I don't know what goes here, and I'm sorry. I started writing an essay to explain everything, but even I couldn't understand it.
Oh, God. I'm actually fucked, aren't I? I mean, not just in a jokey way. I'm genuinely losing it.
Why is this blog's number of followers slowly increasing, though? Are you taking the piss, or are you just trying to make me panic?
Saturday, 6 June 2009
This week, while Googling the whole of human culture for something relatively irrelevant, I came across a page from an old edition of the Randomness Times which seemed to have been badly-translated from another language. I immediately assumed this to be some new BabelFishy service from the Blogger company, and it took me a few moments to notice the flaw in my logic (I can just about believe that someone might want to translate the text into French or Arabic, but not that they might want to translate it back again afterwards). More puzzling still, the title of the page identified it as being a fan-site about Nadine from Girls Aloud. Not even one of the two-and-a-half attractive members of Girls Aloud, you'll notice, but the one who looks as if she's been hit in the face with a skillet and is still waiting for her head to regain its proper shape.
Curious, I looked a little further, and found that almost every edition written in the last two months has received the same treatment. "The crotchet chances, of praxis, is that this is a sitcom on all sides lasting men on the threshold of expiry"… "this month aphorism the exhorting of a preclude who killed her diabetic invalid"… "you wouldn't dig your dishes in an unclean stoop". We might guess that this is part of an elaborate auto-spamming procedure, whereby some disreputable company pads out its ad-sites with text harvested from other people's blogs, machine-rewritten in order to avoid potential lawsuits. After all, we still remember the site which combined its catalogue of hardcore porn with text stolen from an inventory of 1970s Doctor Who novels, and thus listed "Terrance Dicks" immediately after "Monster Dicks". Yet the cannibalised RT sites have no adverts attached, and nor does a viral scan reveal them to be crawling with inter-prions. Which means there's no apparent motive. (Oh, and my search also discovered a blog in which an entertainingly angry American described The Randomness Times as "the least funny thing I've seen on the internet". I'm not sure I can argue with that, since it's got to be said that even the "badly-translated from another language" version is funnier than the original.)
But without any definitive explanation for this pretend-international text-cloning, I've decided to treat the whole thing as a radical language experiment, in the style of Burroughs or Burgess. In this week's issue, some of the "regular" listings from the RT will be accompanied by their Interzone translations. If '60s-era textual analysis techniques still hold true, then this may reveal something about the underlying neuroses of a global hyperculture; if not, then it may at least help the RT to become the second- or third-least funny thing on the internet.
And remember: exploit your mind's eye, while even so not miss up to the poop measure.
18:45. Robin Hood
10/13. Deliberately commissioned to interfere with ITV's Primeval. But which is best, dark-age outlaws or prehistoric monsters? There's only one way to find out… read books, use your imagination, and stay away from jizz-awful filmlook serials on Saturday nights. Yet here, in this bleak and joyless televisual space which can best be thought of as "Samuel Beckett's Waiting for Matt Smith", we can see the simplest expression of what CGI has done to TV. Thirty years ago, a bowling alley was the best possible place to hide a terrorist nuclear device (The Professionals), but it's now the most likely location in which to be attacked by dinosaurs (Primeval, again). Wouldn't it be great if it turned out to be the same bowling alley? I imagine an old and wheezing janitor who was there when Bodie and Doyle had to defuse an atom bomb in the 1970s, and who can't believe that he has to go through the same kind of life-threatening experience all over again, but this time with velociraptors. That said, there is something profoundly prehistoric about a bowling alley: for years, bowling was the male-bonding experience of choice for working-class America, an environment in which men could get away from the womenfolk while still not facing up to the fact that they didn't have anything to say to each other. 'Ug throw shiny rock at sticks! All sticks fall over. Ug the best.' It's apt, then, that many Britishers of my age only learned of the existence of bowling from The Flintstones. The Primeval team faced the velociraptor menace with newfangled armaments that CI5 might have given their perms for, but if the authorities had been thinking clearly, then they could've trained these carnivorous reptiles to perform useful bowling-related or domestic tasks that would normally be done by machines in the modern world.
Interzone Translation. Deliberately commissioned to lap with ITV’s Primeval. But which is most satisfactory, dark-age outlaws or Noachic monsters? There’s distant select people mode to find improper improper. interpret books, exploit your mind’s eye, and defer away from jizz-awful filmlook serials on Saturday nights. Thirty years ago, a bowling alley was the most satisfactory reachable advance to carcass concealed humble a incendiary atomic artifice, but it’s any longer the most inclined to locale in which to be attacked away dinosaurs. That said, there is something really Noachic on all sides a bowling alley: fitting for years, bowling was an mise en place in which men could entreat away from the womenfolk while even so not miss up to the poop measure that they didn’t sooner a be wearing anything to asseverate to each other. ‘Ug squander fulgent lull at sticks! All sticks lacking in every nook. Ug the most satisfactory.’
19:30. Totally Saturday
New series. 1/7. Graham Norton hosts the live show in which the audience members are the stars, with celebrity guests on hand to… no, it's no good, I'm going to be sick again.
