Sunday, September 09, 2007

Nothing Has Been Happening!

And wow, before you know it well over a month has passed and not a word written. August, I suppose, flew past in a blur of commuting and working, with a splash of big nights out thrown in, but not a lot else. This at least meant I scarcely noticed the lack of decent weather. My housemates remain… challenging, but my apathy towards them shields me from their peculiar ways (they did, however, manage to drive the new housemate out with what I found to be astonishing speed). After a period of effort, I have now managed to cultivate a ‘do not disturb’ aura around myself, making it clear I am not to be drawn into any bathroom or lavatory political issues, assimilating myself with the indifferent atmosphere I failed to detect when I first looked round. Were they only more annoying and less listless I could share more, but an indifferent housing situation is perhaps better for the mind than it is for the blog. I can do better than one post every six weeks though, and I will.

Any questions?


Dancinfairy said...

Why do they not make good cartoons like they used to?

Shane said...

Next weekend, me and my pal Redders (male, 30ish, universally undiscerning) will go to one of the following football matches:-

Macclesfield v Wycombe
Stafford Rangers v Grays Athletic

Instinctively, which do you feel we should choose?

Huw said...

Dancinfairy: I don't necessarily prescribe to the idea that things were necessarily better in the old days. I saw an episode of He-Man frpm the 1980s recently, and it was shit. Either way, I think the past always has an advantage over the present in these comparisons as there is more of it: to compare current cartoons to older ones, you are comparing 1 to 3 years' worth of output against 70 years' worth. There's bound to be more good stuff in the larger sample.

Shane: I'd go to Macclesfield for the chance of seeing Paul Lambert in the flesh.

Nothing Is Clicking said...

Why does someone who has never met you sometimes read your blog?

Huw said...

NiC: I guess if I haven't met you, there's less chance for you to chance by and find me bitching about you..? But I do it too. In some cases, I've been doing it for years.

Chris said...

If you could erase one celebrity (not a political or historical figure) from history, who would it be and why?

What are Britain's greatest culinary achievements?

Huw said...


Answer 1 (to Question 2)

I think one of Britain’s greatest culinary achievements is that of its ability to adopt, absorb and adapt the culinary practices and flavours of other cultures, in many cases one of the really positive legacies of Empire. Whilst British cuisine as a unique entity might not win many plaudits, its present day spectrum of influences and borrowings is an illustration of globalisation in action. I’m not just talking about the oft cited chicken tikka massala (a Glaswegian adaptation I believe), but also the more everyday mainstays such as potatoes, tomatoes, sugar and the good old cup of tea. Mmmmm... Food miles.

But the single achievement I think I will plump for is one which also has it’s origin in this soaking up of worldwide produce, and it’s the British style of milk chocolate. There’s something about adding vegetable fat at the expense of 100% cocoa butter together with fewer stabilizers that’s a winner, and it makes it cheaper too. Compare a square of Cadburys Dairy Milk to a square of Hersheys: regardless of your preference, the difference is striking as the British variety melts that bit quicker and has a slightly less bitter quality. There are those on the continent (the Belgiums especially) who think it is oafish and unsophisticated (enough so to result in a European ban for a long time) but I think the variety makes the chocolate world all the richer.

To prove the point, if you have the opportunity, you can conduct the global Kit Kat challenge. Since its production in York in the 1930s, the humble Kit Kat has become a worldwide favourite. However, it’s often tailored to local tastes, so aside from the British Kit Kat you can also sample subtly different ones from the States, Canada, Western Europe, Australia and Asia. The British one, as I understand it, is the only one made using the British style of milk chocolate, and of the ones I’ve tried I think it comes out on top.

Huw said...

Answer 2 (to Question 1)

Celebrity is not a new concept. Occasionally skilled Roman gladiators and actors would find themselves elevated in society on the basis of their day jobs, whilst those who excelled in the ancient Olympics were treated as heroes for years afterwards. More recently, Nelson and Napoleon were the Beckham and Zidane of their day, household names even beyond their native shores. Shakespeare and Dickens were able to achieve notable fame in their own lifetime even without the mass media (or decent levels of literacy) to help popularise their work. George Washington found himself becoming as much a living embodiment of a nation eager to establish an identity as a statesman.

Society has thus long idolised individuals (I’m sure you could point me towards a Darwinian explanation for this need to rally round someone, Chris), often in the form of representatives of social institutions such as the state, the military, and the church. Where societies enjoyed the shift from being producing societies to consuming ones, and with that enjoyed a greater degree of self confidence, together with increased urbanisation, those idols may shift to industrial figures, novelists and sporting and stage stars.
However, we’ve reached a shift now, whereby people in the public eye don’t seem to need to have any remarkable skills or to have achieved anything seemingly beyond the rest of us. You can be famous just for being a person willing to lead a rather car-crash life in view of everyone else. Film stars may well be ridiculously idolised, but at least they have a trade. The last ten years or so though has seen a new form of celebrity being spawned.

