You are viewing the most recent 25 entries.
30th January 2010
Approaching the boundary of this particular text-space. To get across the border I'm going to need a new virtual host. So, time to regenerate. Nothing too extravagant: same character, different actor (and hopefully, unlike that guy on the TV, I'll come out of it older and wiser, not younger and stupider). Maybe see you on the other side. :
23rd January 2010
Now That's What I Call Capitalist Realism
An image which seems to land somewhere between Michael Schudson's and Mark K-Punk's uses of the above term...
The vacant Woolworths premises in our high street have been 'improved' by the local Council in the form of a series of pictures of elated imaginary shoppers pasted over the doors and windows. The actors are captured in that Utopian space typical of advertising, forever exiting the store of their dreams, in blissful ignorance of the reality behind them. Their generic smiles and giftbags suggest that a recession, or indeed any kind of existence outside the realm of consumption, is something entirely alien to them, no more thinkable than life on another planet.
To the people who trudge past every day, shielding their eyes from their oppressive upbeatness, these incongruously grinning characters might appear like a grotesque artwork demonstrating the emptiness of contemporary culture. And yet this promotional imagery emanates from a public body, which seems to believe that such an amnesic surface display will somehow enhance the community and put a positive gloss on all our lives. It is interesting, firstly, that in the absence of an opportunistic pop-up pound shop, the Council feel that they (and therefore we) have an official duty to decorate the derelict Woolworths in this way; and secondly, that they are compelled to respond to this perceived aesthetic and social problem in exactly the same language of denial and compulsory enjoyment which caused the problem in the first place.
Just to heighten the irony, the text running underneath the pictures says: "Whatever you're looking for... Hove is sure to have the shop for you."
17th December 2009
As part of its commitment to providing serious, in-depth analysis of current cultural issues, this journal utilises a range of critical approaches, and every so often a text comes along which calls for a specialised interpretation. On this particular occasion I was pleased to be able to call upon Mr. Employable - business expert, motivational guru and nephew-twice-removed of esteemed music journalist : Mr. Agreeable (of Melody Maker and most recently The Quietus). So it was with great anticipation that I passed the following item across the desk to my associate, after making sure of a quick exit route and alerting the emergency services. Over to you, Mr. E...
In the course of my jobsearching duties today I noticed that the recruitment agency Office Angels had this vacancy prominently displayed in the window of their local branch:
- Dealing with all aspects of office administration.
- Opening post.
- Checking forms and inputting details onto the database.
- Typing and sending change of address letters to the Tax Office regarding clients.
- Entering and updating client details on to the database.
- Excellent eye for detail.
- Knowledge of using Word, Excel, and basic administration is adventurous.
£12,000 - 13,000 pa.
Adventurous? Ad-f***ing-venturous? What the f*** is that supposed to mean? Do you really regard filling in a spreadsheet as an adventure? Did you ever see that film Indiana Jones and the Spreadsheet of F***ing Doom? Your idea of an adventure is probably taking your BlackBerry into the toilet and checking your f***ing emails before wanking over a picture of Duncan Bannatyne... Or adjusting the height on your executive swivel chair while sipping a Caffè Nero latte and bullshitting some jobseeker on the phone. No, I suspect that what happened was that when your fat-tied gel-haired f***wit colleague was putting up that week's jobs he meant to type 'advantageous' but, because he can't spell, the word processor made it into 'adventurous' instead, and he thought 'that looks good, I'll use that.' Never mind the meaning of the f***ing word. And now it has become the in-term to tag onto the end of any hopeless temporary assignment that passes through your agency, because you think it makes the job sound slightly more important and less mindf***ingly tedious than it really is. I'll tell you what is adventurous: living on a f***ing pittance while you professionally illiterate morons stir up that kind of fetid shit-soup and throw it in my face. Adventurous. F***ing hell. Office Angels? Office C***s more like!
11th December 2009
8th December 2009
Mind The Gap (2)
After : kdotdammit (after Allan Sekula):
There is much to be said about the hard, dirty reality (rather than the de Bottonised whimsical hands-off middle-class fantasy) of global 'logistics', a form of industrial co-operation as physically demanding as it is spatially remote, and often overlooked in all the talk about virtual networks and immaterial labour.
