How Not to Party… BT Ad Execs Get Down with the Kids

I find it difficult to watch television without getting wound up by something, and lately that something has been the BT HomeHub ‘Hallowe’en Party’ advertisement. The students all rock up at some undergrad’s shindig and the party ain’t swinging because they’ve got crap Internet, so the smug fucker (he’s a smug fucker in all of these ads) ends up sort of unwittingly and unwillingly winding up with the party moving to the pad he shares with a bozo and a chick who’s supposed to be smart and attractive because they’ve got the ‘Infinity’ uber-broadband from BT that’s so well-priced even broke students can afford it, and then the place is buzzing because they can get the tunes going…

Students sure know how to party these days thanks to the Internet.

Wait, so the snarky bim who’s supposed to be the ‘DJ’ has turned up at the party without any music? Ok, so she’s spent ‘all week finding the perfect playlists’. What’s she doing, streaming tracks off Spotify (and showing her Facebook ‘friends’ what she’s listening to in real-time while she’s at it)? Never mind compiling her own playlist: she doesn’t even have her set of bangin’ choons and choice cuts on her hard-drive or iPod? She needs the Internet to DJ? Is this really what ‘the kids’ are doing these days?

In my day we turned up with tapes we’d compile (we’re not talking that long ago, either) and cranked it up so loud speakers would blow. But it didn’t matter, and nor did the music really because we’d all be utterly shitfaced before we even arrived.

Or is this advertisement just another example of a completely unlikely scenario cooked up by some bozo ad exec who thinks letting credibility get in the way of a half-baked idea is a waste of time because, hey, no-one will notice?

Christopher Nosnibor Banned from Social Network.. for Networking

Back in the MySpace days, when I was refusing to sign up to Facebook before peer pressure and a mass exodus meant I had to move in order to maintain my virtual profile and contact with many of the people who I’d met but who had since migrated, there used to be a running joke about Facebook that centred around the absurd premise of only networking with people you already know.

Having accumulated over 1,300 ‘friends’ (who probably are electric) since setting up my account, it’s probably fairly obvious that I’ve exchanged friend requests with a lot of people I’ve never met, never heard of and know nothing about. I do, however, tend to share a number of mutual friends with these ‘strangers’, more often than not on account of common interests and publishing.

Sometimes, I may not be actively seeking friends to add, but will fire off the odd friend request because, well, because Facebook tells me to. Granted, I’m entirely responsible for my own actions, but the feature whereby Facebook suggests friends is undeniably a less than subtle form of suggestion. Now, I’ll concede that it does list these suggestions under ‘people you may know’, but when you’ve got a significant number of mutual friends who move in the same circles, then you’re into ‘friend of a friend’ territory in a rapidly diminishing virtual world.

Still, to cut a short story shorter, it would seem that one of my requestees decided they didn’t know me and didn’t want to and told Facebook as much. Consequently, I received a notice informing me I was banned from sending any friend requests for a week, and furthermore, I was required to revisit the terms and conditions and tick a box on a declaration stating that I wouldn’t send friend requests to anyone I didn’t know, ever again. I was given the option to cancel all of my outstanding friend requests, or just those sent to users with whom I have ‘few’ friends in common, which was generous, but note the use of the word ‘few’ – not ‘no’. What qualifies as ‘few’? it’s all relative, surely. If a person only has 10 friends and five are mutual, it’s relatively many, but few in real terms. I know, I’m intentionally missing the point to an extent.

Moreover, it’s not that I don’t appreciate the irritation and antagonism serial spammers cause, or the threat to personal security the scamming spammers represent, but I nevertheless find this suspension approach absurd, because it’s not hard to distinguish between a human who’s a heavy user and a spambot.

Can you imagine the same scenario playing out in the real world: for example, delegates milling around at a conference not speaking to one another or introducing themselves to others? Shuffling up to the buffet and not speaking to someone because they don’t already know one another is hardly networking, is it? Or imagine a freshers’ week at university where no-one strikes up a conversation with someone just because they look interesting or they’re wearing a particular band T-shirt or whatever, because they don’t share an arbitrary number of common friends already. It’s unfeasible, and life simply isn’t like that. Social networking isn’t like inviting random strangers into your house just because they knock at your door: the clue’s in the name.

