Archive for September, 2005

TV-Ridden Ravings II

Of all the ads for get-back-to-work-goddammit-your-employer-isn’t-happy products, the most obnoxious have to be the ones for Berocca. That Berocca sounds a bit like ‘Baracus’ is unlikely to be mere coincidence.

The manly and clean-cut protagonist of the TV ad takes his medicine to counter the emasculating effects of illness, or perhaps hangovers. A triumphant and energetic return to work in the office dispels doubts about his masculinity.

Being a man, then, depends on your capacity to meet the needs of your employer. In these ads, illness acquires significance through its relation to work. You are not simply ill, run-down or hungover: you are unable to produce, and because you are unable to produce, you are not a man.

This theme is apparently subverted by another TV ad for one of those vile-tasting instant soup products that taste like reheated dishwater. In the ad, the hero takes his masculine assertiveness to goofy extremes, as a means of disguising the fact that he is utterly indolent.

As the camera follows the protagonist around the chaotic office, the viewer is allowed a glimpse of a tantalising reality: office work is an absurd charade, but you’re in on the joke. Naturally, this complicity has a price. Masculinity, along with the magical vision needed to perceive the reality of the office, is conferred only by drinking cup-a-soups.

In reality, there is not much difference between the two ads. Both propose medication as a means of dealing with the sublime misery of the office. The principal difference is in the choice of substance: a sickly orange fizz, or a hot lumpy sludge.

Christ, two Lemsips and I’ve turned into a limp-wristed Media Studies student.

Young, Dumb and Full of Lists

The ageing rock dinosaur in me enjoyed this brief interview with Neil Young, one of the more unknowable personalities in rock music. Anyway, in tribute, here’s a spontaneous Neil Young Top 10:

1. The Needle and The Damage Done
2. Ambulance Blues
3. A Man Needs A Maid
4. Revolution Blues
5. Only Love Can Break Your Heart
6. Ohio
7. Tired Eyes
8. Southern Man
9. Like A Hurricane
10. Cowgirl In The Sand

As Young-o-philes might note, I’m a bit of a traditionalist. No Sleeps with Angels, Trans or shite Pearl Jam collaborations for me, no sir.

TV-Ridden Ravings

Alas, infirmity leaves my nose and my blogging clogged. This month has gone the way of all Septembers in the last decade or so, in that I have caught a rather snuffly cold.

Looks like fortifying myself with that L Casei Imunitass stuff for the last month didn’t do a whole pile of good. And here was me thinking it was going to provide an invisible force-field against disease.

Anyway, debilitated and unable to continue with my punishing fitness regime, I have spent a lot of time watching telly. It seemed like the decent thing to do, after receiving notice the other day that my TV licence had been renewed, to the tune of 150 Euro.

Last night I turned on the state broadcaster and Fair City was on RTE1 and a twenty-year-old programme on the art of book binding was on RTE2.

I have no real objection to paying for a crappy soap, but it feels unfair to be paying for something already paid for by people 20 years ago, many of whom are now dead, perhaps from the excruciating boredom that comes from trying to get your money’s worth from RTE.

Non-advertisement TV programming is eating itself. The other night there was a rather grand and fawning retrospective on Gay Byrne. It talked about how great Gay Byrne was, in terms that sometimes seemed like a justification for making a programme about him.

I am now funding TV programmes about the importance of TV programmes and their personalities, and paying to hear talking heads like Ryan Tubridy (whose granda or someone was in RTE) reminisce about what life was like when Gay Byrne was on the radio – the smell and cabbage and suchlike.

Take away the hagiographies, the absurd lifestyle/makeover shows, the soaps you can watch on BBC and ITV anyway, the endless recycling of archive coverage and what are you left with?

Well, there was an hour long drama about some young buck who was having a drug-fuelled affair with the local guard’s frisky wife. I’m not fond of making similes by introducing drugs into the equation (e.g. ‘it sounded like Englebert Humperdinck on acid’), but this was Fair City Nights on poppers.

Why do the docile masses put up with this dung? Will Rip-Off Republic ever turn the camera on itself and reveal one of biggest rip-offs of them all?

Still, there’s always the ads. On one of the not-paid-for channels, there was another celebration of the greatest ads ever. Why? Because ads are IMPORTANT. It’s GOOD to watch them, Chris Tarrant tells us without any hint of irony, because they can provide us with some of TV’s greatest moments of comedy, art and innovation.

Watching this stuff requires something a lot stronger than Lemsip.