21:30. Michael McIntyre's Comedy Roadshow
New series. 1/6. Interesting fact: Michael McIntyre only entered the universe in February this year, but reality immediately began remoulding itself around him, which is why he's regarded as one of Britain's best-loved comedians even though nobody can remember hearing his name until about four months ago. But I know how things used to be. Oh yes. Because I'm that sensitive character with dimly-realised psychic instincts, who somehow remembers alternate timelines even though it's against all scientific reason. According to the "real" RT, this programme sees McIntyre introduce a showcase of "the stand-up circuit's brightest talents", which is even rummer: I'm really quite familiar with the stand-up circuit (i.e. the London stand-up circuit, i.e. the only one which isn't full of comedians who consider the Wurzels to be at the cutting edge), and the names on this line-up are exclusively in the bracket of "comedians whose agents are likely to get them work on Radio 4 panel shows" rather than "comedians I'd bother to see if they played the upstairs room of a nearby pub". On the other hand, this Thursday sees the launch of Channel 4's latest let's-put-a-man-and-a-woman-in-a-studio-together-to-do-topical-jokes-and-hope-it-doesn't-turn-out-like-that-thing-with-Ben-Elton-and-Alexa-Chung series, The TNT Show. Which features Holly Walsh, whom I know in passing, but who may be familiar to digitally-motivated geeks as the woman who used to talk to a severed brain before The Sarah Jane Adventures on CBBC. And you can expect me to remove this part of the paragraph from next week's Randomness Times if she turns out to be rubbish on it. Or maybe I'll just make a sardonic and self-referential comment about the fact that I'm simultaneously talking to you from both the past and the future, who knows? For I am capricious.
21:45. Arena: T. S. Eliot
We should explain to foreign readers of the RT that Arena is the name of the BBC's long-running arts strand, so disappointingly, this isn't a programme in which T. S. Eliot has to fight the Gorn in single combat. Another offering from the BBC's Poetry Season, which ponces onwards over the next six days with A Poet's Guide to Britain [Monday, BBC4, 21:00], and My Life in Verse: Cerys "Yeah, I Know She Isn't, But I Still Would" Matthews [Friday, BBC2, 21:00]. Oh, God, now I've started trying to fit Eliot's work to the combat theme from Star Trek. "We are THE HOLL-OW MEN WE are the STUFFED men…"
19:00. D-Day Remembered
Naturally, I don't remember D-Day, although I do remember the elaborate fortieth anniversary programmes in 1984. So I'm experiencing a form of third-generation nostalgia, and feel I've earned the right to tell young people about the days when we had interviews with living veterans rather than CGI reconstructions of the battlefields. It were all stock footage round 'ere when I were a lad. We've got to celebrate D-Day every five years, of course, because it's the only proof we have - within the memory of our oldest citizens, at least - that Britain used to be important. For the same reason, it's against all polite protocol to mention Germany without making a joke about Nazis, even though the current English-speaking generation is so badly-informed about political ideology (which is, after all, a downright nuisance in a consumer democracy) that it now believes fascism and communism to be interchangeable. A bit like A View to a Kill, where Christopher Walken turns out to be both a Nazi and a Soviet agent. As Santayana said: those who fail to learn from history are doomed to watch Mel Gibson movies and actually enjoy them.
20:00. Hope Springs
New series. 1/8. A programme from the creators of Bad Girls and Footballers' Wives, in which Alex Kingston and Ronni Ancona play semi-inept female ex-cons who end up in a Highland village and find themselves being chased by gravelly-voiced gangsters while attempting to deal with broadly-accented Scots yokels. This is described by the BBC as a "drama". They just don't understand what English words mean, do they?
21:00. The Apprentice
12/12. Long-term readers of my nearly-blogs may recall that I've spent a lot of time dwelling on the origins of surnames, if only because so many of them seem so unlikely. We're told that it's normal for surnames to indicate the profession of someone's ancestors, hence the proliferation of Smiths, Bakers, and Masons. But if this is true, then why do so many people bear names like "Monk", "Bishop", "Priest", and - oddest of all - "Pope", vocations whose members weren't technically supposed to breed, and who certainly didn't have the power to pass on their titles from father to son? Why doesn't everyone called "King", "Prince", or "Lord" immediately qualify as an aristocrat? Why do we think of Helena Bonham-Carter as posh for having a double-barrelled name, when a bonham is a small pig, and a bonham-carter is therefore someone who drives pigs to market? Why are there people called "Warlock", a word that originally meant "liar" rather than "magician", which is why American actor Billy Warlock is more properly known as "Billy Liar"? Was that name originally given to a family of con-artists as a form of censure, and if so, then at what point in history did it cease to be a social embarrassment and become "quite cool"? And by the same logic, we can conclude that Laurence Fishburne's family worked in a very unsatisfactory chip shop. So… Alan Sugar. Named after a commodity that didn't become popular in Western Europe until the 1600s, by which time surnames were already becoming fixed. What happened there? Incidentally, "Miles" is Latin for "soldier", suggesting that I've got a Roman legionnaire somewhere in my family tree. Yeah, that's right: my people were learning how to do the testudo (AKA the Sexy War-Tortoise) when your pagan, animal-worshipping forebears were still dressing up as… well… four bears.