So is this an indicator that despite what Facebook claims to be, and despite the fact we’re supposedly living in a shrinking world with a wider society, what we’re actually doing is growing more insular, more fearful of ‘strangers’ and spending our time indoors not meeting new people, preferring instead to only associate in virtual life with people we know in real life? This would also suggest that social networking is, in fact, the precise opposite of what its name implies, and it would be more accurate to describe it as anti-social not-networking. Staying may well be the new going out, but forgive me for wanting to get out more while I’m staying in.

 

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Farcebook: absurd ‘guidelines’

 

And if you’re loving my work, This Books is Fucking Stupid is published on April 1st.

They were cunts in school and are still cunts now….

Job-hopping was, historically, considered to be a bad thing. A job was for life, and anyone who had a CV that consisted of an endless catalogue of short-term contracts was perceived as either being unable to stick at anything, or incapable of obtaining anything more than seasonal or temporary work – usually menial, low-grade employment that was undemanding and required minimal intellect or, worse still, the kind of person who made a habit of getting themselves sacked. Times have changed. Some people actually choose to flit between jobs and call it ‘freelancing’. Others have short-term work forced upon them, and it’s no longer simply the blue-collar types. Offices and ‘contact centres’ (call centres to those who live outside of the corporate environment) are bursting at the seams with temporary staff and staff on fixed-term contracts – to the extent that many large companies actually employ very few staff directly. While the hourly rate for a temp may be higher on paper, subtracting the cost of benefits such as staff pension and sick pay and it’s easy to see why companies do it, although the benefits are immeasurably in their favour over those of the employee. Many of these temporary staff are educated to degree level, yet are still unable to secure permanent contracts. Even in positions that require higher qualifications and levels of experience, the situation is the same: universities are employing teaching fellows on a basis of a semester at a time, for one or two hours of teaching a week.

Again, there is an immense disparity between the idea of job-hopping as a lifestyle choice and the common reality for those who find themselves forced into a life of what Ivor Southwood refers to in his book Non-Stop Inertia as ‘job precarity’. It isn’t fun. And yet recruitment agencies and those who enjoy the ‘freelancing’ lifestyle (usually the kind of people who get head-hunted and land a short-term contract of a year or two in highly-paid executive roles) all emphasise the empowering nature of the ‘freedom’ this approach to employment affords the individual. For those who lack the comfort of a financial buffer and the capacity to earn large sums in short periods of time, the uncertainty and lack of stability that arises from short-term employment contracts is is anything but liberating, and every bit as depressing as being stuck in the same dead-end job for a decade or more.

The endless quest for a new contract and the endless stream of rejections the endless applications elicit is just as soul-crushing as knowing that your life is slowly slipping by while you sit in the same office churning out the same meaningless shit each dull day. At least that unfulfilling rut pays the bills, ensures the rent gets paid and affords the kind of security that comes will a pension, sick pay and all the rest. As a job-hopping freelancer, you are not your own boss: you’re a slave to the quest for the next thing and the search for a new boss to fuck you and discard you along with all the short-term contract trash not worthy of a permanent contract.

Still, surely no employment can be as depressing as Friends Reunited, arguably the first social networking site – if re-establishing contact with people you already know qualifies as ‘networking’. More often than not, people lose contact for a reason: the friends who are worth keeping, you make the effort to maintain contact with, and the effort is mutual. If you want to feel old, look up your old schoolmates. Check out their photos and see how their youthful looks have faded as they’ve grown fat,old, bald and saggy. Read their profiles and see how happy they are with their pathetic lots as they plough through life unquestioningly, aspiring to nothing more than a fortnight in Spain to provide a change of scenery from the 9-5 which, though monotonous, is the pinnacle of their capabilities, and as they like their colleagues and are able to leave their 2.4 children with their parents or grandparents while they go for a few drinks down the pub on a Friday night, it’s no cause for complaint. The ‘successful’ ones are no better really: leaving behind their small-town roots and making for the big smoke after graduation, they’re rich, jet-setting and love their Autumn skiing trips, mini-breaks to Paris and Rome and will have seen the world long before they retire at 50, but none of this changes the fact that they were cunts in school and are still cunts now.

