Thursday, June 29, 2006

They're back...

This post related to a specific individual and has been removed at their request

Friday, June 16, 2006

Putting it on a pedestal

I enjoy hammering the Grauniad, although hammering perhaps isn't the term - prodding with a Pythonesque sense of the Grauniad's absurdity (perhaps using a shrubbery), maybe... Hammering suggests hysterical indignation.

But I feel I can engage with this article on Comment is Free about the unfortunate who submitted a screaming head on a plinth to the Royal Academy Summer Exhibition... and found that they'd exhibited his plinth and not the head.

I agree that:

an artist's interpretation of his or her own work has only limited validity; it's outsiders who decide how it goes down...

And have never been of the school that believes:

good art necessarily requires heavy effort

Since the logical extreme of this proposition is that a painting that took 10 years is necessarily better than one that took 10 hours. Is a detailed, photoperfect oil painting of a frog with necessary time expenditure a better painting than 'The Scream' by Munch? No? Exactly. The Scream has huge, coarse brushstrokes and could have been completed in a matter of hours (I don't know if it was), but the power of the image isn't dependent on the detail. It's dependent on the idea.

And that's the problem with some modern art. It's definitely art but it's c**p art. It's all fundamentally deeply boring, banal, tedious and repetitive. It doesn't communicate in its chosen medium; it communicates in the A4 explanatory plaque next to the artwork. Does The Scream require a 3000 word exposition of what the art is trying to say? No? Surprise, surprise. And when you know what three basketballs in perspex or a non-working twice life-size fan heater are trying to tell you, it's usually something that wasn't worth saying anyway. Or maybe it was worth saying... once. 90% of modern artwork is trying to tell you that discrimination happens (no s**t, sherlock), people are 'alienated' [insert cod sub-GCSE-standard sociology buzz word of choice] or draws to your attention globalisation... or racism or Israel/Palestine or McDonalds [insert SWP no-to-war demo hobby horse of choice]. There are other political issues out there and why does art have to be deliberately political in the first place? It's deeply pretentious, utterly unoriginal and not very clever. And it tries to be profound and anti-establishment in all the conventional, time-honoured ways. Like trying to shock people. It takes work, effort and creativity to find something that people find shocking that they don't know they find shocking (yet). It requires an intelligent look at contemporary society. Or you could just figure paedophilia and Nazism is shocking... like any idiots... and be nominated for the Turner Prize.

Want to know more - Forceful and Moderate (well, ok, me... I think modern art brings LibertyCat out in a rash) likes this book which gives an uncritical look at modern art and explains what modern arts think they are doing. A definite highlight is where Matthew Collings explains how black painted canvases in 1913 were about the supremacy of pure feeling over objectivism, whereas by the 1960s black-painted canvases were about... erm, something else altogether. Or you could try this very expensive, heavy and academic book which I haven't read but might cause your head to explode. This is (apparently - again, not read) much more critical and contains a lot about the YBAs (Young British Artists, e.g. Hirst and his dead cows).

Wednesday, June 14, 2006

I know this blog enjoys the grotesque...

But this takes the biscuit.

It's not really surprising why:

the Rural Payments Agency... fail[ed] to pay £1.5 billion of European subsidies on time to English farmers and landowners.

The staff were obviously... otherwise occupied. Recommendation to Blair - maybe NOT somewhere to move Prescott; the office party pictures would be TOO much.

Tuesday, June 13, 2006

Don't worry, be happy...

Dead Ringers did a wonderful sketch last night in which they parodied David Cameron's opinion statements on 'the big issues of the day', suggesting Tory targets over the summer would include disrespectful shoppers who don't put 'Next Customer Please' signs on supermarket conveyor belts. Alongside rap music and the now infamous chocolate oranges, Cameron also suggested we needed to focus on GNH (Gross National Happiness) and not just money (like Bhutan where the government promotes freedom, ooops, happiness by deciding the people of Bhutan shouldn't be able to watch wrestling).

