Pre-emptive annual X-Factor blog post: Cowell can recycle the same crap year after year, so why can’t I?

Yes, it’s true, I’ve posted a version of the same blog post ever year for the last 5 years or so now, and yet it continues to be apt. So I might as well get in early and beat the rush. And yes, this piece will appear in print for the first time when The Changing Face of Consumerism is published as a physical edition by Clinicality Press in the coming weeks. And no, there won’ be any stands for it in retail outlets anywhere.

The Changing Face of Consumerism: X-Factor Christmas Number One Shocker

I suppose it was inevitable really. Despite the efforts of [INSERT SOMEONE WHO THINKS THEY’RE CLEVER HERE] to outmanoeuvre the hype machine with some tongue-in-cheek alternative hype, there weren’t really any other contenders for the supposedly coveted UK Christmas Number 1 slot. And so, And so, for the third / fourth / fifth / sixth / etc (delete as appropriate) year in succession, the winner of X factor, the ITV ‘talent’ content that runs for what seems like about 50 weeks of the year, has had the best selling single at Christmas.

Congratulations to [INSERT NAME OF X-FACTOR WINNER HERE]. No, really: I don’t have any real issues with him/her, other than that s/he was compelled to audition for such a credibility-free contest, and [INSERT NAME OF SOME SMUG GOBSHITE CELERITY] was backing him/her from the off (well s/he has to do something to keep themselves hip with the kids, right?). But I do have serious issues with the process.

I’m not saying that the whole audition / rehearsal / live performance / public voting / etc. process isn’t hard work or nerve-wracking for contestants, but really, when it comes down to it, what we’re watching is a glorified and overhyped karaoke competition. And the public fucking love it. They get to vote for their favourite, and the lucky winner, who’s already done all of the necessary marketing and promotion for the last few months on prime-time television, gets to put out a record that half the nation are going to buy because they voted for it. Yes, the public gets what the public wants. And once again, the public wants mediocre slop. I can cope with that: it was ever thus. But what’s the alternative?

Aye, there’s the rub: there is no alternative, at least not that’s readily available or easily accessible. And this is where I return to a point I’ve made on various occasions throughout the year on this (and other people’s) blogs: the marketplace is becoming less competitive, not more. Consumer choice is practically a myth. While the large corporations (in all industries, not just music) are so fixated on finding the Next Big Thing – and fast – the idea of the next medium-sized thing and the slow-burning long-term investment thing ceases to be of interest. They want success and they want it NOW! The shareholders want to see a return – NOW – and in order to achieve these things, there’s no scope for taking a gamble. If an executive makes one wrong decision, they’re out of a job (although probably given a substantial golden handshake for their royal fuck-up because that’s how it works these days. There are rewards for failure if you’re high enough up the corporate ladder. But I digress…)

Long-time readers of my blog may recall my bemoaning the closure of York’s last independent record store in the summer, and may also remember, more recently, my griping about the fact that neither of the remaining two stores, HMV and Zavvi (formerly Virgin) were stocking singles any more, on any format. Well, I dropped into HMV earlier this week to find that HMV were actually stocking singles again. That is to say, a single, and they had literally hundreds of it on special display stands around the store. Yup, [INSERT NAME OF X-FACTOR WINNER]’s single, [INSERT CORNY TITLE HERE]. At £3.99 a copy. Four fucking quid! So what if I wanted to buy a different single? Tough shit. If I wanted a single, it was ‘[INSERT CORNY TITLE HERE] or nowt. Suffice it to say I left with nowt.

My local Sainsbury’s is tiny and poorly stocked, but it’s within reasonable walking distance (quite important for someone who doesn’t drive). It doesn’t really stock many CDs – a few greatest hits and various artists compilations and perhaps the top ten chart albums. Again, this doesn’t exactly represent a great choice. But no matter. My local Sainsbury’s doesn’t stock singles. But wait, what’s this? I strolled in yesterday evening for a few groceries and was stunned to see, by the entrance, a huge display stand of black cardboard with a huge red X on top. The plague? Yes and no: row upon row of , [INSERT NAME OF X-FACTOR WINNER] singles. At £3.99 apiece. Four fucking quid! Etc, etc.