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Friends Reunited: keeping track of a bunch of cunts you never liked in the first place

The desire to rebuild bridges with people you were never friends with in the first place is simply a manifestation of the anxiety of ageing, the fear of losing one’s youth and all ties with it. Never mind that you hated school and were bullied mercilessly: you were young and had your whole life ahead of you. Rather than face the fact that you’re halfway through your time on the planet, it’s infinitely preferable to delude yourself that on reflection, school wasn’t that bad, in fact it was good fun. But however hard you work on kidding yourself, however much you force yourself and everyone to swallow the lie that you were cool in school, the bullying was just banter and that you didn’t spend those years lonely, depressed and yearning for something, anything, that would take you out of that hateful environment, every once in a while something will trigger a rush of recollection and it will all come screaming back at you. Sometimes, you can’t help but yield to those pangs of curiosity, when something random makes you remember a name, a face, an occasion and it drags you back like an undertow and you wonder what that person, those people are doing now. And before you know it, you’re trawling Friends Reunited or Facebook. You can’t help yourself, it’s a morbid fascination that makes you recoil in horror at that ageing face, that flabby beer gut, those sagging tits you lusted over when they were pert and teenage and hadn’t been ravaged by three screaming brats by three different fathers, none of whom is the current husband, hanging off them but you still go on through those family snaps, the pictures of the works nights out, the hen night for that slapper who laughed at you when you said ‘crotches’ when you meant ‘groynes’ in geography class. You can still hear that honking sound that ended with a snort and your blood boils with repressed anger even though it was almost a full fifteen years ago now. And that’s why you try not to think about it, because when the recollections resurface, the old wounds open up and you find yourself staring into the gaping gash straight into your fear-filled soul that’s been shrivelled by a decade of corporate dehumanisation. You need to snap out of it, now.

 

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

The Novel is Under Threat….

For some time now, the status of the novel has been under threat, not just from technological developments like the Kindle, but from self-suffocation and overanalysis. In attempting to break free of the shackles of conventions, authors of contemporary fiction have pushed the novel to breaking point. Readers of modern literary fiction can often find themselves baffled by bewildering texts, devoid of plot or characterization, so-called novels that aren’t really novels and aren’t clear about what they are. Sometimes, it seems as though even the writers don’t know. So desperate are they to create something new and exciting, they’ve lost sight of why most people read books in the first place, and end up creating some weird and horrible mish-mash of documentary and memoir along with social commentary and whatever else comes to hand, all in convoluted plots about writing the book you’re reading that disappear into thin air midway through. These are the most frustrating sorts of books – and they’re not really novels, and to market them as such seems disingenuous.

Book reviewers in the press and on-line tend to be no help, and if anything compound the problem. Most of them are wannabe writers themselves, and use their reviews to show off their writing skills. And of course, they wouldn’t want to lose face by admitting they didn’t like a book that’s supposed to be clever, or, that the unthinkable happened and they didn’t get it. So the parade of books dressed in the emperor’s new clothes continues. For my money, the reviews posted on-line on Amazon and Goodreads by real readers who aren’t pretentious and who don’t have opinions that are clouded by self-interest are far more reliable and more easy to read too.

Then there’s academia. Academic writing makes the guff the reviewers spew out look positively straightforward. The analysis gets so bogged down in theory and the minutiae that all relation to the book that’s under discussion is lost. The prevalent style of academic writing seems designed primarily to obfuscate any trace of logical, linear argument, and for no other reason than to bewilder mere mortals with the density of language that says little more than ‘look how clever I am’. The emperor threw these clothes out a long time ago when they became threadbare and unfashionable. Stuck in its ivory tower with its head up its superior, self-satisfied ass, academia has failed to realise that the game’s up.


It’s for this reason that a recent crop of pseudo-intellectual smart-arse writers who think they’re ahead of the game by combining elements of criticism and commentary within their ‘novels’ – and I use the term loosely given the negligible semblance of plot and the general absence of characters you can believe in, let alone identify with – really are fulfilling their own prophecies regarding the death of the novel by spewing out such atrociously smug, self-indulgent, meaningless drivel. I mean, if you’re going to kill the novel, atrocious dross like these self-referential treatises are bound to do the trick. And, quel surprise, marginal as these authors may be, they’re getting noticed and building up cult followings because the critics are lavishing their abysmal turgid texts with gushing praise and their bands of cronies corralled together via social networking sites – first of all MySpace, and now Facebook – are on hand with sycophantic applause.

