Friday, 23 October 2009

Birds in flight? More like circling vultures. Losing our sense of reason in the Twittersphere

What happens in Vegas stays in Vegas. If only the same were true of Twitter. The day after Stephen Fry threatens to quit microblogging over its horrid tendencies and it's front page news in the Sunday Times. Then, on page 18 there's a separate essay about Twitter's mob mentality in the wake of baboon boy AA Gill and the questionable Jan Moir. As Telegraph's tech blog points out, the Times was not alone. Ever since Mr Fry got stuck in a lift and became the poster gent for 140 character missives, papers have taken every opportunity to publish goings on in Twitsville as news. It's a faltering bid to remain relevant in the digital maelstrom. Yet it's too late - indeed the very reason there's an unruly mob to document is because the Twitterati have already left the quaint world of newspapers far behind.

Twitter appeals because it's a hyper-personal news feed - block out what you don't care for, be it sport, private finance or Demi Moore's knickers, focus on what interests you. Newspapers, however myopic, always force your eyes over subjects beyond your interest. By their format, it's hard to escape alternative opinions and serendipitous insights. Over on Twitter, at times you'd be forgiven for thinking the sole occupation of a gifted mind should be X Factor dissection and Daily Mail baiting.

Such narrowed focus breeds second hand information and re-tweeted disgust. Why read into a subject when your trusted sources have distilled the party line so succinctly? Yet the angry mob's torches don't spontaneously combust; someone needs to drop a match. This task falls to prolific Tweeters like @BadJournalism and @glinner, who deliver edicts on matters of the day to an army of yes men. Variously commentators, comedians and writers, these ringleaders find Twitter fertile territory for the volatile ego and childlike insecurity that define their profession.

It's a precarious position; the only thing more powerful than having 150,000 people validating your outrage is having one person calling you a dick. According to Grace Dent 'what no-body seems to have mentioned in this whole Fry thing is @ing someone's name when slagging them off is twat behaviour. why do it?'. Because to incubate people from negative feedback or conflicting ideas is to stifle debate and make pampered fools of us all. Stephen Fry's bipolar condition makes the situation complicated, but other eminent Twitterati have no excuse. The online world isn't a nice one - much like the real one - we can't just edit it like Twitter Lists. I used to follow Jon Ronson and, after my newsfeed had (again) become jammed with his musings, I suggested that he was tweeting too hard and that he should turn down 'Radio Me' a notch. So he blocked me.

We have a valuable tool for spreading truth, joy and justice in Twitter, yet to achieve this its community need to remain flexible in their outlook and remember that other news sources (and opinions) are available.

Thursday, 20 August 2009

Thelondonpaper closes, hang fire on the champagne

I wrote a blog about the demise of thelondonpaper and posted it on Time Out's Big Smoke section - but in the interests of *ever* updating this page, I figured I should at least mention it here...

Saturday, 11 July 2009

Prima Donna indeed: Rufus Wainwright reminds us that great musicians really, really care

I don't know much about opera, but I know that only Rufus Wainwright could entice a crowd of genre virigins to a French language debut - and leave them whooping in the aisles. Witnessing the triumphant premiere of his opera 'Prima Donna' last night he emerged the unflappable renaissance man, sprinkling splendour wherever he goes.

Wainwright's genius lies in enchanting songwriting, delivering performances that can make you smile and break your heart. Prima Donna transferred his effortless grace and immodest grandeur piece-by-piece to the opera and answered his decree that someone needed to 'bring the tunes back'.

Not only do admire his balls for making such a bold foray into unchartered waters - risking a libretto of tutting from the critics - but what his show does is to enlighten music fans of all persuasions.

The premise - an opera about an opera singer - had the deconstructive, post-modern wink of an outsider. To tackle the life-affirming - yet painful - synchroncity between an artist's craft and their identity is something of a musicians in-joke. It was, as is befitting of Rufus, a vanity project in the extreme. It was also its definitive strength.

Our cultural obsession with music has left us deadened to the flicker of a tortured genius. When everyone can audition to be a star, the majority of musicians are dispassionate and expectant. From pop to rock banality yawns out a limp embrace.

For all the warbling, simpering and weeping crocodile tears on 'X Factor', no one believes Alexandra Burke would be driven to insanity if she lost her voice. She'd probably carve out an equally fulfilling career breeding kittens.

'Prima Donna' reunites a pop-savvy crowd with the notion a musician lives and dies by their art. That Wainwright has relayed this message in a medium out of step with mainstream music allows it a critical distance. It also sprays an insouciant fragrance into the haughty musk of its host genre. It shows both opera and pop what it's been missing - and confirms Rufus Wainwright as the prima donna standard for which all musicians should strive.

Saturday, 27 June 2009

Happiness in Magazines - or not

It takes a lot to get hair as pink and blonde as mine: four hours of a hairdresser (two at some stages) dividing, bleaching, washing, dividing, pink-ing, washing, snipping, cutting, drying, straightening, snipping again. The extensive time spent in a context so focused on image makes it impossible for girl not to consider femininity - especially given the reading material on offer. Each appointment is a rare opportunity to run the gamut of glossy magazines with impunity; each one proffering tropes of womanhood - none of which remotely appeal.