Like CCTV springing up on every street corner, within a matter of days there’s been a viral explosion of these CD displays. It’s remarkable how quickly they’ve managed to record it, get the artwork done, the CD pressed and distributed. Anyone would think the record company had known all along. Makes one wonder just how much of the million-pound recording contract that is the X Factor prize goes into subliminal messaging during the series… especially amid the outcry from fans of [INSERT CONTENDER HERE] who said they couldn’t get through (although I can’t say that bothers me too much, because [INSERT CONTENDER HERE] is a cock anyway and we all know these things are rigged).

So what’s my point? It’s hard to say any more. I’ve never been lethargic in seeking out the things I like, however underground, esoteric or unobtainable via the more obvious commercial channels. But I’m growing increasingly frustrated by the evermore obvious squeeze being placed on choice. Most people won’t go to the lengths I’m willing to, and the casual buyer simply won’t purchase something they can’t find. Put simply, artistic merit and even the idea of quality is being shunned in favour of a quick buck. I’m convinced it’s not sustainable, but right now I can’t see where it will end.

XFactor

Really, why do people let these smug cretins tell them what music they like (while being conned into believing they’re actually choosing their ‘winner’)?

 

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Reviewed: ‘Mandy, Charlie and Mary Jane’ by Stewart Home (Penny Ante Editions, 2013)

The one thing it’s possible to predict with the publication of any new Stewart Home book is Home’s unpredictability, and his latest book to be published, Mandy, Charlie and Mary Jane is a suitably unpredictable and audacious assault on cultural studies – and a broad range of targets, as it happens.

Although Home is by no means an author who adheres to the adage ‘write what you know’, he does freely admit to drawing on his immediate environment for source material, having presented journal-like reportage in Memphis Underground and based countless characters on thinly-veiled representations of figures in the art scene throughout his career.

It’s for this reason that Mandy, Charlie and Mary Jane contains lengthy lists of films, and on-line DVD purchases that look suspiciously like the sort the author himself would buy, along with lengthy reviews of exhibitions written in the style of Home’s blogs, and screes of dialogue on trains and in lecture theatres that appear to have been transcribed from real-life scenarios almost ver batim, or otherwise exist solely to facilitate the expounding of some theory.

I’ve always been one to appropriate dialogue myself, because creating dialogue that reads like it might have actually been spoken is difficult. Ironically, in my experience, and as if to prove the adage that truth is stranger than fiction, my lifted dialogue has been criticised for not being credible. In Home’s hands, the absurdity is heightened by the incongruity of context.

There’s also the issue of the 7/7 bombings and the way Home ties this in with the narrator’s delusional quest for some vague domination. This particular event – as Home explained in one of his blog posts – features in the book primarily because it was happening at the time the book was being written and some of the observations on the event are from the author’s own experience of being in London on that day. Yet its inclusion is one of the reasons it’s taken so long for Mandy, Charlie and Mary Jane to arrive in the public domain. Recent history, when absorbed within the context of a postmodern novel, is just too sensitive and problematic for most publishers. Of course, Home’s contentiousness is a part of his appeal, and his portrayal of academic life is as likely to cause a stir in certain quarters as the terror thread of the plot.

I’m not referring to the countless sexual antics with students – real or imagined – but the narrator’s criticisms the university system in the UK. Of course, highlighting the issues of the effects of tuition fees and the squeezing of academic resources in the name of profitability is all part of Home’s ongoing critique of capitalism. However, where Mandy, Charlie and Mary Jane differs from his earlier ‘skinhead’ books which were overtly and explicitly political, is in the way the issues are addressed. Instead of using his third-person characters as parodic ciphers delivering blunt sloganeering polemic and slabs text by Marx et al, the first-person narrator of Mandy, Charlie and Mary Jane offers more subtle yet even more scathing observations from the coal face, as it were.

