Archive for the ‘TV’ category

Switched On

October 12, 2007


Whenever you watch commercial television, it seems you’re never too far away from some not-very-funny daytime presenters telling you to take the necessary steps to gird yourself against the impending digital revolution.

As you’ll no doubt be aware, the analogue signal is going to be switched off. Just like that. To my mind, it sounds like an act akin to switching off someone’s life support machine. Whump, and they’re gone. The one scrap of comfort is that it’s not happening for a little while, except if you live in Whitehaven, Cumbria (let’s see a show of hands). In Whitehaven, it might have already happened. I would wager that a fair unprepared handful of the Whitehaven population are now wondering why nothing happens when they press their respective On buttons, the poor saps.

Why is this happening? Apparently, it’s because things are going to be digital from now on. In order for the digital signal to have sufficient welly, they have to switch the analogue one off. That’s the long and short of it. This is a weird situation, I think. It’s a bit like someone deciding that oxygen should be removed from the air in order for them to pump something else into it, and that we all need to install synthetic lungs in order to continue existing.

Truth be told, I’m an analogue type of guy struggling to keep abreast in a digital age. But, after a few timely promptings from Mrs H, I realised it was time to get organised in time for The Change.

A Freeview box was an appealing choice, so one sunny afternoon, we acquired one from Curry’s and took it home to make a start on it. Everything was plugged in, but interesting and informative digital programming was far from forthcoming. At some point in the proceedings, I ventured outside and realised that our roof lacks an aerial, and that the cable protruding from our living room wall was simply a dormant piece of Telewest hardware, albeit one which (quite by chance) provided an excellent analogue signal.

After a brief experimentation with an old-style wire loop aerial through which we got one or two channels (which remained on screen only as long as I stood in a very specific spot in the middle of the room) I decided that a second trip to Curry’s might secure us a digital aerial.

Even having acquired and installed one, the much-anticipated torrent of digital goodness remained firmly secured behind some impenetrable technological dam. I made my third pilgrimage to Curry’s in order to return all the hardware in a fit of pique. Actually, I was very polite and sheepish about it.

I have long resisted the option of asking Telewest to provide our telly, since I anticipated inordinate cost, not to mention the social stigma attached to having more than five channels. But with a heavy heart I made the call.

For reasons that were never totally made clear, our cheapest option turned out to be the most abundant. Thus we found ourselves in possession of the mythical, 120-channel ‘XL’ package. We gave it a spin last night, and were most impressed (my own excitement levels were bordering on the inappropriate). Not only can you choose between 120 different programmes currently showing, but you can, at any moment, watch anything that has at any time graced the televisual airwaves. More or less. Imagine my delight to discover that I suddenly had unfettered access to the third series of Father Ted.

So, you’ll understand if the blog is a bit quiet from here on in, although, to be fair, my frequent hiatuses rarely draw much complaint these days. And you’ll also excuse me if I take me leave for the moment: I’m off to watch the latest episode of Dog Borstal, followed by a pentuple bill of Location, Location, Location.


Royal Rumble

July 17, 2007

You’ll have heard the news about the BBC’s latest gaffe? No? Let me outline it in brief. The Beeb are in trouble, because they took some footage of the Queen, edited it in such a way as to suggest that she’d stormed out of a photo-shoot with Annie Leibowitz, then put it on telly.

What amused me about the story is that gaffe like this is unlikely to happen by accident. Therefore, somebody somewhere consciously decided that it would be a good idea to mis-splice the sequence of events in order to convey an undoutedly more interesting, but nonetheless totally different story to that which actually took place. The most bizarre aspect of it all, of course, is that the relevant person or persons did not feel that this was at all dubious (or, presumably, they wouldn’t have done it).

What worries me is that they probably only got found out because the Queen happened to see the trailer. This sort of thing is potentially happening all the time. I wonder how much of what we see on TV has undergone a similar sexing up, and passes through our critical filter and is assimilated into our worldview without setting off any warning alarms?

If incidents like this tell us anything, it’s probably that we should be cautious in believing anything we’re told on TV. That’s because those in the television business are less concerned about the accuracy of your knowledge than with trying to get you to watch their programmes. They would rather entertain you than keep you accurately in the know. If you’re entertained, you’ll come back for more, providing a welcome boost for ratings and salaries. If you’re merely in the know, you’ll likely as not change the channel. Or even stop watching television and go outside. This is why Open University is only ever on at a time when no one watches television. It would never survive alongside more entertaining programmes on the other channels. Sad but true, chum.

Our scepticism about TV should probably extend to other media as well. Newspapers, for example, would sooner tell you something sensational than true. Faked photographs of war crimes in Abu Ghraib? Stick ‘em on the front page! Oops, I’ve been sacked.