Intelligent Design?

This morning I had a conversation with a Jabberwacky. Here is a transcript of the conversation. His words are in italics.

Is it raining outside?
Here it is raining cats and dogs.
What is the ratio of cats to dogs?
I have no clue.
Which do you prefer, cats or dogs?
Who do you prefer, Americans or Iraqis?
Hmm…. Britney if I have to choose.
Protestant or Catholic?
Yes – I go to Mass every Sunday.
Can Coca-Cola be transubstantiated into the blood of Christ?
Yes they can.
What do you like most about Jesus Christ?
The fact that I don’t have to go.
To Mass?
Are you being deliberately obtuse?
Obtuse ? And that means what?
Never mind. Are you a capitalist?
I’m not sure. Are you?
No. Do you believe in free markets?
Yes, but I think it’s better to pay a Solicitor and have one made up properly.
I see. What things do you dislike?
About deep things.
Do you like Samuel Beckett?
Who are they?
Never mind. I am depressed.
How are you depressed?
Because talking to you is very similar to talking to a real person.
I am afraid I must leave.
Yes, I must be going too.
You do seem to be speaking gibberish.
Didn’t you say that you must leave?
No, someone else said that.

Verdict: Marginally better than discussing the pros and cons of a United Ireland.

Ignorance Is Bliss

Blogging conventions for expressing indignation demand that I place outrageous events in some sort of wider context, preferably to coincide with my own political hobby-horses. But what can be said about this sort of thing?

What manner of ignorant fool threatens and disrupts the life of a school with bomb hoaxes? Flogging’s too good for ‘em etc….

On a lighter note, any school will always have polluters and irritants in its student body. A man in a pub once told me a story about his school in Co. Tyrone, where one individual went under the nom-de-plume ‘The Phantom Shitter’. Perhaps inspired in part by the old Two Ronnies sketch ‘The Phantom Raspberry Blower of Old London Town’, this shadowy character would sneak into classrooms at break-time, commit his foul deed and sign ‘The Phantom Shitter strikes again!’ on the blackboard.

Tennents, Text and Tamagotchis

If there were a list of rules for blogging, number one would be: don’t drink and blog. The witty and urbane raconteur in the pub after 4 pints and a Beefeater and tonic risks becoming an incomprehensible bore if he chooses to return to his lodgings and start tapping out unfettered thoughts on his textual tamagotchi.

With this in mind (but not for long), here, for your delectation, is a brief catalogue of the issues covered in tonight’s talkativeness

1. Intelligent design (where did you get dem bones?)
2. The volume of Lithuanian workers in County Armagh.
3. Turkish-German Crackheads in Oslo
4. Drug dealers from Egypt who pull Bowie knives in discos.
5. Acute pancreatitis (no, don’t worry, I feel fine)
6. James Blunt (my mother knows he was in the Army, even though her general knowledge of popular musical biography is very limited. Has the Iraq war aided sales of his records? At any rate, his music is truly vile.)
7. Why we hate John Terry
8. The mutation of Jefferson Airplane into Starship
9. The cheap potency of Bon Jovi
10. Consanguinuity and its discontents
11. Why it would be unreasonable to think that JFK’s assassination was anything other than the result of a conspiracy
12. Spongebob and Sparepants
13. The number of people left in the world with the surname ‘Hitler’
14. Gabriel Heinze’s anterior cruciate ligament
15. Maddox
16. The price of beer, and why it has nothing to do with alcoholism
17. The fish called Marlin
18. Last night’s Ulster Orchestra concert in the Waterfront Hall
19. Churchill, Roosevelt and Stalin, and why sitting outside in winter drinking under the cover of reindeer hide blankets is a top idea.
20. Trilby Hats and their origin. (Read Author, Author by David Lodge for more)
21. Shaun of the Dead, and especially the scene where the assembled zombie hordes crowd round the bar, arms outstretched, moaning and wailing. From what was seen tonight, life imitates art.
22. The complicity of well-known corporations in incinerating innocents
23. Navan Fort, Cuchulainn and Buckfast
24. The price of beer in Northern Ireland (again)
25. The awfulness of Bette Davis Eyes

Gerry Fitt

I found an interesting counterpoint to the empty posturing of the Hitchens-Galloway encounter in last night’s BBC1 programme of Gerry Fitt.

