Monday, December 24, 2007

What on Earth

A review of Live Earth CD/ 2x DVD

Expensive and useless gifts? Christmas is the season. This year, for the modicum price of £18 (or 26 Euros), a real contender drops by in the guise of Live Earth CD (not to mention the double DVD), a memento of the most overlooked and delusional music marathon in the history of pop and rock. It came. It went.
That’s what you thought.

"The concerts for a climate in crisis" (that being the official slogan), is now available in shops, featuring illustrious environmentalists Bon Jovi, Kelly Clarkson and Snow Patrol. Rihanna's there too. Her ubiquitous Umbrella makes you wonder whether you missed out on something and the song may actually be an ode to how we all missed the ozone layer. Duran Duran too, they may have cared jack about the environment throughout their career but, what the heck, at least one of their 80s hits contained the words "planet" and "earth". In this feast of back-patting and self-importance, that'll do fine. We learn that Black Eyed Peas also frown upon the planet looking a bit knackered and so do Enrique Iglesias and Joss Stone, no doubt on top of their game when it comes down to environmental and political awareness. Then there's Madonna. She had a record out in 2007 and she's on Live Earth too. To look at her mouthing off the word "revolution" reminds you of what Top Shop and H&M did when they decided to mass manufacture Clash, Ramones and Motorhead t-shirts. They soon got so trendy they ceased to make any sense.

When two and a half years ago Live 8 announced itself to the world, some people objected to the ongoing sniping by insisting that folded-arms cynicism was simply another excuse for idleness. I admit I was amongst those who thought Live 8 was a good idea and that Saint Bob-bashers could do with keeping their mouth shut for a day at least. Wrong. Hindsight's a wonderful thing, but what exactly did Live 8 achieve apart from getting Sting to change the lyrics from Every Breath You Take into "we'll be watching you" and to sanction Pete Doherty as the world's Chief Moron? Ok, Pink Floyd got back together and it was amazing, and Razorlight's sales made an unexpected jump. But hey…were you saying something about poverty, climate and Third World debt?

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

British fairytales

Under the censors' thumb

Today's page was about to begin with the words "Britain's hit a new low". Yesterday BBC radio 1 decided to ban a few words from The Pogues' 1987 Christmas hit "The Fairytale of New York". According to some zealots at the corporation, the song epithets 'faggot' and 'scumbag' were apparently gagging for their share of 'bleep' treatment.

It is exactly this type of idiocy that gives fresh ammunition to the (currently trendy) Daily Mail-led "political-correctness-has-gone-mad" lobby. Thankfully, of course, when challenged, no-one at the BBC 1 was prepared to argue that, in the context of "Fairytale of New York", the word 'faggot' is imbued with inflammatory undertones. Anyone vaguely familiar with music may be just aware The Pogues inhabit a territory miles away from Beenie Man's braindead gaybashing.

This time round, fitting the happy-ending narrative, people at BBC radio 1 came to their senses and took back their decision. But I wouldn’t be surprised if Mr Brain's faggots were soon to disappear from supermarkets. Or, most likely, if the makers of Lost were to be taken to court for racial hatred each time Sawyer is caught saying 'shortbrown'. And how about half of Fawlty Towers banned from telly and the authors of Queer as Folk legally bound to come up with another title? Oh, and no more Love Thy Neighbour on UK Gold… Not many grumbles with that one, I guess.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Morrissey's NME

Neither a racist, not a victim. Questions the NME should have asked.

Last week some serious sleep was lost in Britain. Tabloids and papers alike were at pains to figure out if:
a) Morrissey may truly be a BNP-courting racist or:
b) liberal Britain has lost its marbles once and for all as they throw hissy fits each time the word i-m-m-i-g-r-a-t-i-o-n is uttered.