This has generated a plehora of newspaper articles and even a TV series suggesting that self-absorbed women trying to 'have it all' in a capitalist 'me' culture are making themselves unhappy, high earners are unhappy and stressed, and working for a French Telecoms company will destroy your life. All very interesting but is this 'the truth'? Should we all give up wanting a promotion, saving for liposuction, and go and live in a yurt? There are several problems...

a) Being hyper-competitive is generated by our Affluenza ridden society:

We are suffering an epidemic of what I term the Affluenza Virus — putting a high value on money, possessions, appearances (physical and social) and celebrity.

So all these viagra-touting executives would be much happier and less stressed if they stopped watching Big Brother and Porsche commercials, and took over nappy-changing duties. You can find out if you have a Type-A personality here. Doing anything worthwhile is a struggle, whether it be bringing up a child, running a French telecoms company... or erecting an eco-yurt. It's stressful. It's challenging. You feel a great sense of achievement if it goes well. On the downside - if you attempt something more complex than walking out of your own front door then you have a probability of failure and there's a 100% likelihood there might be a difficult, abjectly miserable bit where you expect to screw up big-time. 'Type-A' personalities get off on challenging themselves and achieving things. It's nothing to do with capitalism. If you stranded a group of French telecom executives on a desert island with only a deckchair then when you returned they wouldn't be soaking up the sun whilst listening to Bob Dylan. They'd have turned the deckchair into a sledge and be attempting to climb the nearest volcano... And it's the ex-executive women who have bought into the 'you'd be deeply fulfilled and unstressed if you rejected the expectations of the capitalist system and looked after children full-time' hype who become mega-stressed, mega-competitive Queen Bees. Because if you're not competing in one sphere... you're only going to channel that tendency someplace else.

b ) High social expectations are bad for society

Aspiring to have:

full-time job, and children, and a good relationship, and friends, and a tidy house, and be thin, and wear the right clothes, and eat in the right restaurants, and possibly be having a really sexy affair as well, complete with suitable underwear

Is apparently a bad thing. So perhaps women should give up aspiring to be anything and instead accept all they can hope to achieve is working part-time, being fat, sexually unfilled and having really grotty greyish underwear with fraying elastic. Low social expectations and acceptance of personal or socially imposed limitations is what's called a 'caste system'. It is where everyone accepts 'their place' and is content in it. Smashing such a system is the basis of countless Hollywood movies. For a perfect example, try Antz [Z: 'I feel so insignificant' Therapist: 'Congratulations, you've really made a breakthrough' Z: 'I have?' Therapist: 'Yes, you ARE insignificant'... pan out over billions of identical ants hauling dirt]. Valuing aspiration may be a cultural construct but it does mean that people don't accept the unacceptable. Applied productively, dreaming of being a better person in a better place is the driver of innovation and progress. Someone dreamt of antibiotics, the wheel, and still dream of a cure for cancer. So the problem isn't that people are aspiring to too much... But it may be that some of them are aspiring to the 'wrong' things. But perhaps that's a price we have to pay for the benefits of aspiring to something.

c ) Type 'A' personalities are a disease:

It is satisfying to sit in the chaffeur-driven car; the sadness is that these personalities might be happier if they were humble enough, or had enough insight to know that time spent in the consulting-room chair would be more productive.

By which it's assumed that there *is* a cure and that if there was, we'd be all better off if we were all phlegmatic, laid back and sanguine. Given that anything worth doing in life is a struggle... then we'd all be less stressed and some of us would be 'happier', but we may as well write off visiting Mars, solving world poverty or curing cancer. All these things came to us curtesy of people who were very driven, very focused and struggling. They had breakdowns, sometimes they died for their work. Would the world really have been a better place if Marie Curie had decided she felt happier teaching yoga?

d ) People expect too much because they are self-absorbed and part of a superficial consumer culture.