Home slings in large chunks of review, criticism, critique and theory in trademark fashion (echoing previous works, notably 69 Things to Do With a Dead Princess). The narrator’s Marxist reading of Deep Throat is as amusing as it is audacious, and is, of course, classic Home. By establishing his narrator, John – or Charlie – Templeton as a cultural studies lecturer with a chronic drug habit, these skewed academic musings are fitting, and what’s more, in Templeton, Home is also able to play with and dismantle notions of fixed character – even the narrator doesn’t know who he is at times and frequently contradicts himself throughout the story. It may revisit the character shifts in his 1997 novel Come Before Christ and Murder Love, and draw the more absurd elements from Memphis Underground together with elements of Cunt, but then formula has always been an integral aspect of Home’s output, and it never worked to the detriment of the work of any genre author, or Ballard for that matter.

And so the resurfacing of phrases that have appeared variously and numerous times in his previous works is all part of the joke. It isn’t supposed to be subtle, and by now, the reader is supposed to be in on the gag which centres around the fact that Home’s built a career on declaring himself a rampant plagiarist (and notorious / celebrated self-promoter) and now we see him appropriating from himself quite liberally.

Noting in one of his blogs that Mandy, Charlie and Mary Jane, like its predecessor Blood Rites of the Bourgeoisie was written – at least in part – while installed as a university writer in residence, it’s therefore unsurprising to find Home use the campus as his novel’s primary setting. Equally unsurprising, Home’s choice of location, the City University of Newcastle upon Tyne facilitates the use of its acronym repeatedly throughout the text, adding the type of shock value Home is notorious for before immediately debasing it through endless repetition – which in Home’s eyes renders it all the funnier, in accordance with his recurrent citation of Bergson’s theory that suggests repetition is the basis of all humour. No doubt by the end of the book and the thousandth repetition of CUNT, Home had split his sides and jizzed himself to a husk at his own wit and genius. And rightly so: it was certainly my instinctive reaction. Because as one of the few authors to take postmodernism to a new level and turn its self-celebrating, self-collapsing theoretical existence back in on itself, Mandy, Charlie and Mary Jane sees Home remain several steps ahead of the game (even taking into account the fact that this book was written five years ago).

It’s not just the narrator who loses the plot as the book progresses, and what begins in a relatively grounded realist setting (d)evolves into surreal flight of fancy. The ending is, of course, a complete joke, but also – even despite Home’s previous flights into the surreal – a surprise that’s likely to leave you shaking your head. I’d argue that you don’t really read Home’s novels for their plots, however, so much as the explosion of ideas, and on that level, Mandy, Charlie and Mary Jane certainly doesn’t disappoint, and, equally importantly, it’s perverse, it’s funny and, put simply, a cracking read.

 

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The Worker pt 7: Sunday Bloody Sunday.

Sunday morning. Hangover. Took him a moment to realise where he was. Home. His own bed. A good sign. Fully dressed. He glanced around, the movement of his eyeballs in their sockets making him wince in pain. The pungent aroma of the previous night’s smoke which clung to his clothes, mingled with the sickly-sweet tartness of stale sweat made his stomach lurch, but he observed with relieve that his bed was free of puke and he’d not pissed or shat himself either. Ok, so it was rare for either of those things to happen, but they weren’t unheard of. How had he got home? And when? Where had he been, even? After arriving at the club, already hammered, some time after ten or thereabouts, everything was a blank. He felt like shit, felt like he was gonna die.

He moaned and gingerly winched himself out of bed. Went to the bathroom, pissed like a horse for a good couple of minutes. Bliss! Chugged half a pint of full-fat milk straight from the carton, threw down some painkillers and tossed some bread in the toaster. Checked the clock. Ok, so it wasn’t Sunday morning any more, it was closer to 1pm. A seriously heavy night. He buttered the hot toast on ejection from the machine and took a couple of bites before a wave of nausea broke from the pit of his stomach. He made haste back to the bathroom and spewed it all back up. mouth, nose, some serious velocity. He wiped his mouth with the back of his hand and crawled back to bed.

The next time he woke it was just after 3pm. He still felt rough, but nothing like the way he had felt before. What a waste of a day. Still in the clothes from the night before, he went back to the kitchen and prepared a mammoth fried breakfast and sat in front of the television while he troughed down the greasy collation. There was a match on. He didn’t really give a shit about Liverpool or Chelsea, being a Man U supporter but football’s football.

