released but surely its inclusion doesn’t make Volume 2 of the Almodovar collection worthless. The 6 disc Tarantino collectors set contains two of his finest and iconic films. Wim Wenders’ Wings of Desire won numerous awards and was remade into City of Angels. Yet only Audition seems worthy of mention. Should I have taken the others back and just kept the DVD that the assistant rated? Rather than validate my purchase, I’m left unsure of my other choices.

What would be much more useful would be if they turned round occasionally and warned me about any potential turkeys I was about to buy but that never happens. Even then, I’m not sure if I want to trust the judgement of the bloke down HMV over that of a friend. When it comes to music and film, it’s all down to personal taste and it’s all very subjective. There are films out there that have received critical acclaim which leave me unimpressed. Other films receive a poor reception yet I’ve enjoyed them immensely.

Perhaps I’m just scared that as soon as I leave the shop, the assistants will get together and laugh about what I’ve just paid good money for. God forbid that they deem me uncool. Then again, unless I’m being served by the next Kevin Smith or Tarantino, I’m not sure that I should be overly worried.

Why I’m buying yet more DVDs I don’t know. I seem to go through phases of mild obsessions and currently it’s DVDs. In the past I've bought games and CDs with the same enthusiasm and I have shelves full of games I’ve never played, CDs I’ve never heard and DVDs still in their cellophane wrapping. I’ve finally amassed everything that Pedro Almodovar has committed to celluloid yet I know that I’m not sated as I’ve already got my eye on a Michael Haneke box set that’s out in a few months. I should just be grateful that Hal Hartley has yet to make it to these shores although there’s always the option to import.

So it’s Saturday night and I find myself at a loose end. I could send out the usual texts and see if there’s anything going on tonight but I’m not sure whether to bother. From experience though, it’s these unplanned nights that turn out to be the most fun.

If not, I suppose I could always watch a DVD.