 

Nosnibor’s latest novel – the ironically (or perhaps appropriately) titled This Book is Fucking Stupid – is probably the worst offender of all the books I’ve seen to date. The story is bland and bot very well written with really dull characters who go nowhere, and it’s largely buried beneath endless pages of insertions, including reviews, academic criticism and lengthy passages of pointless commentary from the author. Some of these begin like memoir, and look like they might offer some useful insight into the mind of the writer, but they invariably descend into rants or a platform for something else, and the reader is left none the wiser as to his motivations. Consequently, I ended up with the opinion that the author is even more delusional and moronic than I had thought before, and any interest I may have had in him as a person had completely dissipated. I sincerely hope I never find myself stuck in a lift with this tedious, self-interested egotist who hides having precisely nothing to say behind endless layers of artifice and façade. The most pointless and pathetic attempt at a novel you’re likely to read. If you can honestly say you find something good about this book and can find the ‘point’ to it, you’re smarter than me. Or, more likely, you’re a pretentious asshole and you’re just pretending.

 

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

 

The Changing Face of Consumerism IX – Real, Real, Real

Just as the nature of consumerism has changed dramatically during the course of the last decade – not to mention the last half-century – so the nature of industry has also metamorphasised. In so-called ‘developing’ countries (it’s a questionable term. Technological advances could be seen as development, but an exponential increase in fossil fuel consumption and an insatiable need for unsustainable resource is rather akin to ‘developing’ a 40-a-day smoking habit coupled with some heavy drinking), Industrialisation has caught on, dragging them into the global marketplace. By this, of course, it simply means that large corporations can circumvent domestic legislation in favour of giving workers rights and exploit an fiscally impoverished workforce even more ruthlessly. Driving costs down is good for business, as it increases profits, and the shareholders and the City love that.

As more manufacturing has been ‘outsourced’ to developing countries, the nature of employment in the ‘developed’ countries has moved toward tertiary service industries. Collar colours aside, the most fundamental difference between service and manufacturing industries is the tangibility or physicality of the product. The closest you’ll get to seeing or holding your insurance or shares, for example, is in the form of a certificate or other printed document. When you think about it, these objects which represent the thing in itself but are not in actuality the thing in itself – i.e. the signifier to the signified – you’re buying a concept more than an actual product. Of course, this is simply how money works: the ten-pound note in your wallet is not actual money, but a physical symbol of money. The balance in your bank, if you’re fortunate enough to be in the black, does not mean there’s really £500 that you own just sitting there. This is common knowledge, but it’s hard to separate the concept from the reality. You do not have any real money. No-one ever sees ‘the money’. Tom Cruise could yell till he’s blue in the face, he’s never going to be shown the actual money, just more printed paper that promises to pay the bearer a designated sum on demand. But try making that demand and all you’re likely to get another sign or representation.

We live in a virtual world. In his writing on ‘The Political Unconscious’, Frederic Jameson theorises that one feature of postmodernity is a reality that is infinitely deferred. This theory is now the reality as we exist in our virtual worlds projecting ersatz avatar versions of ourselves into the ether. It becomes impossible to distinguish the real from reflection, not only for others, but for ourselves. Do we become the identities we project, or do they become our real-life selves when the layers of the onion that is the multi-faceted personality are peeled back one by one?

On a personal level, my real-life self and virtual self are indeed separate but given to occasional and significant crossover. And so it is that we both like music and books with a passion, but struggle to get to grips with the modern trend for downloading. It’s ok: Deleuze and Guatarri convinced me I’m ok because a schizophrenic mindset is the only sane response to the postmodern, late-capitalist society I find myself in.

Stumbling around the house trying to avoid the partially organised and rather precarious stacks of CDs and books in the office and groaning each time I try to accommodate a new purchase onto the shelf or rack, I can completely understand why people would want to declutter, to reduce their lives. Yet try as I might, I find myself unable to separate the intangible – the music or the words – from the tangible, the physical – the record or CD or the book.

Nevertheless, I like my intangibles to present a physical form. The way I respond as a reader to words contained in the books I read is a complex process, which, while admittedly develop through conditioning and personal experience, is nevertheless intertwined with the act of reading. An audiobook may contain exactly the same words, but will not cause me to react in the same way. On a purely personal feel, the act of reading also entails the turning of the page, the look, feel and smell of the book. The quality of the paper, however poor, the print, the formatting, the cover, while peripheral, are all integral to varying degrees in combining to create the experience as a whole. Even the process of sourcing books is a part of the relationship I have with it: memories are made in the locating of a book in a little secondhand shop while on holiday just as much as they are of recalling where I was when I read the book, and how I was feeling at the time.

The same is true of music and many other objects – objects that now clutter my home, but collectively tell a version of the story of my life. This isn’t to suggest in any way that I am my possessions, or that my possessions own me and not vice versa. Nor would I really describe myself as a materialist in the conventional sense.