20:00. South Pacific
5/6. Absolutely true fact: in this new documentary series, we learn that natives on the island of Pentecost encourage their crops to grow by building a huge, ominous-looking wicker structure, then leading a chosen member of the tribe to it and… getting him to bungi-jump off the top. Yes, honestly. They believe that the closer to the ground he gets, the better the harvest will be. Are all pre-Christian pseudo-sacrificial rituals going to become extreme sports, then? Anyone half-reasonable should now be either (a) imagining a radically different cut of The Wicker Man, or (b) thanking the Pagan Jesus that the remake didn't end with Nicholas Cage escaping the islanders on a skateboard. Or maybe it did, it's not as if anyone with a soul has ever seen it.
23:00. Family Guy
In the "real" Radio Times, Mark Braxton - always the worst possible person to ask about any "cult" series, and apparently the only man on Earth who liked "Planet of the Dead" - summarises it as a "ruder version of The Simpsons", which is (a) the telly-journalistic equivalent of saying "have you noticed how the Germans always get their towels on the beach first?", (b) exactly what Family Guy isn't, and (c) the sort of thing that makes so many people refuse to watch it. Most crucially, the two programmes come from very different traditions of animation. The Simpsons is a highly-developed descendant of the Hanna-Barbera Flintstones line, nailing itself to a fake-sitcom format which could almost have been designed as a way of training children to watch The Honeymooners (or nearest modern equivalent). Yet despite having a big fat idiot at the gravitational centre of the programme, Family Guy's roots are in the '40s Warner Brothers tradition, where the rules are in a constant state of experimentation and it's reasonable for Daffy Duck to go from twentieth-century comedy foil to twenty-fourth-and-a-halfth-century superhero in the space of a single narrative. Which is why Family Guy is clearly better. That, and its lack of nauseating, self-congratulatory smugness.
23:20. American Dad!
On the other hand, even I don't watch this.
Interzone translation. In the "real" Radio Times, Mark Braxton - again the worst reachable child to about a invite on all sides any cult series - summarises it as a ruder rendition of The Simpsons, which is (a) the telly-journalistic of article of saying "have you noticed how the Germans again entreat their towels on the skim noodle?", (b) beyond question what Family Guy isn’t, and (c) the ownership of fashion that makes so myriad people deny to observant of it. [That settles it: from now on, Mark Braxton will officially be known as "The Worst Reachable Child".]
21:00. Storyville: Blind Sight - Everest the Hard Way
Lately, I've spent a surprising amount of time thinking about sex. "Surprising" because the antidepressants have made me increasingly floppy, and because I seem to have less interest in actually having sex than at any time since my thirteen-year-old self rolled over on his bed and discovered what ensues when a male member inadvertently comes into contact with the solid, hard-edged cover of the Eagle annual. (In a sense, then, I lost my innocence to the Mekon's face.) But increasingly, I find myself dwelling on the minutiae of the sexual process, especially when it involves pure theory. Though I've always enjoyed this as a form of fantasy - as, for example, when the aforementioned Newly-Pubescent Me spent long hours wondering how it would actually feel to cop off with Butterbear out of the Wuzzles - it's now become more intellectual than arousing, and I'm currently engaged by CBeebies' Nina and the Neurons. Although presumably not on anyone's SkyBox "favourites" list, this is a series for younger viewers in which lab-coat-and-bunches she-boffin Nina answers children's questions about science, with the aid of five computer-generated characters who live inside her head and can be drawn out with the appropriate ritual (q.v. the ceremonial summonings of Teletubbies). Though we presume that Nina has more than five in total, these neurons represent the five classical senses, and each query requires the specialised knowledge of one or another. I'm fascinated to know what it'd be like to desecrate this woman. The actress who's attached to her is by no means unattractive, yet a bigger question is whether the sexual act would activate all five neurons at once, or - if not - then which of them she might consider appropriate for the occasion. Alternatively, would different neurons respond to different sexual approaches? Would taste be invoked for oral pleasuring, or would taste specifically not be invoked for oral pleasuring? Would it be wise for a male lover to specifically provoke Nina's sense of smell, in the hope of triggering a manifestation of Ollie the nose-neuron, who's described by the official literature as "a bit of a goth" and looks as if she might be up for a threesome…? The wider issue is that although Everything You Ever Wanted to Know About Sex may have introduced the whole what-do-Numbskulls-do-during-coitus question, it barely scratched the surface. Modern woman are so much more complex. I'm mentioning this now because I'm obviously not going to have anything to say about blind people climbing Everest, although there's a clear Freudian subtext here that operates on at least three levels. Wait a minute… is the BBC trying to say that goths smell?
Oh, I've just remembered why I started talking about the modern generation's lack of political acumen [see D-Day Remembered, Saturday]: it's because I've recently been looking at message-boards on t'internet, which sadly means that I've been exposed to more right-wing Americans and Simpsons porn than ever before (because these are, as we've already established, the two ugliest things on the world-wide web). You may recall that during the recent bailouts of US insurance companies, car manufacturers, and other forms of manifest evil, those citizens who are otherwise known for their erotic attachment to firearms protested that any state intervention was a form of "socalism". Leaving aside the obvious point that sheer bloody-jawed capitalism and a lack of government interference was what caused the mess in the first place, the most contradictory thing here is that the same people are now referring to state intervention as "fascism" as well. In fact, I've been known to lurk on a forum - entirely apolitical in every other respect - where one of the regular contributors urges us to fight this form of "fascism" in his sig-file. Typically, though, he's spelt it "facism". Isn't that an irrational prejudice against people with faces? Quite a specific form of bigotry, although its British supporters could probably win a few local council seats by claiming that discriminating in favour of these "lousy stinking faceys" is the worst form of political correctness. "Vote for the Man from That Episode of Sapphire and Steel, and keep our country nice and anonymous."