As always, once the flurry of catchphrases, simple formulas and panic buttons is cast aside, it becomes clear that reality is neither black nor white. But whoever thought the NME was going to fare any better than that is, forgive me, a bit of a pranny.
And so I don't believe Morrissey is a racist at all. Nor did he use "inflammatory language" (everything's become "inflammatory" in today's Britain, you start wondering how those poor firemen cope). More, I don't even think he's a Tory and, anyway, does it matter? By the same token, I don't happen to think the NME is part of the world conspiracy that a long time ago set out to victimise poor-old Morrissey. He's been in the game too long -25 years and still counting- not to be aware that (especially) British papers have a natural inclination to sensationalise and misrepresent. You fart and the headlines proclaim that, shock/horror (!), you shat yourself; you put on a pound and you turn out the salad dodger.
So, if you don’t want to take that risk, simply, turn them bloody interviews down.

The NME's fault -and a big one at that- is that it totally failed to challenge Morrissey with REAL, factual and intelligent arguments. And a lot was there to be said. In that respect, Morrissey nailed it right on the head when he wrote in his subsequent statement (3 December) about the dreadful dumbing down of the weekly music rag. What Moz called "the relentless stream of 'cheers mate, got pissed last night ha ha' interviews" is a faithful depiction of today's NME. Then again, had Morrissey stayed in England, he'd have also noticed that "fuckin'ell, mate, got paralytic last nite, I'm so 'ungova" is by far today's young Brits' most likely topic of conversation.

So what could the NME have said to stand up to Morrissey's remarks instead of simplistically spurting out talks of "inflammatory language", Enoch Powells and BNPs?

Firstly, for instance, by pointing out that the true victims of an open-immigration policy are always gonna be those at the lower end, no matter what ethnicity, creed or religion. Have a look at the prophets of labour casualisation. You'll note their tendency to remark about too many foreigners on English soil goes hand in hand with their distinct reluctance to employ people on a decent competitive wage. Cue legal and semi-illegal agencies having a field day as they contract out vulnerable immigrants who'd take anything (and also share a room with ten others) so that their British bosses' profits can get even fatter. As immigrants are unaware or too afraid to claim their rights, wages are fast driven down. Ken Loach's latest film, "It's A Free World", as well as a recent BBC undercover investigation , both highlight the gravity of the situation. Incidentally, ask the Tory voter in Sutton Coldfield who'd grunt about bloody foreigners if he/she is quite happy to employ an English housekeeper on a proper wage instead of their current Ukranian one on four quid an hour. Local authorities and government can patronise us all by robotically going on about 'inclusion', 'equal opps' and 'black history' exhibitions, but factual reflection on the UK's inner city ghettos and the true plight of the lower classes - of all races, I maintain- is forever going to be blighted by cries of "racism" and "inflammatory language".

Also, did anyone sense a whiff of hypocrisy when the Irish Blood, English Heart singer spoke of "every accent under the sun, except British, in Knightsbridge"? Worse, when Mozza remarked that "if you travel to Germany, it’s still absolutely Germany. If you travel to Sweden, it still has a Swedish identity. But travel to England and you have no idea where you are", that -on his part- is naivety at the very least. How Anglo-centric (and blind) can you be? Doesn’t it click that his is the typical simplistic view of the post-colonial little Englander abroad? I'm sure to the eye of a sov-donned Brit getting pissed in the Mediterranean, tacky Torremolinos feels "distinctly" Spanish, or central Paris quintessentially French (and by the way, why not ask an old Frenchman in central Paris if the place "hasn't lost its identity?"). Ask the week-package language student in Brighton and he'll tell you how "very English" it all is.

But, the question is, would Morrissey care to ask the few Spaniards left in Marbella or Benidorm if the place doesn't feel overrun? What about 'loss of identity' when you walk up and down la calle only to stumble upon an English pub or a chippie after the other? It's alright when a million (and counting) ex-pats grab hold of Spanish homes driving prices through the roof, isn’t it? It's alright when Brits move to Spain en-masse without bothering to pick up a single word of the local language...What would the locals have to say about foreign accents there? Or how about, not registering as local residents (hence dodging tax) but still making full use of hospitals, rubbish collection and other public services all along the Costa Blanca? So, you see, dear old Moz, loss of identity is happening everywhere, Germany, Sweden and Spain included. It isn't like the Daily Mail would hint, that "they all wanna come here".
It's not just about hearing accents down the street.