Perhaps it’s my age, but I want to feel as though I’m actually buying something when I part with my money. Yes, I know that in reality that it’s the production – the recording, the creative process – that is where the bulk of the cost actually lies. The physical object – the CD or the book – coat pence each to manufacture. A CD may cost in the region of 49 pence to produce, but paying the artist a wage of some descrption, that allows them to eat while they record the album, for which it’s necessary to hire (and pay for) a studio, engineer., etc., soon becomes a substantial expense, and one that must be recouped – usually before the artists gets paid, too. Then there are the designers, the PR people, and all the rest. So, the difference in production cost between a CD and an M3 version of an album comes down to the medium. However, this is only partly true: depending on the size of the manufacturing run, the cost of producing a CD is in fact negligible, and the same is true of a book. Yet as a consumer, I don’t really care about these matters: it feels like the difference is a yawning chasm that spans half the universe.

It’s not just the sound quality (I know the sound of Mp3 files has improved enormously in the last few years, but even if an MP3 isn’t compressed to fuck, it’s still inferior to the digital spectrum we were once sold as being the glory of the CD, which in turn lacked the vibrance and depth of vinyl. Forget clarity, that clinical crispness strips something from the recording that can’t be substituted or compensated, and the MP3 is the CD’s poor cousin, lacking the physical presence and lyric booklet in much the same way that a virtually turning page is not, however hard it might pretend to be, a fair substitute for an actual page.

I’m aware of the issues of storage, perhaps more than most. 1,500 or so LPs and 12” singles, 600 7” singles and in excess of 2,000 CDs are a real bastard to house in a two-bed terraced property, and to move when it comes to relocation. But at least I know where my money’s gone and what I need to insure. Picking up a storage device no bigger than an audiocassette knowing that it contains not only my entire music collection, but also music to the value of something in the region of £30,000 is almost inconceivable. The same is true of a virtual library. The fact that a fire tearing through the house would – or could – have the same effect regardless of my choice of ‘file’ type is really beside the point.

It’s curious to note how times have changed: time was when an extensive library of books and an expansive record collection were perceived as accomplishments. They inspired respect, even awe. Now, the owners of large volumes of material possessions are considered to be simply behind the times, information dinosaurs plodding a Luddite land of clutter that’s cumbersome and difficult to navigate. Why would anyone want a 10-volume encyclopaedia when mankind’s entire learnings can be obtained on-line via Wikipedia (or other sites if more specialist knowledge is required, but why would you want that, really, unless you’re a real nerd)? In fact, what’s the point of a space-hogging PC base unit and monitor when you can have everything you need on a tablet? A music collection and library that not only occupies considerable space, but cost a fortune and took a lifetime to accumulate seems entirely redundant beside a small, flat piece of digital kit that costs around £300 and can be transported anywhere. And I suppose if you’re happy or able to accept a life of precarity, instability, endless mobility, that’s fine, but it’s not for me.

In fact, for many, owning music seems superfluous when you can stream it all via Spotify. It frees up funds to purchasing other ephemeralities and experiences. Again, the idea of a life recorded on Facebook is one that doesn’t appeal to me. The public nature of the medium aside, I struggle with the concept of a reliance on something that may disappear at any time. If there’s one thing we’ve learned in our world of rapid development is that technology attains obsolescence at an evermore speedy rate. There was a time, believe it or not, when the 8-track, the cassette and the videotape were all cutting edge. Betamax, laserdisc and minidisc were all the future, yet despite the qualities these media offered, early adopters were left out of pocket and out of style, not to mention out of the technology loop. CD was supposed to supersede both vinyl and the audiocasette – yet strangely, the MP3 killed both CD and tape while vinyl hangs in there, with a whole new wave of audiophiles sustaining a market that previously didn’t exist. I digress: the point is that Facebook could be next year’s MySpace, and a life on line is only a transient representation of real life: it’s a history that can not only be easily misrepresented and misappropriated, but one that could even more easily be erased. Obviously, nothing’s forever, but the physical – especially if backed up, duplicated somehow – has a greater capacity to be futureproof than anything that relies purely on the intangible (but then I find the idea of playing a virtual guitar while playing at being in a virtual band equally abhorrent and not just a little strange Step away from the console, pick up a real instrument, learn to play and form a proper fucking band if you have any interest in Rock Stardom!).