21:00. Ashes to Ashes
8/8. See Ten Genuinely Defining Things About the 1980s [side-column].
I mean, I like Kate Humble, but she's no Alice Roberts. You know? She's sitting there next to a bunch of otters, and she's talking about their mating habits, and… I've got to be honest, I'm actually looking at the otters. Kind of misses the point of natural history programming, don't you think? Showing Monday to Thursday.
21:00. Who's Watching You?
3/3. [See article at foot of page.]
5/6. The oddly-flavoured goodness to counteract the foetid horror of every other comedy on BBC3, a bit like finding a box of Peak Freans from a parallel universe in which there's only one biscuit that isn't a pink wafer. Even so, this isn't an easy programme to trust. A sitcom starring Johnny Vegas as a Mancunian dope-dealer sounds so poisonous in principle that it can take a while to recognise Ideal as one of the least predictable things on television, its characters wholly absurd while still avoiding all the screeching and catchphrasery of Little Britain or C*th*r*n* T*t*, its set-pieces not quite like anything else on TV. It's been said that the essence of good sitcom is "people who don't really like each other, trapped together in a small space", and Ideal takes this to claustrophobic new extremes by never, ever showing us the world outside the dealer's flat: we went up on the roof once, but that's the furthest we've ever been from his sofa. Yet this tiny bong-hovel has seen more surprises than the rest of the channel's output combined, so the fourth series brought us - amongst other things - a sex scene between people with animal masks permanently superglued to their faces, and a guest appearance by Mark E. Smith of The Fall as the manifestation of Christ. No, I agree, I'm a lot less entertaining when I have to be nice about things. But in the Randomness Times, Monday night is niceness night.
19:30. Cardiff Singer of the World
In the days when Wales was known only for its insistence on confusing the f*** out of English people (Cardiff Station has a Platform Zero, a tactic blatantly engineered to frighten and bewilder those travellers who've just come across the border), the title "Cardiff Singer of the World" seemed even more absurd than the Yanks staging a "World Series" of a sport that's only played by Americans and Canadians. Or, to put it another way… it was as if the Fattest Man from Wolverhampton contest had arbitrarily decided to up the stakes by calling itself the Fattest Man from Wolverhampton in the Universe contest. But now Doctor Who has shown us a version of the cosmos in which Cardiff really is the centre of all existence, it seems to make a lot more sense. Oh, and on that subject? For those of you with access to the Corporation's iPlayer, the Randomness Times' drama pick for this week is the repeat run of Caesar! on BBC Radio 7. I could try to sell it to you by explaining that it models itself on Suetonius' The Lives of the Caesars without resorting to any of the more improbable splatter-myths of the Claudian dynasty, but you'll probably be more interested if I just tell you that in episode three, David Tennant plays Caligula. As David Tennant.
21:00. Living with Monkeys: Tales from the Treetops
New series. 1/2. More anthro-chickery, as primatologist Julie Anderson spends five weeks occupying a tiny treehouse in the canopy of the Gabon rainforest as part of a mission to observe the rarely-seen red-capped mangabey monkey. Doesn't she realise how dangerous it is to invade another creature's habitat this way…? She's clearly intruding on the territory of Alice Roberts, and when you remember that Dr Alice has mysteriously left her usual Sunday-night nest this week, it begins to look like a serious challenge to the environmental niche. Now, as you know, I'm fiercely protective of the current alpha female. So d'you know what I'm going to do? Whenever this Julie Anderson appears on the screen, I'm going to pull my pants down and show her my arse. Yeah, let's see her primatologise that. Or maybe I'll just ignore her completely and start grooming myself on the sofa. Concludes on Wednesday.
22:00. Gerry Robinson's Car Crash
The creativity-crunch worsens, with a programme that's about the recession and about cars. The irony is that while Ian Hislop kicked off the new series of Have I Got Footage of Gordon Brown Looking Moderately Uncomfortable for You with a sarcastic comment about nothing much happening in the news (because we're in an economic crisis and the headlines are full of corrupt politicians, d'you get it?), the truth is that there really isn't anything significant in the press, at least not in the UK. A recession makes even the British branch of al-Qaeda feel too glum to do anything explosive, and when the big scandal of the week involves MPs admitting that they fiddle their expenses and smear their opponents, you find yourself longing for the days of embassy sieges and Liberal politicians hiring assassins to kill their gay lovers. Just ask the BBC's current-affairs producers, who no longer have anything to make programmes about except rich people being awful and poor people having to eat their own pets. A year ago, I would've been devastated to think that any celebrity-related side-story could be of more interest than the national economy, yet now there's no denying it: this month's best headline, by some considerable margin, was "Horse Headbutts Leona Lewis". Proving that animals really do do the funniest things.
20:00. Make My Body Younger
You're not the boss of me.
