Archive for August, 2005

Symbology And Codology

A few days ago I attacked ironing as a tyrannical waste of time. Yet even the hours spent ironing may have been of some use: I cannot ignore the possibility that my crisply pressed shirts may have been decisive at some pivotal moment in my life.

I can find no such rationalisation for the hours spent reading the Da Vinci Code. It was easily the worst book I have ever read, by a country mile.

The ‘controversies’ (you know the ones – the Catholic church wanted it banned; Opus Dei were planning to have the author assassinated; it almost a mass suicide among the Knights Of Columbanus) generated by the book, or perhaps more accurately, by its promoters, have continued with the filming, with the obligatory nun turning up to object to its filming at Lincoln Cathedral.

Please Give Generously

Perhaps timed deliberately so as to coincide with the ‘Ian Beale reverses his vasectomy’ storyline in Eastenders, BBC News presenter Michael Buerk has claimed that men these days are ‘unemployable sperm donors’.

He said:

“Men gauge themselves in terms of their career, but many of those have disappeared. All they are is sperm donors, and most women aren’t going to want an unemployable sperm donor loafing around and making the house look untidy. They are choosing not to have a male in the household.”

Still, there’s always the weblog to keep ’em busy, what?

Pelvis Pensées

Such are the depths of my present slump that I’ve had to resort to On This Day.. style commentary. On this day in 1977, Elvis Presley died, in a manner fit for a king: on the throne. Or didn’t die, depending on your religious beliefs.

Elvis was one of those famous people – others included John Wayne and Alfred Hitchcock – who I learned was dead some time after I learned who he was.

Almost completely unrelated, is it normal to only be able to curl your lip on one side of your face?

And what is Frank Chisum doing these days?

Explosive Headlines

One of the small pleasures in the course of my daily wage slavery is scanning the front pages of the newspapers as I leave the train station each morning. Today the standout headline was the Irish Mirror’s warning that Ireland Will Be BOMBED.

(I can’t recall the exact headline, but I do remember seeing BOMBED there or thereabouts)

Scanning the front page while simultaneously dodging bleary-eyed suits grabbing the Indo, I was able to discern that it cites Anjem Choudhury, Omar Bakri Mohammed’s ‘spokesman in the UK’ (The Sun). Apparently he says that Ireland’s links to the US such as allowing warplanes to land at Shannon leave it open to attacks.

As I commented the other day on another site, this Omar Bakri Mohammed character seems a hybrid of Osama Bin Laden and Eddie The Eagle, equal parts bogeyman and buffoon.

Jon Ronson had a grimly hilarious piece on Omar Bakri Mohammed in yesterday’s Guardian:

‘I spent a year with Omar back in 1996, just as he was beginning his campaign to overthrow democracy and hoist the Black Flag of Islam over Downing Street. On our first day together he needed to get leaflets printed – Islam Is The Future of Britain and Homosexuality: The Deadly Disease. He chose Office World because of their special Price Promise.

“If you find a photocopying service that’s cheaper,” explained Omar on the way, “then Office World will give you a discount. Oh yes. I benefit from your capitalism to convey the message.”‘


‘Another Rally of Hate – outside the Israeli embassy – was cancelled because Omar accidentally gave his followers the wrong address. He explained to me that when he telephoned directory enquiries, they deliberately gave him a false address in Knightsbridge. By the time Omar discovered the correct address it was too late. Many of his followers were already on their way and they didn’t have mobile phones. This, Omar said, was proof that Scotland Yard’s Muslim monitoring unit was in league with British Telecom’s directory enquiries service.’

Of course, this is hardly reason to take the words of his ‘spokesman’ any less seriously, is it?

Is it?

Plucking Up the Motivation.

Still no word on an end to this here semi-blockage. Getting back in the saddle right and proper has been doubly difficult since receiving the present of the entire back catalogue of the ludicrously talented Camarón de la Isla. So I spent the last few days growing my fingernails and playing some very intricate flamenco air guitar. The voice could be a bit toughter to emulate though.