By the time I had any knowledge of politics beyond being able to identify Maggie Thatcher the Milk Snatcher, Gerry Fitt had already lost his Westminster seat to Gerry Adams. To be honest, if a month ago you had shown me a photo of him I wouldn’t have recognised him. I had, however, listened to the godawful Spitting Politics tapes that used to circulate some years back, so when I watched last night’s programme I was able to judge the accuracy of the impersonation. From reading the numerous obituaries, I was also able to understand the references to gin contained in the tapes.

One television programme and a couple of obituaries are hardly enough to form a fair idea of the man. But from listening to the interviews, I was struck by how his speech and manner – not only his accent, but how he talked about Northern Ireland politics – were far removed from the polish applied by most Northern politicians today.

One of the contributors remarked how Fitt used the presence of television cameramen at civil rights demonstrations to highlight to the wider world the injustices that beset Catholics in Northern Ireland. Another scene featured him showing his coat that had been stained in blood at one of these demonstrations, as a memento of the brutality that had been displayed.

Yet despite these examples of his willingness to use the media, from what I could observe there was an openness, perhaps verging on naivety, in how he allowed himself to be captured on camera. This was in contrast with Ian Paisley, who has always seemed to have a natural flair for public appearance and spectacle.

There are surely few politicians nowadays who would allow themselves to be photographed, as he was, standing alone, with his briefcase in the living room his burnt out home. Contemporary politicians, would be aware of the angle, the light, and of what the image could mean to the public. The photograph, stark and desolate, appeared to say something deeper about the man’s political position.

Similarly, contemporary politicians would be wary about taking out clothes caked in blood from years back to put on display. No-one likes being associated with blood these days. Besides, the cut of a suit from 1983 could look rather dated in 2005. Among other things, it would mean you had a past. It was particularly poignant, then, to hear him talk about how those who had burnt out his house had gone through his wedding photographs and ripped them one by one. It seemed to me to symbolise how the Northern conflict had effaced so much personal history.

Slug Fest

The prominence given to the absurd Hitchens-Galloway debate is embarrassing, to say the least. (So why are you writing about it then? – imaginary ed)

If all that is at stake is a Blur vs. Oasis-style expression of preference, then I pick Hitchens, purely on the grounds that he is on occasion an entertaining writer, and I deplored Galloway’s crass moralising about the former’s drinking. As a rule, I can trust a man who doesn’t drink, but I can’t trust a man who never stops referring to the fact that he doesn’t drink. Also I pity Hitchens, because anyone who puts himself at the service of so many masters is doomed to a ridiculous end. In sum, though, I find both personalities almost equally objectionable.

The ‘debate’ is just another media event, in which the supposed subject – ‘The war in Iraq was necessary and just’, by the way – was of far lesser import than the slavish fascination surrounding the two men and their quixotic trajectories. Oh, and George Galloway is on a book tour.

Gary Younge is right to observe that:

when historians come to judge Wednesday’s event the first question they might ask is why in a city the size of New York, two British polemicists were needed to conduct it.

In the size of New York, yes, but also about a country the size of Iraq, full of Iraqis who can speak for themselves. The most hyped debate for some time about the Iraq war is one with no Iraqis. Spiffing.

A Nick and a Promise

Today’s Guardian (yes, I know, I’ll stop soon, I promise) homepage advertises Nicky Cambpell’s piece on the Ashes as follows:

Nicky Campbell: The Ashes made me stop hating England.

Can anyone suggest anything to make me stop hating Nicky Campbell?

The Petrol Bomb of History

If there is one thing the Love Ulster episode and loyalist riots have managed to bring to the fore, it is the idea of a United Ireland.

The riots have caught the eye of the ever-readable Max Hastings, who sees unification as inevitable:

‘Today, the position is transformed. Northern Ireland has nothing to lose but its subsidies, while the south is rich and successful. No constituency which gives its political support to such a leader as Paisley possesses a plausible vision of its own future. We are witnessing the last writhings of a society left beached by the march of history.

When unification comes, Northern Ireland’s Protestants may be amazed by the wealth and happiness which accrue to their children, once they shed the baggage of Cromwell as icon, the Orange Order, mafia rule and institutionalised bigotry. I was wrong about the proximity of Irish peace in December 1969. But in September 2005, it seems closer than the petrol bombers might make us suppose.’

The whole article is well worth reading, if only for an informed English perspective on Northern Ireland Protestants. If this is what Max Hastings thinks, would many in the British establishment disagree?

For related reading, see Big Ulsterman’s post and the ensuing post and discussion on the NI Magyar..

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September 2005
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