Camera Shy

It would be very easy to loose off a rant in the direction of TV critic and misogynist AA Gill following the comments he made about classicist Mary Beard and her excellent new programme Meet The Romans. But I really just wanted to make one point, raised by a quote from his review. He states:

‘The hair is a disaster, the outfit an embarrassment… This isn’t sexist or beside the point. If you’re going to invite yourself into the front rooms of the living, then you need to make an effort.’

Let’s take a look at some other TV science and history presenters and see how well they scrub up for the cameras, shall we?

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…you get the idea.

Meet The Romans continues tonight at 9pm on BBC2. You can find AA Gill cowering behind the Times paywall, or under the nearest rock.

Let’s Talk About Psoriasis

In the spring of 1993, I noticed a rough scaly patch developing behind one of my ears. At the time, I didn’t worry too much about it, thinking it was something to do with my glasses chafing.

The patch was soon joined by another in the folds of my other ear and slowly they began to spread upwards and round, into my scalp and across my brows. Alarmed, I went to the doctors for a chat.

Continue reading Let’s Talk About Psoriasis

A Sorry Excuse

The thing about apologies is that you have to mean them. Or at the very least, make a decent effort at looking like you mean them. I don’t think anyone’s convinced by the half-hearted mumbless that Rupes, Red and the rest of the crew have made about the ongoing debacle/funniest story of the year that threatens to engulf News International, in the same way that a hungry squid will go at a bag of doughnuts.

To me, the full-page apology and the press statements we’ve had up to now read like the sort of thing you’d get from a ten-year old that’s been dragged up to your front door by his dad after being caught scrumping apples.

“Say you’re sorry, Rupert.”

“msrry.”

“I don’t think the nice man heard that, Rupert.”

“I SAID I’M SORRY, ALRIGHT? I’M SOOOREEEEEE. Cuh, you deaf, or what?”

That Murdoch kid needs a good clip round the ear.

Anyway, the problem is that we now see anything coming out of the News International Eye of Sauron as inherently untrustworthy. Even if the apology published yesterday was heartfelt, that’s not the way most of us perceived it. Tied in with a self-aggrandising interview Rupes did with one of his own papers, the Wall Street Journal, in which softball questions were gently lobbed and batted away, and you have the prime example of Journalistic Crime Numero Uno.

The whole situation isn’t helped by the Murdoch’s magnanimously agreeing to give evidence at the upcoming Select Committee – after receiving a parliamentary summons which meant they couldn’t really say no. That’s going to be an absolutely prime moment of comedy television. I’m thinking about setting up a drinking game. Take a shot every time Rupes, Red or Spud say “I don’t recall…” or “I have no knowledge of…” I think we’ll all be very drunk, very quickly.

 

To sum up the whole sorry state of affairs, I can’t really put it any better than this.

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Dork’s Progress

After a couple of days working on The SEKRIT Thing That Won’t Be SEKRIT much longer, I’m back at work after two and a bit weeks off. And hoo boy, am I not ready.

I was clearly in denial about the whole prospect. I didn’t do a bag pack or a sort out of what I needed. Hence clattering round the house at half six this morning, waking up TLC by rummaging in cupboards and pockets for passes and tickets. Back into the house for my wallet after I’d locked up.

A hectic cycle ride to the station (road sense gone, nearly plowed into a pedestrian in headphones stepping off the pavement without looking) was capped off by the realisation that the key for the bike lock was back at home.
A return trip into a head wind, swearing all the way.

A stand-up train trip on tiptoes (yes, that busy) only made me more determined that an early train is the way forward. And do you people not SHOWER in the morning? (sidebar: after three bike runs, I probably wasn’t too fresh myself).

And yet I was still in work more or less on time. Shame there was no-one there to witness it, and the telecine’s not working. And I feel like a bag of swamp water and noodles now. Knackered before nine. Great start.

Who’s that Girl? Lisbeth Salander, remakes and makeovers

The David Fincher remake of Neils Arden Oplev’s The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo is looking worse by the minute. I know it’s an exercise in foolishness to judge a film on the strength of a couple of trailers and a poster. But Sony Pictures have sent out these images to garner a first reaction to the film. So here’s mine.