We Have Ways Of Making You Think*

Please sir I left my blogging fingers at home.

As my own computer is banjaxed and I have been working with a loaned one for the past few days, I have found that my blogging muse, or my blo-jo, has deserted me. I feel like a blogging Samson after a number one all over.

Yesterday I wondered how I could find inspiration. William Blake’s ‘To see a World in a Grain of Sand/And a Heaven in a Wild Flower/Hold Infinity in the palm of your hand/And Eternity in an hour’ came to mind, and seemed like a good starting point, but I subsequently found myself preparing to write a rather nasty denunciation of the blurb on the side of a box of Lyons Relax Tea.

But being bombarded with product messages makes me nauseous. Confronted with a piece of text, I feel compelled to read it. And once I read it, I can’t ignore it, or stop thinking about what it can mean just like that. I suppose that is part of how advertising works.

This morning I saw a couple of billboards for a certain Irish mobile phone company that played with the phrase ‘we have ways of making you talk/text’. It is unlikely that the people involved in using this phrase as part of advertising campaign were not aware of its connotations in wider culture. They are paid to know these things.

I am not sure where the phrase originates, but when I imagine hearing it spoken, it is with a slightly camp German accent. Just as James Cagney apparently never said ‘you dirty rat’ in any of his films, these words may never have been spoken in the course of a Nazi torture scene in a Hollywood film, let alone during a real interrogation involving torture.

(That said, there has surely been enough torture performed on people during the last fifty years that we can reasonably assume that it has been said under such circumstances at least once.)

I am no expert on the subconscious, but I imagine that at this level, the ironic delivery (one poster juxtaposes the notice with the sympathetic image of a mime artist holding up a flower) of the message gets lost. The basic message of the advertisement becomes a plainly coercive one i.e. sign up or we crypto-Nazis will torture you. The allure of the ad must also be grounded in its appeal to the reader’s worldliness: spotting the cultural reference saves you from the possibility that the torture is real.

Of course when you have to contend with messages like these every morning, the torture involved, albeit minimal, is still real.

* stolen from Herman Loves Pauline by the Super Furry Animals.

Blairing The Lines

One secular version of What Would Jesus Do? is What Would Orwell Say?

While I admire Orwell as a writer greatly, I tire of the way his writing is fetishised by others, as if he were the definitive authority on matters moral and political. As I predicted a few weeks ago, there appears to be a bit of an Orwell revival in the light of the London bombings.

Such is his influence these days that the exercise of divining what Orwell would have to say on a given subject – terrorism, Islam, ‘Britishness’ – has perhaps become become part of a ‘smelly little orthodoxy’ in its own right.

George Monbiot’s piece in today’s Guardian addresses Orwell’s influence on how we think about patriotism, and tries to place his writing in a historical context:

How, for that matter, do you distinguish (patriotism) from racism?
This is the point at which every right-thinking person in Britain scrambles for his Orwell. Did not the sage assert that “patriotism has nothing to do with conservatism”, and complain that “England is perhaps the only great country whose intellectuals are ashamed of their own nationality”? He did. But he wrote this during the second world war. There was no question that we had a duty to fight Hitler and, in so doing, to take sides. And the sides were organised along national lines. If you failed to support Britain, you were assisting the enemy. But today the people trying to kill us are British citizens. They are divided from most of those who live here by ideology, not nationality. To the extent that the invasion of Iraq motivated the terrorists, and patriotism made Britain’s participation in the invasion possible, it was patriotism that got us into this mess.

His own conclusion is that:

To become a patriot is to lie to yourself, to tell yourself that whatever good you might perceive abroad, your own country is, on balance, better than the others. It is impossible to reconcile this with either the evidence of your own eyes or a belief in the equality of humankind

Unless you’re Irish, that is.

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August 2005
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