As mentioned before, I recently worked in a warehouse where we unloaded containers most days, each one packed tight full of hundreds of boxes of cheap novelty items manufactured for this particular company, which we spent hours carrying to and fro. We had to climb up into these vast corrugated metal boxes, still attached to lorries, and empty them. I felt that the people in the factory in China who made these products and filled the containers were essentially our colleagues (much more so than the managers, designers and sales executives in the offices next to us), performing an almost identical job - indeed a more skilled job, involving actual manufacturing rather than our dreary acts of unpacking and labelling. And yet, even as we passed these huge loads across the sea between us, there was no way of communicating. Such interaction only occurred at an executive level. I once overheard the managing director talking to the warehouse supervisor about a recent trip to China. Must be an interesting place, the supervisor had said. Not where the factory is, the MD replied, just acres and acres of industrial complexes. (No, I thought, that does sound interesting.)
The only residual signs of our co-workers were scraps of paper taped to boxes with unreadable Chinese characters written on them, printed slips with symbols, presumably names, marked next to English headings like 'checked by' etc. I wondered who these workers were, how they felt about their jobs and about these objects they produced and handled which were destined for customers so far away. Were their jokes as bitter and tasteless as ours, were their hands and backs and minds as weary? And what did they think about us, and our bosses, who outsourced the labour of making these products and the attendant industrial pollution and environmental guilt, across to the other side of the world, far from our supposedly free, clean culture of unbridled leisure and consumption? (and how much do the UK's CO2 emission reductions rely on this offloading of manufacturing to China?)
Once I found a piece of paper lying around which appeared to be a photocopy of a close-up photograph of a product on a conveyor belt with figures partly visible behind it. The picture was meant to illustrate the right place to affix a label, I was told when I asked a colleague about it. But the photo wasn't taken here, I said, it must have been taken inside the factory in China! Look, I can see someone’s elbow! He agreed, but seemed unimpressed. Occasionally however an interest of sorts was expressed in our Chinese comrades. If a container was prised open and its doors pulled back to reveal some unexpected space or a loose scattering of boxes near its ceiling, a wag would often remark, ‘room in there for a few passengers’. Or words to that effect.
21st November 2009
: I am sitting here swallowing down my nausea and my exhaustion and buckling up for another day that will steal my time, another day when I don’t do the things I know I can do. Another day when my gifts are a curse. Another day that will come and go.
kdotdammit captures the frustration of the writer submerged in wasteful duties and limitations imposed by others. Time ticks away like water running down a plughole as hours are spent mired in unproductive drudgery which seems designed to drag one down into exhaustion and depression, closing off space for writing or thinking.
Perhaps this sort of text of shattered fragments is the best way of expressing and overcoming the contradiction of writing about how it is impossible to write. KDD's images of abjection and violence embody the rage I also feel towards the barrage of daily tasks and worries restricting my vision and obstructing my imagination.
The question is how to resist and still survive, how to break out without breaking down?
7th November 2009
November 1989. Yeah, the Berlin Wall came down which was, like, totally historic. But there was also that edition of Top of the Pops, which left an indelible impression on my seventeen-year-old, sexually/chemically naïve, A-level-failing, pop-obsessed self. In my mind now these events are somehow fused in a concentrated moment of ecstatic optimism which has since given way to a sort of ongoing weary disappointment... :
25th October 2009
Mind The Gap (1)
A note on the friendly, close-knit commercial workplace through which I am currently passing: imagine my disappointment upon discovering that, despite the team-building fun days, casual clothing and first name terms, the superficial chumminess of supposedly working together towards common goals does not actually reap equal rewards. A boss in jeans is still a boss, even if he allocates half an hour a week of his precious time to cheerily swearing over the football results and pretending to get his hands dirty on the warehouse floor. Tasks and pay are still assigned in the traditional hierarchical manner, and behind the facade of teamwork is a heap of good old fashioned surplus value. In a corner of the warehouse myself and the other seasonal temp unpack boxes we had earlier unloaded from Chinese containers, stick labels on the products inside and then re-pack them, in a sort of postmodernised pastiche of actual production. Looking across at my co-worker, I exhort him with mock motivational vigor to 'think of the managing director's BMW parked outside and remember the real reason why we're doing this.' :
Such empty tasks suck up the hours and days while my body and my resistance gradually crumble. I feel myself sinking into a torpor, switching off. Conversation falters, language disintegrates. Thoughts of rebellion and sabotage soon give way to obsessive add-ups of income and outgoings, mental shopping lists to lighten the dead weight of boredom. The offer of overtime cannot be refused, not only because it is the only way to justify to oneself the smallest spending on anything other than essentials and debt-buffering, but because the temporary worker must always earn ahead, anticipating the gaps to come. Otherwise, says the post-Fordist superego, if you fail to find a follow-up job and crash through the overdraft limit you will only have your own laziness to blame. The same with time off: there is no such thing as a paid holiday, only future time set aside against jobseeking.