(NSFW after the cut. There is an exposed nipple. It is pierced. Be afraid.)

Continue reading Who’s that Girl? Lisbeth Salander, remakes and makeovers

Cut: Censorship,The BBFC and Human Centipede 2

In a move that’s boggled the minds of UK horror fans, the BBFC have refused to certificate the sequel to Tom Six’s The Human Centipede, Human Centipede 2: Full Sequence. 2009’s Jap horror Grotesque was the last film to join this rarified club of films too awful for the sensitive British public to see.

Continue reading Cut: Censorship,The BBFC and Human Centipede 2

DC: Dunces and Conmen?

Every time I think the comics industry can’t get any stupider, something happens to make me wonder how I got so complacent.

No, hang on, let me qualify that. Every time I think the American superhero-based comics industry can’t get any stupider, something like, well, this happens. DC are cancelling and rehashing 52 of their titles, starting them all back at no.1 with simplified back stories and in some cases changes to the origins.

Retcons. The curse of the American superhero-based comics industry. Ever since DC killed Superman, brought him back in a new costume before slowly reverting him back to the old blue-and-red romper suit, this nonsense happens on an annual basis. The claim is always that creators want to do something fresh and new with the old franchises. Rubbish. It’s all about squeezing a few more cents out of them. The new editions are scheduled to take place over the traditionally quiet sales period of September. No. 1’s of any title always sell, and all of a sudden DC are flooding the market with 52 of the buggers at once.

The argument brought forward by DC head Dan DiDio is that it’s a chance to make the books relavent for a 21st century audience who have little investment in the stories of the past. Which is, in it’s way, fair comment. Fifty years of character development and story cruft can leave any title in a funk, unable to properly innovate or tell tales in a fresh way.

But, as comics blogger and funny-book shop owner Mike Sterling points out, a jumping-on point can also be a jumping off point. The end of a story gives the bored reader who just wanted to see how things turn out the excuse not to bother with next month’s issue. Especially if it’s not the character he or she enjoyed reading about.

I’ve long been bored with the American superhero-based comics industry’s obsession with huge, multi-book events and gimmicky promotions, to the detriment of decent characterisation and storytelling. If this event doesn’t work, it could signal a reboot for DC as a whole, becoming a placeholder for superhero franchises, a brand name for movies, TV shows and lunchboxes. Which can only be bad news for fans and retailers again. Mike Sterling again:

“While I’m curious as a fan about what DC is doing, as a retailer I’m a little worried. Not just about the jumping-off point thing I noted already, but also about how I’m going to explain this to the customers who are going to be caught completely by surprise by DC’s plans. I know it sounds strange, since all of you reading this are plugged into the Web Matrix-style via interface ports at the bases of your skulls, but I have regular customers for whom their exposure to comics news comes from walking into the store and looking at the rack to see what’s new. I can hear them already: “Hey, why is Superman at issue #1 again? And Batman? …And, hey, Legion of Super-HeroesAgain? What’s going on?” Which is fine…that’s part of my job, to explain what new dumb thing a comic publisher has done to confuse and frighten its readership this week.

But as a pal of mine noted to me in email, if this particular publishing initiative falls flat on its face, where does DC go from there? This is an awfully drastic and wide-ranging strategy that won’t be easy to reverse without some consequences. And not just of the “fans and Marvel Comics laughing at DC’s failure” kind, but having highers-up at Warner Brothers looking at the crash-and-burn and thinking “that didn’t work, so why are we bothering with these pamphlet-thingies? Let’s just do cartoons and movies with these characters, and make some real money on them.”

Yes, quite. Although I’m no fan of capes and masks any more, and will gleefully and at length point out how comics are so much more, I don’t want to see a huge part of the industry collapse into rubble. I can see DC’s core readership shrink rapidly as no-one wants to read crappy new interpretations of perfectly good characters, with no new fanbase to take over. I could be wrong. I really hope I am. But confusing and alienating your customers is no way to run a business.