CouchPotato

A generic image of a bloke slobbing out on the sofa on a Sunday afternoon

 

Afternoon rolled into evening as he sat, vegetating, on the sofa. Fuck it, he couldn’t be arsed to wash up or so any washing, not today. It would keep. Around 8, he decided to take a shower, after which, still wrapped in his towel, he fired up the PC and checked his emails. Nothing much doing. He logged into his Facebook account. A few tagged pics from last night were up already, and a number of people had left him comments, too. But as far as he could ascertain, he’d only danced like a twat and tried cracking onto a couple of birds, both absolute munters, by all accounts. But he’d not screwed either of them – because they’d turned him down flat – and he’d not flashed his cock or arse, so on balance, no cause for concern. He idly flipped up some porn pages. Before long, his horn was throbbing as hard as his head had been earlier in the day, and he knocked out a mix over a couple of chicks lezzing it up. Job done, he wiped himself down, put the telly on and watched some second-rate eighties action movie till just gone midnight. Waste of a day, alright, but it sure as hell beat having to go to work.

 

 

The Kindle – and paperback – edition of Postmodern Fragments is available via Amazon in the UK …and in the US.

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The Worker pt 5: Friday I’m in Love

Bollocks! He awoke with a start. He had been deep in sleep, in the middle of some long and winding epic dream. There had been some crazy alarms and sirens, fires everywhere and bombs dropping…. but in a jolting instant he realised that the alarm of his dream had been the alarm clock by the bed. How long ha it been going? He checks the time: 8:02. Fuck, shit, bollocks, bugger fuck cunt, he’s going to have to get a move on. He hauls his arse out of bed and throws on yesterday’s clothes that are strewn at the foot of the bed. No time for breakfast – he’s still out of milk, and bread, too – he brushes his hair, cleans his teeth. He’s running late, so no time for a shave today. 8:27 and he’s having to run to make the 8:30 bus: the bus-stop is an eight and a half minute walk but he can make it in half that at a run. He hates running, because he’s not fit – too much beer, too many cigarettes – and he hates arriving at work an exhausted ball of sweat. But he can’t be late. He’s in luck: the bus is running a couple of minutes late, and he arrives, panting and thoroughly fagged out just as it pulls up.

It doesn’t take long before the tedium sets in. He usually enjoys Fridays – the vibe tended to be more upbeat, and everyone felt the tension lift as they coasted toward the weekend. But the morning dragged, and he could feel his boss’ eyes on him, boring into the back of his head. He was keeping his nose clean and his head down. Same as ever, really. He couldn’t fathom why this authoritarian jumpstart little prick had it in for him. Probably for no other reason than because he seemed like an easy target for the power-tripping jobsworth cunt. He tried to convince himself of this, but was certain that the fat bitch at the next desk was shooting him suspicious glances. She was a conniving manipulative cow at the best of times, and while he thought their run-in from a few weeks ago had blown over, perhaps she’d been biding her time before deciding to make him pay by using underhanded tactics. So the truth hurt, and if she couldn’t take being told that she was a lazy, ass-climbing selfish lump of lard who couldn’t get a shag because she was such a miserable, self-seeking boot, it was her tough shit.

 

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An office, predictably enough

The calls keep on coming, but, less frequent, he finds his concentration drifting and his time between calls clock-watching. It’s payday: there are beers with his name on, and he can’t wait to get stuck in!

Midday and he was close to the turtle’s head so decided rushed the closing of the call he was on and go and bab one out. The humid fug of body-temperature merde hung heavy in the air, and he was dismayed to find the seat still warm. But he wasn’t in a position to be picky. He laid his cable swiftly and was back at his desk within 4 minutes.