Again, probably somewhat overstated. During WWII, people didn't expect too much out of life. But this wasn't because they were getting down with their inner No Logo groupie. It was because they had to look like extras out of Dr Who several times a week whilst hiding under a hedge. And that was just going to school. Staying alive for several days in a row was a major achievement. Perhaps women would be less obsessed with breast enlargement if we started a world war or banned disinfectant, but given the choice I'd rather stick with the trauma of having to decide if Felicity Kendal really has had a face lift.

So there we have it...
  • 'People' in the 21st century (as written about by newspapers) aspire to be beautiful and rich, because they don't have to aspire to staying alive until next week. This is a good thing.
  • These people have aspirations that are beyond what they can achieve. This makes them strive for things, is more likely to generate social mobility and is a good thing.
  • Some people are exceptionally driven which causes them to become stressed and periodically unhappy as they aspire to achieve. Some of these people have changed the world for the better. Others have just sold us more toothpaste. Even if this is a product of an unhappy childhood and even if some of these people are selling us toothpaste, it's not something as a society we should want to change.
Perhaps we should accept that there are some pursuits far more rewarding than the pursuit of happiness.

Comments on this post started a nasty blog war. The offending comments and responses have been deleted, and further comments are closed

Saturday, June 03, 2006

Really, Ms Bennett!

At some point I should really get back to saying something intelligent about politics but the temptation to comment on this was too much [Thanks to Paul Linford for the link]. And the sisterhood of women political bloggers... or (broading the field slightly) political bloggers who are not MM-WASPs demands it, where MM stands for 'male' and 'middle-aged'.

Not sure what Catherine Bennett is taking such exception too. It seems to be a generalised rant about a lack of female ploggers. Since women aren't being dragged kicking and screaming from their laptops by a fur-clad chappie with a club then it's really just a personal preference issue. But Catherine Bennett doesn't think this is good enough. If women aren't choosing to do something then:

a ) There must be something so uncool about the whole endeavour that a woman wouldn't do it if dragged kicking and screaming to a laptop by her hair: scorn must be heaped upon it from high. Or else:

b ) Men must be informally excluding women from the joys of writing about John Prescott's no-pun-intended-really redefinition of giving his diary secretary a brief.

Otherwise someone might think women, on average, might have slightly different interests to men. When I say, on average, I mean, on average. And, on average, the average Canadian citizen has one testicle. Acknowledging that women, on average, might be a bit different to men in some important ways (no s**t, sherlock) might mean only a short drop down the slippery slope before women are back wearing metal chastity belts whilst chained to the sink. So Catherine Bennett gallantly seeks evidence that 'allegedly progressive men are really betraying the cause of female liberation by being misogynist pig-dogs online' and 'blogging is on par with bird-watching and train-spotting anyway so even if allegedly progressive male bloggers weren't sexist pig-dogs then women wouldn't want to join their geeky little party'... and fails miserably.

Exhibit A:

Bloggers believe themselves, no less than any freemason, or member of the Garrick Club, to be addressing male members of a male-dominated community, in which female partners are comedy figures known as "the wife" (or "Mrs Fawkes", or "Mrs Ablution"),

Catherine Bennett hasn't visited any almost all-women discussion forums recently or she'd discover that women routinely describe their partners as OH (other half), Mr [insert name] or 'hubbie'. I think it's a bit twee but each to their own. Trying to dress it up as anything else is stretching the point to plastic failure.

Exhibit B:

fellow members can be depended on for companionable chit-chat about music, fallen arches, barbecues, rambling, weights, wanking

Whereas women never buy new bikes or go walking or have a BBQ or even, forbid, listen to music (or wank...). And if they did, they'd never tell anyone else about it.

Exhibit C:

Even the most respectable blogs, operated by professional, award-winning progressives, like to show commitment to this mission with devil-may-care asides about porn, notes on the ugliness of women commentators, the beauty of young waitresses, or remarks - as on Guido Fawkes - on the "totty situation".