21:00. Blood, Sweat and Takeaways
4/4. That's not fair! For BBC3 to commission a "sensible" programme - which challenges whelps of the iPod generation to go to borderline third-world countries, and slog along with natives who work twelve-hour days in appalling conditions to supply us with the fast food we leave half-finished in taxis - goes against everything we know to be right, proper, and awful about modern British broadcasting. Hah! Good, the next new programme on this channel is…
22:30. Bizarre Animal ER
3/8. Those who've tried playing the Randomness Times' BBC3 game, in which the titles of a single evening's schedule are scrambled together to make an even more BBC3-sounding title (How to Avoid Britain's Really Disgusting Crisps, Bizarre Fags Snog My Animal Bride, etc), will notice that the channel itself is now using the same technique. You'll also note that this programme is pitched in such a way as to suggest that we're going to see footage of a man walking into an Accident and Emergency department with a horse stuck halfway up him, although it's more accurate to think of it as a version of Animal Hospital in which Rolf Harris is obsessed with damaged genitalia. Assuming he isn't obsessed with damaged genitalia. I mean, he probably wouldn't tell us about it even if he were.
21:00. The Great British Sunday
Another documentary in the Timeshift mould, this time focusing on the… actually, can I stop for a minute? I'm still wondering whether Rolf Harris is obsessed with damaged genitalia.
23:30. Make 'Em Laugh
4/6. The history of American comedy continues, this week with a look at… actually, since we're talking about comedy, I've got a joke. It's just… I was thinking about Rolf Harris being obsessed with damaged genitalia, and… d'you remember that gag from the late '90s, when he played a set at the Glastonbury Festival? There are these two roadies standing backstage, y'see, just before he goes on. And one of them looks at a piece of paper and says: 'I see from the set-list that he starts with Two Little Boys, then goes on to Tie Me Kangaroo Down.' And the other one says: 'That's not a set-list, that's the rider.' Yeah, I liked it. Still doesn't tell us about the genitalia thing, though.
20:00. Celebrity Masterchef
New series. If it doesn't involve Julia Bradbury ripping the kidneys from a she-goat with her bare teeth, then I'm not interested. Many commentators have compared TV cookery to masturbation, and at the risk of turning everything in this week's RT into a form of fetishistic inquiry, I'd say that it's not an unreasonable point: proper food is as astonishing to the senses as proper sex, but just as boys watch porn because they know they're never going to couple with anything as attractive and / or willing as the Polish nurse with the highly-specialised surgical modifications, BBC viewers watch the preparation of fine cuisine because they know they're never going to make anything more complex than a Spanish omelette. I was originally going to describe MasterChef with the word "GastroWank", but it just reminded me of that lumpy white mushroom sauce you get in Tesco's. Incidentally, am I the only one who feels uncomfortable using the phrase "bare teeth"...? As if it's meant to suggest barbaric, animalistic teeth who frolic naked in the woods, rather than those well-groomed Victorian teeth who wear little waistcoats and always ask before leaving the table. Showing Wednesday to Friday.
21:00. Krod Mandoon and the Flaming Sword of Fire
New series. 1/5. If I were to point out that this whackingly over-budgeted fantasy parody only lists two female characters in a cast of 26 (one of them an FHM model in a chainmail bikini, the other described as "Cute Girl"), then would I be suggesting that it's driven by the same stinking nerd-masculinity which leads to pasty-faced geek-boys in "Smeg Off" T-shirts and the homoerotic worship of Simon Pegg? Or would I just be suggesting that it's true to the stinking nerd-masculinity of the source material? Then again, even the Lord of the Rings movie tried to pretend that Arwen was a proper character, rather the world's first blow-up doll / action-figure hybrid.
22:00. That Mitchell and Webb Look
New series. 1/6. ...because there are times when TV comedy just doesn't seem smug enough.
21:00. When Diets Go Wrong
Further proof that BBC3 is a failing power, so overawed by rival Channel 4 / Channel 5 productions like The Transsexual Who Gave Birth to Her Own Skin that it can't even make exploding stomachs sound catastrophic. When Diets Go Wrong? Is that it? Not even When Diets Make Buildings Collapse, or When Diets Cause Your Labia to Lock Together and Form the Face of Ray Milland? Oh, let's be honest: you're not going to watch this, and neither am I. So while we're waiting for something more interesting to turn up, I'd just like to point out that since I wrote the entry on Panorama [Monday], an advert has appeared on the Guardian website which urges us to "Stand Up and Stop Facism" after the BNP's recent election victories. Funnily enough, my local branch of the British National Party held a celebratory function in a nearby church-hall on Saturday night, and I could hear the buggers from my bedroom. And, yes, they really did sound like a hideous faceless mass. Especially when they started dancing. Don't skinheads even know how to moon-stomp any more?
22:30. The Real Hustle on Holiday
4/10. Hold on, you mean… the BBC is using our License-Fee money to pay a group of professional confidence tricksters who've spent their adult lives swindling people out of house and home, and who now get their own TV show (plus travel expenses to Barbados) as a reward? Oh, I see: they're reformed. Well, fair enough. I mean, if that's what they've said. They seem quite credible.