The low-paid flexible worker must always remember: your wages - such as they are - cover not only your immediate time and labour expended in whatever temporary non-job, but also your parallel and subsequent time and labour as a jobseeker. The two roles are practically indistinguishable, even before taking into account the mandatory work-for-welfare schemes which will eventually formalise the (dis)continuity. Witness the virtual production line of searches and applications, the copying and pasting of jargon, the duties of self-promotion and obsequiousness as tactics of survival (supervisor as quasi-parental authority, benefits officer as line manager). Neither 'career' is substantial or freely chosen, and in both cases the institutions which impose this structure from above conceal their real agendas of surveillance and target-hitting behind an illusion of helpfulness and concern. Both are designed to manouevre the subject into a position of conformity which silences protest and reinforces the established discourse.
All the buses in Brighton and Hove are branded in various horrible ways. An advert on the back of the number 25 to/from the University features this condensed narrative: :
A typically upbeat synopsis of today's student 'lifestyle', whose obvious omission is of course WORK, which makes all the other elements (except studying) possible.
In my day (not that long ago, actually) I seem to remember that the story went more like this:
But then maybe I wasn't a model student.
Incidentally, I propose a new way of promoting degree courses to potential students. Rather than offering higher education as a sedative consumer experience and perpetuating the fiction of any degree as a pathway to wealth, university departments could market critical/thoughtful subjects by simply stating the truth: that real scholarship in the current era will entail a period of poverty and struggle which will continue over the years following graduation. Enrolment on such a course therefore involves an element of self-sacrifice, and learning once again becomes something serious; a vocation (rather than a 'vocational qualification') which deepens one's knowledge of life as a whole, rather than an effortless conveyor belt of corporate skills. Obviously student levels would plummet; but imagine the calibre of those who would still attend, and the intellectual culture they would create!
13th August 2009
Time And Relative Dimensions In Shopping
Bid TV Presenter in Spatio-Temporal Duplication Paradox :
Great story, and hilarious that the channel would give themselves away with such an error; but did viewers’ faith in the incorruptible ‘reality’ of television ever extend beyond Blue Peter and Panorama and into the hallucinatory realm of home shopping? The fact that bid tv have outed themselves here is a mere formality. As in any professional sales pitch, all the parameters are constructed beforehand - through sound-effects, graphics, language, as well as the calibration of price and quantity - regardless of whether the footage is live or recorded.
Anyway, there should be a surefire way of spotting a ‘simulauction’. A scrolling graphic listing the names of customers is added to each commodity-episode, and usually one of the host’s duties is to call out these names as they appear and congratulate viewers on their purchases; so presumably in a pre-recorded programme the absence of any verbal greetings referring to the automated text would be a giveaway (unless, of course, the names themselves are made up). What would be really impressive - in a Minority Report sort of way - would be for the channel to be able to accurately predict the future buyers of each product, so the presenter could interpellate them in advance...