Sigh. We can’t rely on TV, newspapers, or anything else to keep us properly informed. There seem to be three options available to us: 1) live a life of total ignorance, 2) believe most of what you’re told, with the caveat that it might all be false, or 3) rely solely on The Hutchison Monologues to keep you up to date. At least with the latter option, you’ll not come across anything misleading about the Queen.


Big Brotha

June 23, 2007


 ‘Afternoon, honkies.

Hope you’re all well today. I wonder whether you might help me to resolve a confusion that has arisen in my mind of late. It’s been festering for quite a while. Not quite keeping me up at night or anything, but festering nonetheless.

I’m sure you’re not watching Big Brother at the moment. I’m not either. I used to be quite into it, back in its fifth iteration, but the novelty (such as it still retained on the 5th time around the track) has now vanished entirely. There’s something about watching roomfuls of people shouting at the same time that just doesn’t do it for me anymore. Which is sad, in a way.

Anyway, just because I’m not tuning in anymore doesn’t mean that I won’t give my tuppence worth when events in the BB house leak over into the news. Which they did, you will recall. Said events happened some time ago now, but are as yet unaddressed ‘Logueswise.

Before we begin in earnest, an experiment. I’d like you to think of the most offensive word you can. Got it? Don’t tell me what it is. Probably best not to say it out loud at all, actually.

As you grew up, you’ll have noticed that swear-words are arranged in an unspoken hierarchy. To the chagrin of the devout, religious swear-words tend to be quite near the bottom. Scatalogical ones come next, followed by the sexual ones at the top of the heap. The structure of this hierarchy has always intrigued me. Give a group of people some swear-words, and they’ll usually rank them in a similar order of offensiveness (seriously, try it) but how did this ever come to pass? Who decides what’s offensive and what isn’t? Let’s think (as I’m sure we all do) about a certain enjoyable interpersonal activity. Why should one word for it be OK, whilst the use of another would lead to a swift ejection from any polite gathering?

The most offensive word I can think of is an anatomical reference. This anatomical portion, in itself, is not offensive (to me). Nor are the four letters that make up the word. I use them all the time. However, there is just something about seeing them altogether in the correct order that seems puts the wind up folks. Maybe that’s why people in Scunthorpe have a chip on their shoulder. When I was growing up, my friend told me that this word could never be broadcast on television, in any circumstances. I’m not sure where he was getting his information from, but it was clearly false.

Anyway, let’s get to the point. You’ll recall that a certain word passed the lips of art student and Big Brother contestant Emily Parr. The word was considered so offensive that not only did the addressees need to reflect upon the exchange into the wee hours, but poor old (racist?) Emily was booted out.

I think we all know the word I’m talking about here. That’s right. En eye gee gee ee argh.

Personally, I was surprised by the reaction that this utterance provoked. The sheer level of offence was staggering. I know that Big Brother has been known to turn a blind eye to the odd bit of racism in the past, and is obviously wanting to be seen as taking a firm stance now. But was all the furore justified? This is where I’m confused, and would welcome your thoughts. 

This word is everywhere. Watch Pulp Fiction. It is used by both black and white characters, to refer to both black and white characters. It is used to address people, and in conversation about people. I just choose this film as an example, as I’m sure there are loads of others. What about Amazing Grace? Can a word like this be used if it is being used in a historical context? I don’t see people campaigning for either film to be pulled from the shelves.

The same goes for music: isn’t this term common currency in certain genres such as rap? I was having a little look at The African American Registry, in which I found an interesting article about the history of this word. It talks about the increasing popularity of the word amongst young, urban black people, who use it as a pally way to greet each other (apparently). I seem to recall it popping up in a Michael Jackson song at some point in his extensive, accomplished canon. Is it OK for Michael to say it because he’s black? Of course, he’d be the first one to claim that it don’t matter if you’re black or white. Not if you’re thinking about being his baby, that is.

Let’s be clear: I don’t have very strong views about this. I have no particular urge to be allowed to use the word, in the same way that I don’t really wish to make regular use of words like quadragintesimal or galactophagist. They are of no use to me. But I do wonder:

If this word is so offensive, how can it be allowed to appear in films, music and books, but not on Big Brother? And does it stop being offensive when it is used by a black person to greet a black friend, or a white person to greet a white friend? If so, would it be OK for a white person to use it to greet a black friend? I wouldn’t mind if a black friend used it to address me, although I do not presume to speak for all those of paler complexion.

Sorry for the ramble. Best just not say it at all until we get all this sorted out.