The afternoon drags, but 5:30 eventually rolls round and he’s down the pub inside 5 minutes. Steve arrives, then Andy, then Simon, with Joe and Garry in tow. They’re all buoyed up because it’s Friday and they’re raring to go. The first round is pulled and they get stuck in, it’s onto round two in under 10 minutes. Ok, Varsity’s not everyone’s first choice, but it’s close to work and it’s a place to go to meet people. And, as Andy points out, there are some tidy birds in there, especially on a Friday night. The dollybirds from the offices nearby would be tottering in wearing their high heels, short skirts and low cut tops before long. He felt like trying his hand for some action tonight. He’d not had his end away in months now, and he was getting tired of the hand-shandies. He was feeling lucky, but needed to build his courage first. The totty began rolling up, right on cue and before long it was wall-to-wall minge, there for the taking. Andy got the next round in, and as the beers really start to flow, he’s on his way….

 

 

The Kindle – and paperback – edition of Postmodern Fragments is available via Amazon in the UK …and in the US.

And if you’re loving my work, there’s more of the same (only different) at Christophernosnibor.co.uk

The Worker pt 4: Thursday Afternoon (edit)

The harsh buzz of the alarm slices through the darkness and sears his sleeping brain. He sits up and checks the clock: 7:30. He hits the snooze button, but is surprisingly awake for this time of day. Perhaps as well. He has to be up and out. Chances are he’s still a bit pissed and that last night’s imbibing will catch up with him later, but there’s no time to think about that now. He dresses, eats breakfast, brushes his hair, cleans his teeth, runs the electric shaver over his face. The stubble had been getting itchy and was looking a bit too ginger for his liking. Miraculously, he makes the bus with time to spare, before realising he’s not eaten. Shit.

8:59 and he’s still on the bus, stuck in traffic and some distance from work. An accident up ahead or something. His colon starts creaking and his mouth’s as dry as a pro’s quim. He thinks he should phone in to let his boss know he’ll be late, but the battery on his phone’s dead. He’d forgotten to charge it last night. The bus drops him at the office 10 minutes late. In the office, firing up his workstation, positioning his chair, the usual routine. This morning it’s harder than usual though. A hangover is starting to kick in. His head’s pounding and his guts are churning. And hovering at his shoulder, it’s his manager. Wants a word.

Back at his desk, still bruised from his bollocking – the bus was late defence was no defence – should have got an earlier bus, was the counter, and his phone’s dead battery was no excuse for not phoning in. The fact it was a mere 10-minute delay counted for nothing and it would be a written warning next time – The phone rang. He took the call, went through the scripted schpiel, dispensed some pointless information to the frustrated old goat at the other end of the line, updated the systems, shunted some papers around. Rinse and repeat. The phone rang. He took the call. Etc. Such is the daily grind of the 9-5.

Tension was building now. The hangover wasn’t helping, he always got anxious when suffering the withdrawal. Slow creeping paranoia, he felt as though his boss was watching his every move to make sure he wasn’t away from his desk when he shouldn’t be, wasn’t making personal calls or accessing the Internet for non-work purposes.

Lunchtime rolled around and he was glad of the fresh air. He didn’t really feel like eating all that much, but could feel himself flagging so stocked up on crisps and chocolate for later, and purchased a can of Coke to give himself the pep he needed.

 

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An office circa 2006. Once you’ve seen one, you’ve seen them all, pretty much.

The afternoon was a drag, even more so than usual. The influx of work – phone calls, emails, paper correspondence – demanding his attention was ceaseless. 5:30 seemed a long way off. Being pulled out for a second meeting by his boss for not turning over enough calls an hour really put his back up. He tried to defend his ‘stats’ by pointing out that it was simply impossible to get rid of some callers, but the manager was having none of it. And the issue of his timekeeping is brought up again. A rage welled in his chest. His boss was a snotty little cunt who had no idea of what actually doing the work entailed. He was momentarily tempted to get his coat and get the fuck out there and then. But he took a piss, washed his face and calmed down and decided to stick it out till 5.30. Eventually it came, and he headed home.

His house was a shit-tip but he couldn’t be arsed to do anything about it. He cracked open one of the cans left from the night before and called out for a pizza. It had been a shitty day and he deserved some kind of compensation, some kind of comfort. At least tomorrow was Friday.

 

The Kindle – and paperback – edition of Postmodern Fragments is available via Amazon in the UK …and in the US.

And if you’re loving my work, there’s more of the same (only different) at Christophernosnibor.co.uk