4th July 2009
Memories of the Space Age
The : abandonedplaces photo group provides a fascinating daily digest of decay from around the world: factories, castles, prisons, hospitals, houses, military facilities, all empty and crumbling, and waiting to be explored... Perhaps my favourite post so far documents a visit to an ex-Soviet Orbita satellite TV transmitter building, and includes this amazing picture, which has since been installed as my desktop background (click link above for full size version):
(Picture by kakandos)
10th May 2009
Dos and Don'ts for the Mentally Interesting
I'm not usually in a position to recommend a BBC Radio 4 Afternoon Play, because a) I don't hear that many; and b) the ones I do hear tend to be formulaic, cliché-ridden tosh bearing no relation to reality. This one, however, is unmissable, and not just because it's available on iPlayer (for the next five days): : Dos and Don'ts for the Mentally Interesting, based on the blog The Secret Life of a Manic Depressive by Seaneen Molloy.
Regardless of whether you have ever been involved with the psychiatric system, anyone with a diagnosis of Human Being will find this account of "a Mentally Interesting Girl Navigating the Labyrinth of the NHS Mental Health Services" amazing, enlightening and intensely moving. You'll laugh, you'll cry, and you might well do both at once. Even if you're not a manic depressive.
3rd May 2009
Life and Death in the Warehouse
Every so often a pigeon flies into the warehouse through one of the large roller doors, and forgets how to leave. When this happens, the managers call in a pest control expert to shoot it. :
The last time this occurred, the gunman located the bird perched fifty or so feet up, on an iron girder near the join of the wall and ceiling. He knelt, took aim and fired. Startled by the noise, the pigeon had moved fractionally, so the bullet didn’t hit it full-on and knock it to the floor as intended. The glancing blow caused it instead to collapse onto the girder, where it lay twitching until it died.
It was deemed unnecessary to bring in the basket crane just to retrieve the bird, so its body remained on the narrow ledge. There it was forgotten until, some time later, one of the supervisors noticed something slippery under his feet in his work area. It was found that this was a squashed maggot, and that these were dropping one by one from the decomposing carcass on the distant girder above. It then became a routine daily task for staff to sweep up any maggots which had recently landed, and throw them into the nearby industrial bin.
Eventually, some technicians who were using the crane to repair some lights in the ceiling were instructed as they were passing to bring the remains of the pigeon down with them. By this time its flesh had been entirely eaten by the maggots, which in turn had disappeared, having either fallen to the floor or hatched and flown away. All that was left was a clutch of dusty bones.
28th April 2009
Regular viewers can well imagine my excitement at the news of : this forthcoming stage production...
Also, this official-looking showreel of Ms Collins' TV highlights has appeared on YouTube, coinciding with her recent US trip:
Good to see the weighty filial confrontation scene from Perfect given such prominence on there along with the Doctor Who and Rock Rivals clips.
That comment on the YouTube page is a bit gushing though isn't it, dear me.
16th April 2009
I've seen the future, I can't afford it...
Here's a project well worth disseminating: Den of Geek's YouTube compilation of adverts from science fiction films (via the excellent No Fear of the Future, which deserves a visit in its own right). Many of these I'm ashamed to say I haven't seen. Some fascinating material; I've already been subliminally persuaded to add a copy of They Live to my virtual shopping basket...
2nd April 2009
By Hook Or By Crook
When I first saw these posters in three successive suburban bus shelters I thought I had strayed onto a location set for a re-make of The Prisoner. Under the stark messages, which use the 'Keep Calm and Carry On' wartime typeface (recently revived for recession souvenirs as a state-of-emergency pastiche), the small print explains that their role is to advertise some sort of neighbourhood 'policing pledge'. But surely no-one believes that these slogans are really intended to make the police appear more approachable and touchy-feely and return us to some probably imaginary era of the good old trustworthy boys in blue.
The nostalgic, united-in-adversity design provides a supposedly lighthearted alibi for the posters' underlying - or rather, all-too-obvious - purpose. Looking at them one feels a 'friendly' tap on the shoulder announcing a chilly new era of permanent suspicion and continual threat. "We'd like to give you a good talking to" (whether you like it or not); "You have the right not to remain silent" (or, you do not have the right to remain silent); "Anything you say may be taken down and used as evidence [against you]".
The argument in favour of this campaign, I suppose, is similar to that which advocates CCTV, ID cards, DNA databases, the tracking of emails and mobile phone records, new search and detention powers... If you are a good, clean-living citizen you have nothing to fear and will read the sign purely as a supportive offer to listen to your views and thereby improve the safety of your community; whereas if you feel worried by the text this must mean you have done, or be planning to do, something worth worrying about.