21:00. Have I Got News for You
8/8. The worst thing, the very worst thing, is the Radio Times' glib, deluded claim that Have I Got News still has "satirical teeth" and somehow qualifies as on-the-edge television. In fact, there's never been a clearer demonstration that satire no longer functions: this is an exercise in attaching the appropriate names to stock comedy material, so that any mention of John Prescott will be followed by a joke about fat people, any mention of Charles Kennedy will be followed by a joke about alcoholics, and any mention of Bill Clinton (Bill Clinton…!) will be followed by a joke about oral sex. For the most part, it now exists as a platform for intolerant right-wing snob Ian Hislop, while any serious political point will immediately be exploded by Paul Merton making a joke about Bagpuss. And the series may treat it as a running gag, but the fact remains that Boris Johnson's election as Mayor of London really was a direct result of Have I Got News establishing him as the "harmless" face of inept bigotry. Angus Deaton was removed from the chair of this series because, according to the producers, a man who makes the news can't present a panel show about the headlines. But this programme isn't just making the news, it's dictating the political direction of the country, which is why it can safely be considered the most hazardous thing on television. Even the bits about Bagpuss. No, especially the bits about Bagpuss, they're the most deceptive of all. They lie to us! They lie!!!
22:00. The Book Quiz Poetry Special
I stopped watching this halfway through the first series, out of a sense of sheer disgust, when one of the questions was: "Which book series has been written by authors including Kate Orman and Terrance Dicks?" My contribution to modern culture has clearly not been recognised.
Friday, 22 May 2009
It's a well-known statistical fact that in Britain, one out of four people is no more than twenty feet from a rat who captures them on camera 247 times a day, or something. This week sees the start of the three-part series Who's Watching You? [Monday, BBC2], which looks at the consequences of the CCTV society, and asks the usual questions vis-à-vis "is it worth putting everyone on videotape for the sake of catching the occasional ram-raider, when it takes away our right to privacy?". But this rather misses the point: the problem with trapping the entire nation inside a lens isn't that it's an offence against our personal dignity (most CCTV footage that ends up in court and / or on ITV4 involves people taking their shirts off outside pubs and then trying to punch buses, so "dignity" is the wrong word to use in this context), but that it changes the way we behave.
An example. Some years ago, when I was still in my twenties and far more hormonal than I am today, I had to house-sit for the family who lived in the flat upstairs. The young man of the family was of the type who covers his walls with posters of robotic pin-up girls manufactured by the FHM Naked Replicant Corporation, so it occurred to me that - despite his clear dislike of actual flesh-and-blood women with no sweat-glands or stretch-marks - he must surely have a proper porn-stash hidden somewhere in his bedroom. Being a boy, I knew where boys hide such things, and therefore had a good root around. Which is, incidentally, the best possible argument against ever lending your keys to anything male. But while I was knocking on the loose floorboards and testing the spaces behind the drawers, it occurred to me: is this a safe thing to do? The owners of the flat were reasonably inclined to keep up with the Joneses, and even in those days, a lot of posh pads had teeny little CCTV systems of their own. The flat below me certainly did (but then, it was owned by a former officer of the US military, so he was probably just watching for insurgents). What if these people caught me on tape, looting their son's room? Obviously, all young heterosexual men know that raiding another young heterosexual man's territory for porn is a perfectly normal tribal rite, or at least it was in the days before widespread internet availability. But how would his parents react if they checked the recordings and saw me doing a full CSI on the place?
Now, I was taught by my mother that you may as well be hung for a sheep as a lamb. And from my own experience, I've learned that embarrassment always outweighs indignation in the English psyche. Ergo, I devised a way to (as it were) cover myself: I stripped naked in the middle of their lounge, then ran from room to room, performing a variety of mock-South American dance moves and occasionally reclining on the furnishings like a Rubenesque model with man-lumps. Wherever I went, I poked my nose (amongst other things) into any cabinets or crevices I came across, occasionally beating my chest and performing a jiggly Maori war-ritual when I found something of interest.
At the time, this struck me as perfectly logical. True, when the family-members returned from their holiday, they'd still see me rifling through a young man's personal effects. But the shock of this would be as nothing compared to what followed. Indeed, I would've bet money that if they did witness by behaviour, then they'd be too embarrassed to even mention it. Just consider: if you had video footage of a house-sitter committing what looked like burglary, then you'd almost certainly remonstrate with the culprit. But if you then saw him doing the naked lambada while bellowing a Polynesian battle-chant at a table-lamp, then you probably wouldn't want to risk mentioning it. (Of course, it's perfectly safe to commit porn-crime if there are no cameras around. Filch a copy of Big Ones Monthly from a teenager's bedroom, and on discovering the theft, he'll simply assume that his parents found and confiscated it. He won't mention it, and he'll assume that they don't want to mention it either. This is what makes the burglary of filth such a perfect crime, at least in a non-surveillance state. Again, the digital revolution has made this sort of criminal enterprise seem rather unnecessary. But what else were we supposed to do? Buy it from shops…?)
Since the family moved house shortly thereafter - and let's assume no causal connection - I never found out whether they really did have cameras in their home, any more than I actually found porn. So it was a wasted effort all round. The point is that the mere suspicion of surveillance caused me to perform actions which would normally be outside my repertoire. And though this may be a rather perverse example, it's in no way exceptional. We all know that adolescent boys are far more likely to commit acts of violence when they're with friends, simply because the presence of their peers will compel them to behave in more extreme, extroverted ways; likewise, someone in a crowd is more likely to react to an emotionally-charged event (whether it's a Nazi rally or the death of a leading Royal, the principle's the same) than s/he would at home. Individuals can be intelligent, but the more spectators there are, the stupider we become. The mere existence of a viewer can turn us into idiots.