However, there’s no reason you can’t have a little fun with the idea…

Oh, and if you want to know how to elegantly tell an origin story without letting it taking over an issue, Grant Morrison’s four panel recap that started off his masterly All-Star Superman is the way to go. Perfect comics work.

Four panels. Eight Words. Seventy Years Of Back-story.

*One last thing. The heads up/impetus/desperate steal of an idea at the end of a dry creative day for this one came from long time X&HTeam-mate, Rob May. His new geek-friendly website Cake And Lies is very much worth your time. And as he says here, there are prizes to be won.  

It’s The End Of The World Again, Almost Definitely This Time, Really, Honest.

Well, I hope you’re all packed and ready. According to Christian radio show host Harold Camping, 3% of the world’s population will be gathered up to Heaven in some sort of holy Hoovering tomorrow morning. The rest of us will then have five months to wait until God draws the curtains and shuts off the lights for good on October 21st. The fact that most churches have scheduled regular services for Sunday shows how seriously Mr Camping is being taken by the religious community at large.

In eschatological circles, Harold is a bit of a pipsqueak. He’s predicted the Rapture four times thus far, giving up (or rather, diving back into the books for a bit more of a considered approach into the numbers) in 1995. This is small potatoes. Fire and brimstone preacher Charles Taylor saw the end coming 12 times between 1972 and 1992. That’s got to put a crimp into your long-term savings plans.

The end-of-the-world racket is a fascinating subject for study, and stuffed to the brim with nutballs, loonbags and conmen of all stripes. It’s surprisingly easy to pick a date for the Four Horsemen to gallop over the horizon and then backtrack when the sun sets when nary a hint of apocolypic hoof beats. For example, Edgar Whisenant wrote a best-selling book 88 Reasons Why The Rapture Will Be in 1988. His prediction: final trump to sound between September 11th and 13th. When those dates turned out to be trumpet-free he pushed the date forward, first to the 15th, then October 3rd. Still nothing. This didn’t deflate Whisenant, though, who released another book the following year, The Final Shout: Rapture Report 1989, and would continue to release updates until 1993.

Predictions of the end time are born out of intense, numerology-heavy readings of the Bible, and as reactions to ongoing world events. The recent triple-whammy of disaster landing on Japan has, as you’d expect, sent the scene into a tizzy. But events as varied as the Rodney King shooting, the founding of the state of Israel and any manner of celestial objects getting within astronomical spitting distance have all sparked doomy predictions. As for the close-study readings, Camping’s method is an exemplar of clarity and logic compared to some I can mention. Dan Brown’s got a lot to answer for…

None of this would be a bother if it didn’t involve hucksters conning gullible rubes out of their hard-earned, and self-styled prophets setting themselves up as cult leaders. End of the world predictions can mean exactly that. Suicide cults like Heaven’s Gate and the followers of messianic maniacs David Koresh, Jim Jones and Joseph Kibweteere are all evidence that apocalypses can and do happen, and are events that we cannot see coming, and have no way to prepare for.

As for Camping and his Rapture? Well, his past record isn’t encouraging, and frankly his methodology has holes wide enough to steer the Halle-Bopp comet through. I’m not convinced. And anyway, aren’t we supposed to have until December 2012, when the Mayan calendar runs out?

Tell you what, while we’re waiting, let’s have a little dance, shall we?

This post would not have been possible without reference to Chris Nelson’s extraordinary Brief History of The Apocalypse, which is anything but brief and will eat your day if you let it.

A Day For Change

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This is it. We’re finally here. I’m so excited. Today’s referendum is only the second that we have ever had in this country (the first was on our membership to the Common Market in 1975). It’s a chance to change the way we vote for a fairer, more representative system.

I love voting. It always gives me a weird little thrill to take my card down to my local station, to stand in the booth with my pencil poised. Even when I know exactly who I’m going to vote for (and I usually do – I also enjoy getting the research done on my decision, and I read every bit of political literature that come through the door) I like to have a short dramatic pause, just to extend the moment. Then I will swoop, marking my preference with a flourish. I will walk out of the station with a straight back, head held high, a smile on my face. “There,” I will tell myself. “I HAVE VOTED.” I can be such a ponce sometimes.