Having once been on the receiving end of a "good talking to" from the police myself, in the form of a stop-and-search under the Terrorism Act (an interesting experience, I must tell you about it sometime), I find it difficult to read these words simply as an invitation to a cosy chat. People targeted by ill-informed judgements based on their appearance, behaviour or ethnicity already know that when called upon to justify oneself in such circumstances silence isn't an option, and when whatever you say is recorded and scrutinised, you have to choose your words carefully.
And of course if they do not address "You" as a potential criminal, the signs hail "You" as a citizen recruited to act, talk and think on behalf of the police, to join a quasi-legal project of surveillance and compliance which extends well beyond old-fashioned civic values. In this way the posters are a local, ASBO-centric equivalent to those advertising the 'Anti-Terrorist Hotline' (see links below), which suggest that the public look for evidence in each other's rubbish bins and phone in with information about anyone seen "studying" CCTV cameras.
All these campaigns seem to say that making yourself available to the authorities and monitoring your own and others' behaviour should become part of a taken-for-granted personal routine, a sort of daily social hygiene. Eat some fresh fruit; do some gentle exercise; report someone to the police. This is a recipe for paranoia, not neighbourly togetherness.
'Be seeing you.' Not if I see you first, Officer.
boingboing: 'London cops reach new heights of anti-terror poster stupidity'
sit down man, you're a bloody tragedy: 'Austerity Nostalgia Watch'
dig your fins: 'Ignorance Is Strength?'
26th March 2009
Slogging the months away in the distribution warehouse of a retail chain, where the Foucaultian regime of discipline and surveillance (the hierarchical regulation of social exchanges and physical tasks; the language of "personal performance" and "flexibility"; the managerial imperative that "in the current climate" we must all sing from the same corporate hymn-sheet, or at least, as obedient self-monitoring subjects, mime the words convincingly; the discourse of power communicated, largely unconsciously, through countless instances of speech, gesture, action etc.) is matched only by a phenomenal waste of resources and lives. :
I wanted to write something substantial about this set-up but can't seem to find the right words - it's like trying to describe a visit to the dentist while still in the chair with a mouthful of metal. No doubt I'll soon gain the necessary reflective distance when the company decides my services are no longer required.
15th February 2009
A current subject of interest is lost local cinemas. This began when I found myself strangely drawn to Hove's soon-to-be-demolished Granada (detail above), its Art Deco bulk visible from the window of our flat like an alien presence rising from the suburban bric-a-brac. On its opening in 1933 the Granada's auditorium accommodated over 1600 viewers. Later re-named the ABC, it closed to an indifferent public in 1974 and limped on for a further thirty years as a bingo hall (the usual afterlife for such once-grand places), before finally being left to reach its present crumbling and derelict state, a dim reminder of past cinematic thrills. Whenever we walk past the building we imagine the names of the films and actors which once would have lit up the facade, and cannot resist pausing on the steps outside its blocked main entrance as if queuing for admission to a smoky film noir delayed from the 1940s.
So began our search for the vanished picture houses of Brighton and Hove, involving much traipsing of streets and pondering of otherwise inconsequential shop fronts via the excellent Brightonfilm.com and Allen Eyles' book Brighton and Hove Cinemas. Our investigations are still at an early stage, but already we have identified the site of the Electric Bioscope in Western Road, active from 1909 until 1979 when its space was filled by a Waitrose; and discovered that North Street in the city centre was once home to four cinemas, all now gone. The most elaborate of these, the Regent, on the corner of North Street and Queens Road, was promoted by its owners Provincial Cinematograph Theatres Ltd as the first of a new brand of 'super cinema', with 2000 seats, sumptuous furnishings and an upstairs ballroom; the whole structure has since been pulled down and replaced by shops.