It’s hard to read a newspaper or magazine now, or to surf the internet for a while, without being bombarded with news about who is having a baby with who, who is taking what drugs and drinking which cocktails before crashing their car, who has got skinnier and who has got fatter, who is calling who talentless, who let slip a racist diatribe, who is getting married, who are "just good friends". And the only thing these people do? Generate these same stories, over and over again, so no-one can quite remember where these people appeared from in the first place.

I like celebrities as much as the next person. I’ll read an autobiography of an inspirational musician avidly, I’ll truly lose myself to Scorsese directing a great actor, I’ll bore people with stories about the time I unexpectedly saw a quirky politician in a supermarket. But I really resent the way celebrity culture has come to be dominated by these nobodies, cheapening the whole concept. I hate the way depth and achievement to our public figures is no longer required. If you read the biographies of the most notable people from any period of history, you should get an idea of either the great achievements of the day or an insight into what made people popular to the general public. Should you sample the biographies of some of the world’s most famous faces of today, you probably wouldn’t learn a great deal. The French sociologist Jean Baudrillard identifies our society as fast becoming one increasingly swamped by "simulacra", in which we are surrounded and bombarded by news and images, but none of them have any reference to our lives.

Often the only consistent attribute these people have is that they are attractive. So in modern life are we are eschewing achievement for looks? It’s almost a paradoxical regression: the more we have progressed as a civilisation, where science and technology allows us to break the human being down to its smallest components, the more we are captivated by who people are merely on the surface.

Now, I’m not so na├»ve as to suggest this obsession with celebrity for celebrity’s sake is stopping people from focusing on bigger issues. It’s true that focusing on the marital problems of dancers who mime to pop music instead of considering the problems that effect us all is no good thing, but I don’t buy that removing these celebrities will suddenly have people talking about Darfur, climate change, and corrupt governments. Nonetheless though, I think it is damaging to our culture, and culture is important. Right now, it’s hard to see another De Niro or Springsteen gain recognition. People don’t seem to want them.

We now seem to need and want to have celebrities for the sake of having famous people, irrespective of any talents they do or do not have. Where TV cannot fill the schedule with a celebrity based program, it will create a reality TV show instead, hoping to spawn yet another vapid personality to grace the front pages of our glossy magazines. And, going back to my previous point, you can see how this starting to erode our culture slightly. Documentaries are becoming fewer and far between on our screens, or being put in unfriendly slots in the schedule. Even the factual shows we have now seem to need a ‘personality’ to keep the audience’s attention: Tribe, Ray Mears and Supernanny may be great shows, but now we seemingly need to have a person to be our reference points in these shows, to guide us through them, lest it comes across as education. We’ve reached a stage now where Storyville, responsible for some of the greatest documentaries the BBC has ever been involved in, is about to have more than half of its budget cut, as the BBC looks to chase ratings, perhaps with a show in which former Eastenders actors go head to head with their Coronation Street rivals to learn how to rollerskate to the music of Girls Aloud. What public service remit?

The US is slightly ahead of us on this front. Channels like Discovery and Animal Planet have been created to allow the pursuit of the personality to rush onwards on the mainstream networks with as few interruptions as possible. Michael Moore’s movies and the likes of An Inconvenient Truth are essentially TV documentaries, but have had to look to the film industry in order to be produced. The fact Nick Park’s Ghosts was shot as a film, and thus funded by all sorts of outside influences, suggests things in Britain may be following a similar path.

So – and I was trying to go somewhere with this – I would look to erase a celebrity to whom this obsession with the unworthy could be traced back to. But who is that? Abi Titmuss? Liz Hurley for wearing ‘that’ dress? I honestly couldn’t say. Furthermore, the whole problem I have with these people is that they emerged from nowhere, having achieved nothing. Therefore, by definition, there must be whole armies of nobodies who could effortlessly take their place. And maybe the replacement would go on to make things even worse?

Maybe the media are to blame? Maybe it’s the fault of a newspaper editor who decided that in the absence of any big news, the ex-boyfriend of a famous actress sporting a new tattoo could make the front page? So maybe I’d need to extinguish a media mogul? Or maybe it’s a TV executive who realised that getting nobodies up on screen was a lot cheaper than employing established stars.

I really don’t know who to go for then. Therefore, I think I’ll just go for Prince Harry. That guy is such a twat.

Chris said...

Jesus Tittyfucking Christ. My questions are not just answered, but corked up, wrapped in brown paper and thrown in the Thames. Good call on Prince Hewitt, the triple sin of priviledge, ginger hair and gittishness. I will also attempt the KitKat challenge, though I am of the smug middle class type that thinks our chocolate is inferior to that of northern Europe. Although I agree completely about American chocolate. The absolute worst chocolate I've ever eaten was in the Czech Republic though. It was called 'Wave of Dreams' and it had the texture of stale bacon fat and the taste of chemicals and sugar. My girlfriend insisted that it was lovely, after she had insisted we buy this brand instead of the Dairy Milk in the supermarket, because it was 'local'.