So which kind of lady could I be?

Now, I could be the sort of girl I am and take the Guardian, but the kind of girl I am also feels embarrased about waving my liberal zine around in there. There's something about spending silly money on silly hair that doesn't quite square with Iranian protest updates.

Today my random selection featured Vogue (scary), Tatler (foie gras for the soul) and OK! (unsettling).

OK! No
I've always consoled myself with the notion that no one reads 'sleb magazines seriously, but curiously OK! still manages to take itself seriously. Like Tatler, it's in the thrall of awful rich people, albeit at opposite ends of an alleged 'class' spectrum. My copy was a few weeks old - comparing Kerry Katona and Katie Price's respective falls from grace - what will the future hold for them? Price has always been the worst kind of woman and is a vicious empty vessel ('I should have trapped him with a baby' screamed a recent Closer front page), while Katona is more troubling - you believe her damage is real. One uses bawdy sexuality as empowerment, the other is helplessly subjugated by the nasty piece of work she married. Both are independently wealthy, though this brings about a marked contrast in their situations - Price has a license to behave how she pleases, for Katona it's just another way she is robbed of personal resources by her husband.

A few pages on we get Chantelle Houghton, who is now boasting curves after a too-skinny phase. This modicum of willful, classic womanliness wrestles with routine WAG-tastic modern standards for relationships, informing insights like: 'If a woman could describe her perfect man they'd say they were looking for someone who was caring, thoughtful and someone who would put up with a lot of shit. So Peter Andre then.'

The repellent nature of the Jordan-Chantelle model must be to do with the way they tell 'em, because when Rufus Wainwright talks about prima donnas in Vogue it sounds classy, passionate and inspiring. Funny how different things sound when they come from someone with talent. Meanwhile, Alexa Chung posits another alternative to the up-skirt route to self-definition when she tells us how she hearts the tomboy look. 'It's far classier to showcase your personality than your cup size' she says, underwriting said personality with the aphorism 'I don't care what anyone thinks' while holding down a career that reeks of kitten farts. Alexa could've learned a lot from Florence Welch, whose wardrobe we plunder in the next feature. Channeling vintage, silliness and eccentricity, her outfits convey 'I don't care' by wearing it rather than saying it. Though admittedly, it's the difference between a Dan Brown novel and a Julie Burchill column.

I left Tatler 'til last, and didn't finish it. After 26 pages of adverts you're plunged into fawning accounts of gratuitous displays of wealth enacted by dead-eyed heiresses. The humbling of this scene was one of the few positive effects of economic collapse and it seems they've got over it now.

Now I'm not trying to say all women are scheming, squealing or stupid. That's almost certainly not true. It's just a shame they don't have decent magazines in hairdressers.

Thursday, 22 January 2009

That’s out of my remit, guv - the curious definitions of public service

Nothing stirs the intrigue of media braying fraternity quite like a debate about public service broadcasting, so the past few days of navel gazing have proved a Class A stimulus. Yesterday's cliffhanger delivery of the Ofcom report on the matter even caused the Today programme to draw breath from it's long financial yawn and talk about it twice in one show - a public service in itself. The main thing that struck me though was the implied technical disparity between public service and commercial output. It's as if what's popular can't be useful, or that what is enriching can't be entertaining.

Whether C4 join forces with BBC Worldwide or Five seems to represent both halves of the debate - whether your output is populist or enriching defines how you're perceived. It's not a question of whether you can be both - as BBC, ITV and C4 all prove is possible - but it's why the two terms are treated as mutually exclusive. C4’s recent Sex Education project is a case in point - provocative as well as worthy it was hailed as a classic example of their unique take on the public service remit. A cross-platform box-ticker too, the producers proudly claim that the site got over 3 million views (though with a domain name like a premium chatline - - it would be hard-pushed not to. I imagine most of those who clicked through from Google were probably disappointed by the array of flaccid anatomical analysis and cringy videos of pensioners talking about dildos). It may have been educational and controversial but it was also massively popular and, judging by the volume of engagement, pretty valuable. For those of us with minds in the gutter it provided hours of amusement too - I made a sniggering bee-line for this video:

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It's significant that this whole debate is really hotting up due to the pluralistic, digital age as it is the internet that proves how out-moded the public service versus commercial debate is. A trawl through the lawless, gratis world of online content reveals the realistic pattern of people's tastes - it's innovative, porny, disgusting, intelligent, and mindless in equal measure. Given the freedom to choose people want to consume pretty much everything - simultaneously. Producers make it because people want it. Rather than quibble over who is responsible for what I suggest what should actually be merged are the terms 'public service' and 'commercial'. Then broadcasters can focus on producing simply great programming that sates our kaleidoscopic, voracious desires.