Where the signs of the past have not been erased, they have been weirdly distorted. At 64 North Street the building which used to be the Prince's Cinema and latterly Brighton Film Theatre still stands, now housing a Burger King. In a gesture which I suppose I should cynically dismiss but can't quite bring myself to, this is decorated inside with a 'movie' theme. On the walls a few film posters (Star Wars, Gone with the Wind etc.) are slotted between the Whopper meal deal offers, and the still recognisably auditorium-shaped eating area has a large projection in the position of the former cinema screen, showing a TV music video channel. Cut-out figures of Marilyn Monroe and Charlie Chaplin watch the customers as they chomp on chips, mutilate their regulation Burger King party hats and poke at mobile phones, seemingly oblivious to their surroundings. Almost as bizarre as the tribute itself is the absence in the restaurant of any text mentioning the old cinema and thereby explaining this congregation of faded motion picture legends.
The scene has a sort of unconsciously tragic, dystopian feel, coming across like a Turner Prize installation critiquing the passivity of cultural consumption by representing Hollywood iconography as visual fast food, or the set of a low-budget horror film in the moments just before (or after?) a zombie attack. But this is not to say I wish they hadn't bothered; in its own way this kitsch interzone is as fascinating to me as the Granada's ruined shell.
A different sort of memorial has been granted to the Gaiety in Lewes Road, which if it lived up to its artist's impression (above) back in 1937 must have resembled a futuristic pleasure palace with its sleek lines and glowing neon pillars. The cinema was closed and demolished in 1980 after various changes of name and ownership, and no trace of the building survives; but we were delighted to read that the 'Vogue Gyratory' road junction, subsequently situated nearby, was so called after the cinema's 1970s incarnation when, trading as the Vogue, it specialised in pornographic features and live strip shows - so the mechanical gyrations and stylized collisions of its patrons and performers are preserved, endlessly replayed through the medium of this Ballardian intersection.
Such detours make one nostalgic for a time when cinemas were places of fantasy and seduction, their architecture reflecting the otherworldly allure of the stars and films screened inside them. Thankfully, even in today's era of sterile multiplexes one of Brighton's historic cinemas is still operating: the Duke of Yorks (recognised by the BFI as one of the oldest surviving in the country), a building distinguishable by the pair of stripey stockinged dancer's legs which protrude from its roof. The legs are a relatively recent addition, having been transplanted from another cinema in Oxford in 1991; nevertheless they offer a rare glimpse of that gaiety which has been lost elsewhere, onscreen as in life. It is as if the energy of the cinema's interior world cannot be contained and has literally burst out, transforming the drabbest of skies into a dramatic backdrop. Rumour has it the legs even kick of their own accord on special occasions...
24th January 2009
Not something I would have imagined myself typing: listen to Feargal Sharkey, sounding great, : here*. The chief executive of 'UK Music' (incorporating the BPI and the Musicians Union) is not just spending his time handing out crap awards and whingeing about piracy but also doing the occasional useful thing too, like challenging the Metropolitan Police's agenda of racial prejudice.
Under the guise of a "risk assessment" the Met are asking music venues in London to fill in an official form 14 days in advance of live performances, giving the names (both "real" name and "stage" name are specified), addresses, dates of birth and telephone numbers of all musicians and DJs appearing. Promoters are also required to state the "music style to be played" - "(e.g. Bashment, R’n’B, Garage)" are the form's 'helpful' suggestions - and to identify the event's "target audience". This seems to be a police euphemism for "ethnic group", a phrase which appeared in its place on the original version of the form and has since been changed. Sharkey says that including this procedure as part of licensing arrangements amounts to intimidation of musicians and music fans who are not "white middle class professionals", and he plans to ask the Local Government Association "why the Metropolitan Police think they can abuse an existing piece of legislation like this". A good question.
The so-called Form 696 document is itself 'conveniently' available online. (What does it say about the current state of affairs that I daren't link directly to the URL? But it is easily searchable) This article has more on the campaign to get it scrapped.
*BBC Today audio clip, accessible for one week from 23/1/09.
8th November 2008
For Ritual Landscape
"The subway during evening rush hour. What I see of the people are tired faces and limbs, hatred and anger. I feel someone might at any moment draw a knife - just so. They read, or rather they are soaked in their newspaper or magazine or paperback. And yet, a couple of hours later, the same people, deodorized, washed, dressed-up or down, may be happy and tender, really smile, and forget (or remember). But most of them will probably have some awful togetherness or aloneness at home." :
Herbert Marcuse One-Dimensional Man (1964)