Then again, I'm not saying anything you didn't already know. We recall the video-footage, briefly on-line in 2007, which depicted a young man pissing on the face of a dying heart-attack victim while shouting 'this is YouTube material!'. We're all aware that CCTV in shopping centres doesn't stop teen-gangs attacking passers-by, it just gives them a chance to feel they've achieved something when they turn up on Crimewatch. We also note that as TV has begun to respond to an age in which anyone can make TV, it's become increasingly vicious and increasingly likely to rouse the mob, which may explain why Britain's Got Talent is currently the nation's highest-rated programme. This is the real problem with having cameras everywhere. It's not a question of inalienable human rights, it's just the fact that without some sense of privacy, we spend all our time trying to impress everyone and / or trying to cover up our mistakes. And some of the most terrible events in human history have been caused by people trying to impress everyone and / or trying to cover up their mistakes.
This is why I'm now a virtual hermit. Not just because everybody knows I'm the sort of person who dances naked on their furniture while they're not looking.
Friday, 20 March 2009
Before we begin: a word or 774 on pedantry, geekery, and obsessive behaviour.
An obsessive mind can be a meddlesome thing (for a start, only an obsessive mind is driven to use words like "meddlesome", in much the same way that only Star Wars fans are driven to use the word "mindful"), but when it comes to comedy, a pedant's devotion to the truth can interfere with any joke, at any time, on any level. Of course, truth is a relative term. Mark Steel once said that an unimaginative mind is opposed to comedy by its very nature, because if you tell a joke that begins "a tyrannosaurus walks into a pub", then a listener with no imagination will immediately say "hang on, they didn't have pubs in those days". Whereas I'm quite happy to hear about an extinct prehistoric animal propping up the bar in a branch of Weatherspoon's, and yet… if the joke had begun, "a tyrannosaurus, a triceratops, and a brontosaurus walk into a pub", then I'd feel obliged to point out that the brontosaurus should be divided from the other two by around 75-million years of geological time. And that it should really be called an apatosaurus anyway.
In other words, pedantry is a matter of aesthetics, and has very little to do with logic. Likewise, the "real" Radio Times informs us that this week's Horne and Corden features a sketch in which "Superman gives Spider-Man some bad news". Leaving aside the obvious issue that gags about superheroes represent the second-lowest point of sub-Kenny-Everett sketch-wank (only horror movie parodies are lower), at least half of the people who regularly browse the Randomness Times will read that description and immediately, instinctively notice the problem. And at least half of them will follow up that initial reaction with the thought: "Except once, in a crossover in 1976." For the rest of you, who have no idea what we're talking about… no, never mind. You have to be born to it.
So. Obsessive minds insist on a specific version of The Facts, even when The Facts are entirely fictional. Perhaps the greatest indicator of this is the way in which sci-fi fans (and I mean this in a semi-derogatory sense, not to mean anyone who likes science fiction, but anyone who likes the specific form of science fiction that's generally used as schedule-fodder by Sky One) use the word "continuity". To most viewers, continuity is a light breeze which blows throughout all TV drama, quietly ensuring that the carnation in Mr Popplewick's buttonhole doesn't move from the right side of his waistcoast to the left side between shots. Yet in the sci-fi philosophy, Continuity is a vengeful and malevolent god, who demands that the Seven Laws of the Mangooskan Federation [established in episode 1.12] must be strictly upheld throughout the rest of the series [even in episode 3.05, which is technically set in a parallel universe, but one where the Treaty of Mangooska 6 is still in effect]. To be fair, this sort of thing isn't entirely the province of sci-fi: fans of The Archers have been making votive offerings to Continuity for over fifty years, even though most of them are too old to use the internet without falling off.
However, this means that the various everyday uses of the word "continuity" have different resonances for the average geek-about-town. Many programmes still list a "Continuity Girl" among the end credits, a phrase which sounds like an obsessive's perfect superheroine, a woman who received a papercut from a radioactive copy of Down and Safe: The Unofficial Guide to Blake's Seven and gained astonishing powers of ret-con as a result. Then there's the Continuity IRA. Oh, the Continuity IRA! Its founders must have thought that by taking on the mantle of Western Europe's most notorious terrorist organisation, they were invoking all the fear and rage of recent Irish history. They couldn't have guessed that whenever the name is spoken by a newscaster, thousands of geeks find themselves thinking: 'Yeah, I know what they mean. Whenever I watch that "Journey's End" episode of Doctor Who, the departure from the established version of Dalek history makes me want to blow things up, too.'
Through sheer chance, this edition of the Randomness Times features more concessions to the geek contingent than any other so far. So feel free to treat it as a form of drinking game, and take a shot every time you find yourself smirking at something that would only make sense to those who can't hear the phrase "beauty is in the eye of the beholder" without imagining a big floating eyeball with tentacles.
Friday, 20 February 2009
December, 2007: BBC1 broadcasts Rolf Harris' ode to one of the nation's best-loved writer-illustrators, Rolf on Beatrix Potter. Only later does the Corporation realise that it could've doubled the ratings by adding the word …Action to the title. The re-edited Rolf on Beatrix Potter Action, complete with its new cartoon opening sequence of the Kangaroo Rolf rimming Mrs Tiggywinkle on a giant pulsating wobble-board, becomes the most talked-about programme of the season. As a result, "…Action" series become the new trend, hence…
Floyd on Fish Action. Having been inebriate in front of the cameras for nearly three decades, Keith Floyd finally gets it on by putting his arm around a giant cod and saying: 'You know what? I love you. I've always loved you. It's why I'm pissed all the time. I've just been trying to build up the confidence to talk to you. Please… please don't spurn me.'