Tuesday, December 04, 2007

All dolled up

Forget the brain... it's the wardrobe, stupid!

With 'Crimbo' approaching, how many of you are already pulling your hair out in clumps because of the onslaught of high-pitched, hyper-irritating children's toy adverts? How many of you who are parents are fending off squealing requests for the latest gadgets from your flapping kids?

Yesterday, one of my 10-year-old students thrusted the Carrefour Christmas brochure into my face and insisted that I looked at the toys with her. She then went on to point out all of the dolls (nothing like the innocent Polly Pockets and Sylvanians that I remember as a kid) she was going to get whilst I looked on with a mixture of disgust and horror. Most of the young learners that I teach (female, of course) are obsessed with 'Super-fashion', mobile phones, Zara's latest revealing kid's collection and the list goes on, and on.

This was nothing, however, compared to an article I read not so long ago in The Sun. As I flicked through, I came across a picture of what looked to me like some sort of munchkin glamour model. A mini Barbie doll with poker straight white-blonde hair (with extensions, naturally) Day-Glo orange tan and more make-up than the average pissed-up shaz on a Saturday night. Fair enough, you might think, that's the usual sort of girl you see in any tabloid. The worrying thing was, however, that this was an 11-year-old girl.

Sasha Bennington lives with her parents and brother in the north of England. Her mum Jayne, a B-class glamour model herself at one time, treats her daughter to the type of treatments only WAGs can manage to afford: spray tans once a week, acrylic nail extensions once a month and regular trips to the hairdressers to top up her highlights and have new extensions fitted. Each morning, she plucks her eyebrows and spends an hour before school applying full make-up. At weekends, she enjoys wearing her favourite outfit, a tight, white satin boobtube, mini-skirt, heels and a white Stetson.

The girl's idol is inflated, outspoken shagger Jordan, who in Sasha's words is "My obsession... I want to be a model like her when I grow up, be famous and have loads of money."
When her mother was asked how she feels about people criticising her daughter's appearance she charmingly replied ''They're just jealous do-gooders who probably have fat kids they can't do anything with... She can't help being good looking. I want her to use it to achieve something."

Most terrifyingly, Sasha isn't a one-off example of 21st century childhood and parenting gone bad. More and more primary school age kids are obsessing about celebrities, WAGs, unsuitable fashion and beauty products. Shops such as upscale French beauty giant Sephora have introduced a whole aisle of products aimed at the under 13's. Perfumes by Escada, Moschino and even Dior are given child-friendly names, cute bottles and are marketed to the new wave of little women. Sephora's own brand of make-up has now extended to the kids market, selling mascara, nail varnish and even powder to their new target audience. Once-wholesome-now-slutty Barbie has for a few years now been selling its own range of beauty products. The horrendous, hookeresque atrocities known as Bratz (of which I would rather burn my own genitalia off than give to any child of mine) have amazingly given their name to a manicure and nail-drying kit, and finally, the 'Pampered Bratz' body lotion and perfume set marketed to ages 6+, no less.

In the age of paedo-hysteria, eating disorders and the perfect image, the message this undoubtedly sends to girls is that if you don't wear tons of make-up, dress like a Bratz doll and follow high fashion trends, you're simply not good enough. Girls like Sasha Bennington and countless others are being brought up in a vacuum world of vanity and self-obsession which will no doubt ruin them in later life.

If children like this are told every day by their parents, no less, that - forget the brain - the only way to succeed in life is to be pretty and done up like a dog's dinner, god alone knows what he next generation of kids will be like.