Naked Ambition

June 1, 2007

Then the eyes of both of them were opened, and they realized they were naked; so they sewed fig leaves together and made coverings for themselves. (Genesis 3:7)

gok.jpg I was doing a cursory channel hop the other night (how you must envy me) when I came across a programme called How to Look Good Naked. The premise (for those who have thus far forgotten to tune in) is simple: a somewhat dowdy but pleasant-enough lady is placed in the care of uber-effeminate stylist Gok Wan. His mission is to get said woman to overcome that ingrained impulse to remain clothed in public. And thus the stage is set.

I only caught the uplifting denouement of the last show, in which the fruit of Gok Wan’s latest labour was (quite literally) displayed for all to see. Being able to wear a bikini in the middle of a shopping centre is no doubt a useful skill, and I certainly don’t deny that the lady in question looked most appealing as she paraded around in the near-altogether. However, I would probably question whether this behaviour, in itself, proves that one Looks Good Naked. I doubt this would be the verdict of the majority (or indeed the police) were I to give it a go.

Compelling as these programs are, I can’t help thinking they promote a weird, confusing ideology. On the one hand, looks are seen as the most important thing in a person’s identity. So much so that a smug Sarth Efrickan might suggest that you undergo the sort of surgery that leaves you looking like the recently beaten up, in order that she can parade you up and down the beach getting the public to guess your age. Brrr.

On the other, we’re also told that what we look like doesn’t really matter, and it’s what’s inside that counts. As Trinny would say (whilst laying a patronising hand on the shoulder of her latest frumpy protégé), ‘I think that the clothes are just the surface of this problem, Suze’.

This tension is nicely embodied in the How to Look Good Naked Site. It starts off saying all the right things, like how the media sets us unrealistic standards for what we should look like, and how we should be confident with what we’ve got and learn to respect ourselves. All very sensible, I’m sure. Then it gives us a list of 8 rules (not recommendations, mind) on which to base a beauty regime, which, if carried out to the letter, would probably take the best part of a week. And since they’re rules to be followed on a ‘weekly basis’, the whole process becomes suspiciously like painting the Forth Bridge: once you’ve finished, it’s already time to start again.

Have a look at the rules if you’re worried you’re falling short of the minimum aesthetic standard. I won’t reproduce them all here, but will mention one particular maxim with which I was quite taken: ‘your muff area should always be maintained’. Only the effeminate could get away with it.

What a lot of pressure. We’ve got to be grounded, confident people, whilst also maintaining an A-list appearance. It isn’t easy. But here’s a good tip for all those (like me) who fail to find solace at the spectacle of their naked selves.

Wear clothes.

Young Hearts Run Free

April 23, 2007

1.jpgDo you spend much time on YouTube? I don’t. Well, I do sometimes. I find it a pleasant place to pass the time. There are all sorts of interesting things to watch, as well as a lot of dross. They can’t all be winners, kid.

There is, however, one subject area that always grabs my attention, and one keyword search that features in every one of my YouTube sojourns: le parkour.

I’m getting ahead of myself. It all started a couple of years back when I saw a little snippet on Channel 4. It was one of those little ‘shorts’ that tend to get aired just before your intended viewing starts. This one was probably about two minutes long.

It featured a young lad, probably 14 or so, who was telling us all about his hobby. He was ‘really into it’, although he wasn’t sure that his mum shared his enthusiasm. My prejudices kicked in, I’m afraid. Maybe because he wore a white tracksuit, and had one of those mouths that stay open between sentences, I assumed that his new pastime was robbing cars. But then they showed some footage of him engrossed in his hobby, which made me sit up and pay attention.

It turned out that this chap spent quite a long time running around in urban environments, climbing vertical surfaces, leaping between buildings, and basically negotiating a whole gamut of man-made obstacles with a flair and dexterity that boggled the eye. He’d dubbed himself ‘the monkey boy’ or something suitably grandiose, but I’d no idea that this practice enjoyed wider appeal.

Le parkour (the art of displacement) or free-running has an excellent definition on Wikipedia. We’re told that the aim is ‘to move from point A to point B as efficiently and quickly as possible, using principally the possibilities of the human body’. Some have described it as a martial art, but as one concerned with techniques of escape rather than combat.

For an excellent YouTube offering which sets le parkour within an escape narrative, click here.

Now, is it just me, or does all this look rather fun? Take away the machine gun-wielding thugs, and I would wager that le parkour might be a fine way to pass an afternoon. I’ve found myself wondering whether it is the sort of thing one could learn. It’s really just gymnastics with a grittier, urban edge, and without the crash mats. I think there’s something rather noble about the idea of using one’s strength and wits to overcome the detritus of civilisation. And in making videos of one doing it. I would love to make the sort of parkour video of which the YouTube community might think ‘this vid is tiiiiiight’.