Alan Yentob on Michelangelo Action. Originally entitled Imagine… Alan Yentob on Michelangelo, but then it turned out that nobody could quite manage to.
Wildlife on One Action. Involves footage of the Queen being mounted by a wildebeest. Controversy strikes the BBC when it turns out that the Queen didn't walk out of the room when the wildebeest attempted anal penetration (as the trailer suggests), but stayed exactly where she was, with all the decorum one would naturally expect. The controller of BBC1 ultimately has to resign, for some reason.
Portillo on Thatcher Action. Not a ratings-winner, as thousands of potential viewers wilfully gouge out their own eyes with dessert spoons just a few days before transmission, to avoid the possibility of accidentally seeing a few seconds of it.
(Portillo on Thatcher: The Lady's Not for Spurning is at 23:20 on BBC2, Wednesday. Be out. Be very out.)
Friday, 23 January 2009
This Sunday, BBC4 celebrates 150 years of evolutionary science in What Darwin Didn't Know: a programme with a huge amount of ground to cover, as it turns out that there were a quite a lot of things he didn't know. Here are twenty of them.
1. That time he wet the bed when he was eleven, and his parents made him wear towelling for the next two months, leading to a lifelong sense of insecurity and a pathological doubt as to his own nature…? It wasn't really him that did it. It was his older brother, Piss-Pants Darwin.
2. The girl who worked in the tobacconists' shop down the road from his house had a thing for hairy men with big foreheads, and would've been up for it like a shot if he'd just asked.
3. Noted biologist and natural historian Thomas Huxley (1825-1895) used to make "wanker" signs behind his back.
4. The words to "Groove is in the Heart".
5. The duck-billed platypus was only invented by God in 1870, in a last-ditch effort to throw him off the scent.
6. The turtles of the Galapagos islands thought he was a bit of a tit.
7. The term "Natural Selection" was coined long before the publication of The Origin of Species, and was originally the name of a luxury chocolate assortment from Cadbury's.
8. I had his mum. She was a slag.
9. Human beings share nine-tenths of their genetic material with roll-on deodorants.
10. Whether he liked Marmite or not.
11. Though his work would revolutionise our understanding of genetics, and establish the concept of evolution as an alternative to catastrophism in numerous other fields, it would also be responsible for an estimated 84% of Richard Dawkins' smugness.
12. All living things are descended from the arse.
13. That collar with those sideburns…? Really not working.
14. His publisher used to draw huge willies in the margins of his draft manuscripts, just for the Hell of it.
15. The way to San Jose.
16. While he was asleep, gnomes used to creep into his bedroom and ski on his face.
17. How to shave.
18. That he was destined to be beaten in the BBC's Greatest Britons poll by Princess Diana, for f***'s sake.
19. Whether that dream he had about the Lancashire cricket side made him actually, properly gay, or maybe just a bit gay.
20. In the first draft of the Dr No screenplay, Dr No was a monkey.
Friday, 9 January 2009
This Wednesday, BBC4 will be screening Seven Photographs That Changed Fashion, in which celebrity photographer Rankin selects the defining images of the twentieth century and explores their impact on our perception of the modern world. However, this is the BBC's second attempt at making the programme, and the original version is unlikely to be broadcast: the producers now admit that their first choice of presenter, a heterosexual British male who grew up in the 1970s, was "ill-equipped" to make a documentary about fashion history. The Randomness Times now presents this individual's original seven selections, which tell the story of the last thirty years of haute couture from a quite distinct perspective...
__________________________________________________________ 1977: Invention of the Hoodie. A generation of young men learn the rudiments of style, and the importance of being properly-dressed, by taking the cloak off the action figure and then losing it. The action figure looks rubbish afterwards. __________________________________________________________ 1982: Peter Davison pioneers "celery bling". __________________________________________________________ 1986: After seeing Amadeus, fourteen-year-old boys across the nation take a sudden and commendable interest in the history of women's fashion. The big talking-point this season is whether Dawn Clarke from Form 5C might be able to achieve a similar look by stretching the top of her games kit really, really tight. __________________________________________________________ 1991: The unchallenged fashion icon of the age, and the paragon of modern sensuality, is the girl in the leotard who throws her head back and waves her pom-poms around in the "Smells Like Teen Spirit" video. Screencaps of this are rare, however, so here we present a reconstruction. __________________________________________________________ 1992: As those young men who grew up in the 1970s finally reach adulthood, the KLF's casual elegance seems to express something quite profound about the nature of masculinity. __________________________________________________________ 1996: Style is redefined when a man in Oxfam clothes wiggles his arse at Michael Jackson. All human culture revolves around this moment. __________________________________________________________ 2009: In an era when "gangsta rap" has become so familiar as to appear mainstream, the new wave of pseudo-criminal chic encapsulates the three most critical aspects of fashion: simplicity, functionality, and exchangeable hats. Denmark instantly becomes the most fashionable country in Europe. __________________________________________________________