Women are only ever attracted to men for their enlightened views on feminism. Their physical appearance is entirely irrelevant and thus no woman would ever comment on the totty-quotient of any TV program or quib that for the TV dramatisation of John Prescott's affair, the wardrobe team were considering borrowing a costume off George Lucas.

Ms Bennett - it is a fact universally acknowledged that a woman has never been so offended in her life!

Friday, June 02, 2006

Line out

After 2 hours of young men leaping into sun-dappled lakes whilst the camera lingered over their speedos... in the final hour... at last... and much welcome... Dan Stevens had something to do except practice his 'unfocused gaze into middle distance to convey I'm an aesthete detached from the tangible concerns of Thatcherite Britain'. And it was a good 'un. I nearly cried. I'm happy to report The Line of Beauty actually had a plot, a theme and even some ideas rather than just gratuitous buttock shots, Poirot stylie dinner parties and extended sequences of elegant young men gurning and spasming during orgasm! And it was about time...

There were still some dubious bits. Kat was the most content and motivated depressive I've ever seen. And her mania was indicated only by an appreciation of black lace gloves and a desire to move to Bermuda. Whether she was supposed to be the only sane and sensible character in the piece, I don't know. Maybe this was the point. If so, it succeeded. As if on my suggestion, Wani not only coughed but also had warts around his nose and lip (hmmmmm, she says... sceptically). He was also grey/green in colour... VERY grey/green in colour. When he staggered from the table in L'escargot, I almost expected him to fling off his huge overcoat to unfurl enormous sickly yellow wings dripping with goo. As he stretched them, he would form a dark silhouette against the restaurant archway before shattering the wall lights. The sound of flapping skin would become masked by the shrieks of asset-stripping London yuppies tripping over tables as they were plunged into inky darkness. The only light would be Alex W's burning green eyes. Suddenly (in an attempt to introduce additional attractive men), there would be a faint blue light and David Tennant's face would be illuminated by the glow of his sonic screwdriver as he made a random quib about snails [snip... ok, enough of that. It's making me all hot and bothered]... Wani's somewhat overdone illness detracted from the evident human tragedy of the situation, the waste of life and the fear of AIDs (which I remember from my childhood). This was conveyed far more effectively by some of Dan Steven's more understated scenes surrounding Leo's death and was the first time I felt this theme had really been communicated to the viewer.

Other themes suddenly emerged in the last 1/2 an hour: that Nick Guest had deluded himself into believing he 'belonged' in the Fedden household (which made his denouncement with all its openly, vilely homophobic overtones all the more painful to watch), that Gerald Fedden's affair caused great pain to his daughter, that the household was not only plagued by old-fashioned formality but had no real warmth underneath* and that Nick maintained his presence in that circle by being unassuming, polite, unchallenging and vacant (I was relieved when Nick finally developed something approaching a backbone in the last 15 minutes. If it had been me Barry had called a pansy then he wouldn't have got a look of backpedalled shock. He'd have been told that I might be a 'pansy' but at least I had the address of a decent dentist... but I doubt I'd have lasted the first summer in the Fedden household). All style, fragility and a lack of substance - just like the Ogee magazine, Nick Guest's presence within the High Tory set... etc, etc. So the last 1/2 an hour told you everything Alan Hollinghurst wanted you to take away from The Line of Beauty. Either the book was turgid or Andrew Davies decided watching nice-looking blokes sh****g was 'controversial' (grow up Andrew Davies). Either way, it would have been much improved by compacting the first 2 hours into 1 hour (3 part novel be d****d) and making it a two-parter.

So, after watching the entire adaptation - should you watch it? Well, yes... but I'd recommend watching the first two episodes with your finger on the fast-forward button, just to get a feel for how Nick gets himself into the situation. Then watch episode 3.

* Just like to make the caveat that I don't buy the whole '1980s Tories = personally nasty people'. Personal morality is reassuringly complex and to take that route is just lazy, popularist short-hand. I'll give Alan Hollinghurst the benefit of the doubt and assume that he was just implying the Feddens and their friends (birds of a feather n' all) deserved to be lined up and shot.