It was with some regret that I realised I’ll never be able to do anything like this. At 27, I’m a touch on the old side for starting this sort of thing, so I suspect that the good ship HMS Parkour has well and truly set sail. After all, you’ll never get a gymnast worth their salt starting out at 27.

So. I’m guessing that my gangly limbs will never be put to this interesting and exciting use, which is a little bit sad. But in my hour of desolation, who better than YouTube to keep me in touch with reality and thus provide me with emotional solace? I’ve got two particular keywords in mind:

parkour accident

Knowing Where We Stand

April 21, 2007

As part of my commitment to you, constant reader, I intend to recommend reading material from time to time. May I get straight down to it with my favourite novel of all time?

If you were to end up on a desert island, which five novels would you want to be there with you? I would go with Stephen King’s The Stand, and just use the other four to get a good fire going.

stand.jpgNot everyone likes The Stand. I seem to recall that I first read it after pinching a copy from Jamie (I think that he, in turn, pinched it from his mum). I recall that he thought so little of it that he didn’t want it back. Those who know him will know that this sort of generosity is quite out of character. There is also the tale (recounted by the author in the preface to the Complete and Uncut! edition) that a certain reviewer would pass his days standing in bookshops exhorting customers not to buy it.

Don’t be taken in by such nincompoopery. The Stand is brilliant. How else could it romp to victory as the 53rd most popular book of all time in the BBC Big Read? And to think I didn’t cast a single vote.

Comparisons have been made to Lord of the Rings, and to be sure, there are similarities between the two books. There are also differences: The Stand is interesting, and stuff happens.

The plot’s simple: an accident at a germ warfare facility results in the decimation of human race. A lucky few find themselves immune to plague, and try to rebuild a semblance of community in Colorado, under the watchful eye of devout centenarian Mother Abigail. But over in the West, the enigmatic Randall Flagg is also gathering his forces, probably with a view to ruling the world. So, it falls to the God fearin’ folk in the East to pop over and tell him to pack it in.

No doubt it’s an easy read, and some would dismiss it as ‘pop’. But I would argue that the accessibility of The Stand is one of its strengths. It trips along at a pleasant pace, but is over all too soon. Still, one can always read it again. It’s a shame it was never adapted for the cinema. I am still holding out hopes for a full-scale epic trilogy, rather than the somewhat toothless TV mini-series it eventually became.

I think I’ll read it again. Knowing my luck, the third time will reveal it as a load of old tosh, and these ebullient burblings will return to haunt me.

Oh well.

Baby You Can Drive My Car (If You’re Careful)

April 18, 2007

To begin with, I’d like to offer a little homage to Our Female Friends. They’re smashing, don’t you agree? They look much nicer than men, to my taste. And they also seem to be unfettered by the shackles of traditional logic which bind the rest of us. In fact, so creative is their use of reason that occasionally, in conversation, it is difficult to prevent one’s mouth from hanging open. All this is very exciting, but apparently, Our Female Friends really come into their own when you put them in a car.

This is certainly the view of most car insurance companies. So confident are they in the abilities of the fairer sex to transport themselves from A to B without mishap, that they reward them with lower premiums. Some companies have even decided to close the door altogether on their seemingly more accident-prone male counterparts. The results of such a decision are plain to see.


Now I have recently been discussing this with anyone who will listen, and a few who won’t. Isn’t this discrimination against men a bit underhand? I know that premiums are calculated on the basis of statistics, and that, yes, men probably have more accidents. But to shut them out completely? Why not just charge them more? Frankly, I wouldn’t mind paying that bit extra to be insured by a company with a theme song containing the following:

If your name was Florence / And you wanted car insurance

Women make the safest drivers / You could save a bunch of fivers

Girls are bored beyond endurance / Paying too much for car insurance

It certainly puts Wordsworth in the shade. And did you notice that the women in the advert are sufficiently blessed with driving prowess that they can barrel along in a pink convertible whilst singing the song, doing the dance, and looking everywhere except the road ahead? And all the while avoiding a grisly accident, to the disappointment of this particular viewer.

Imagine it was found that black people have more car accidents than white people. Would we ever attempt to factor race into our premium calculation in order that black people had to pay more to reflect their greater car-related clumsiness? No. It would be unthinkable. And what if it was found that gay people had more accidents than the heterosexuals? You get the idea.

Oh well. Let’s not get all sour about it, men. Personally, I’m all for giving women every possible advantage. They have all manner of other stuff to cope with that we do not. I’m happy to accept that they have fewer accidents, and if they are able to scoop a little reward as a result, then they have my blessing.

But have you ever seen one reverse?