The very fact that I am able to stand and give myself a little moment in a voting booth is the result of hundreds of years of struggle to get power out of the hands of the privileged, monied few and into the grasp of the people of Britain. I always want to recognise and appreciate that fact, and the sacrifices that have been made on my behalf. The simple act of voting, that so many people take for granted and that less and less of us actually manage to get off our arses and complete, is the foundation of our democracy.

Many people these days say that their vote doesn’t matter, that it makes no difference whose box they put their cross into. It’s this argument that makes everyone’s vote less powerful. Not showing up devalues everyone else’s vote. It’s a selfish, dangerous stance. That’s what makes today’s referendum so important. A Yes vote will give us a system where our vote does matter, where extremists can’t get power, where you can vote your conscience instead of tactically.

But that’s my opinion. You have yours. And it’s your inalienable right to express it whichever way you like. Whatever you do, don’t waste it. Be a citizen today. Take a half hour and enjoy the fact that we live in a country where you can freely go into a voting booth and say what you think.

See you at the voting station!

(The excellent photo comes via Andrew Bloch on Twitter).

Just A Kiss, or My Gaff, My Rules: The John Snow Falls Out Of Love

No, honestly, I've seen this sign at the JS. I just never realised it was the house rules. The facts, as far as we can ascertain, are plain. Two people, out on a first date in Soho, allow the moment to take them and have their first kiss. The landlord of the pub they have chosen for this sweet little moment, The John Snow, tells them to stop. Later that evening, they kiss again, and at this point they are told to leave by the landlady. One of the pair, Jonathan Williams, chose to vent his anger about the event on Twitter. Which is when the whole thing exploded. Because Jonathon and his date, James Bull, are gay.

The John Snow closed on Friday night, as a 400-strong protest snogathon took place outside. Another one is scheduled for next Thursday, and it’ll be interesting to see if the pub shuts again. Frankly, I doubt it. The point’s already been made, and the damage has been done. The management of The John Snow have managed to make themselves notorious in one night. Any arguments about whether Thomas Paget and his staff are homophobic are supplementary to one simple fact. A pub is a place to have fun. If the staff of said pub stop you having fun, then there’s a big problem.

Should Jonathon and his date, James Bull, have simply taken their business elsewhere? Perhaps, but I personally think they were right to stick to their guns and stay put. They weren’t doing anything wrong. Posting about it on Twitter was also fair enough. Jonathon was right to point out that the staff of The John Snow are anti-fun. Caitlin Moran made an excellent point:

Everything else that happened was a result of people on Twitter, Facebook and the press picking up on the story and organising. It’s not fair to say that Jonathan and James overstated the issue or portrayed themselves as victims. In the same position (I know I can’t be, but indulge me for the sake of argument) I probably would have run away – but I also would have boycotted the pub and bitched about the incident on every social network to which I belong.

Any pub that has rules against PDA (the illustration above is indeed on display in the JS) is not worth the bother. If the “house rules” prohibit snogging on the premises, that’s bad enough. If those rules prohibit gay snogging, then there’s legislation in place that makes that stance not just unacceptable but illegal, and in a worst case scenario, Paget could be up on charges. That’s unlikely to happen, but I bloody hope it’s front and centre in his thoughts at the moment.

I wonder if the reputation of the John Snow has been badly damaged now. It’s not as if they’re the only pub in Soho, and there is much talk on the Twitters of boycott. Meanwhile, Paget and the owners of the chain to which the pub belongs are silent on the issue. That’s as silly as the initial stance. Soho is not the place to allow an anti-gay rep to fester.

I’ve always seen the John Snow as a bit of a dump, and haven’t been through the doors of the place in years. That’s not likely to change after the dramas of the last few days. There are plenty of other places to get a drink within a two-minute walk, and the last time I looked, none of them were chucking people out for showing a little affection.

(pub sign via David Schneider)