I’m not doing technology down as such – at all, in fact – but can you imagine future generations, instead of looking through albums and biscuit tins of family photos and shoeboxes of postcards and correspondence, gluing themselves to a screen and reminiscing about the day that prompted that romantic email, the wonderful day out to the coast captured magnificently in 6 megapixel digital colour, or even the idea of returning to that book you so loved in college and forwarding your friend or child the Kindle download to read and share the wonder? In all of the streamlining, the decluttering, something has been lost. An on-line playlist is not a direct or equal substitute for a lovingly-compiled mix-tape with lovingly-written, hand-scribbled notes on a piece of paper torn from an exercise book and inserted, tightly-folded, into the plastic case. If, as Marshall McLuhan suggested, the medium is the message, what sort of message is a medium that’s so theoretical say about our times and its users?

The bottom line is that if I’m spending money on something, I want something to show for it. I’m not suggesting that it needs to be big to justify the expense, but in a world where so little is fixed, stable, reliable, there’s a lot to be said for keeping it real as a means of keeping it grounded, and as a way of keeping it accessible in the future.

 

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

Dead Pop Stars: Amy Winehouse and Why the Media Loves a Fuck-Up

For a moment, I felt the same incredulity and momentary slip of the sprockets of reality as when I turned on the news to discover that Princess Diana had died, and, some years later, Michael Jackson. Amy Winehouse, dead? Surely not? The way these three stories reached me was different for each: Di was a Sunday morning, I turned on the television to find nothing but blanket coverage on every station… I was at a gig when Jackson met his end, and someone in the audience had received a text and shouted out to the band between songs. From then on, we got updates from the stage via texts to audience members. It was through Facebook and Twitter than news of Amy Winehouse’s death circulated like wildfire, although I still turned to the television for confirmation… just in case. And sure enough, it was the breaking news on all of the channels.

Well, why wouldn’t it have been? Winehouse was a celebrity, famous and notorious in equal measure…actually, that’s not quite true. With only two albums to her credit (which collectively spawned just one top-ten UK single, her biggest hit being a cover on which she featured as guest vocalist) – and with many casual music fans unaware of her her debut, which achieved only moderate success – she might have been a reasonably successful singer, but it wasn’t until she careered off the rails and got fucked up that the media really got interested. Like Courtney Love – who is very much still alive – she only went stellar when things went wrong. The whole media circus didn’t only eclipse the short-lived musical career but also became self-perpetuating. There’s no more powerful blocker of creativity than intense scrutiny 24/7, a bunch of paps in your face every time you leave the house and endless speculation and commentary over a person’s varying degrees of wastedness. And if you have a propensity for drink and drugs, how are you going to escape it all? With more of the same, of course. And thus it becomes a vicious cycle.

Pete Doherty’s band may have been NME darlings, but being a pretty mediocre, shambling, jangling shit indie band, they were never going to become a household name (something also true of Hole, only they were a half-decent alternative rock band, at least until Courtney lost it after Kurt’s suicide and the mess and mud-slinging that ensued, which was at least partly media created). It was only the drug-related carnage and dalliance with Kate Moss that propelled him into the headlines. It’s hard to tell how much of it is driven by the media and how much it’s driven by a genuine thirst for scandal, but however you look at it, fucking up in public is the way to hit the stratosphere in terms of coverage. The media love it, of course: pick your target and shadow it, with the guarantee that there’ll be something outrageous to report most nights of the week and you’ve got an easy way of filling time or column inches. Are the public genuinely interested, are they really that thirsty for salacious gossip about the not-so private lives of celebrities? Maybe the they weren’t but tell them often enough and they’ll become convinced that they are interested.

 

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The BBC had a reporter stationed at the cordon on the street where Winehouse lived. The reporter commented on the sixty-five or so fans who had gathered and remarked on her dedicated following. There’s no questioning the size of her fan-base: Back to Black has sold in excess of 10 million copies. But mainstream artists rarely have truly dedicated fans: were these dedicated fans the same ones who booed her off the stage not so long ago when she rocked up, wasted, stumbling over her feet and the lyrics and generally in no fit state to perform? Sixty-five people is hardly a crowd, and besides, how many of those loitering – when there’s nothing to see, so why not move along, now? – were actually fans? How many were police, and how many were media reporters and photographers? That’s a rhetorical question.

Most saliently, the number hanging around that street in Camden was significantly lower than the body count in Norway. Yet in the rush to give live, up-to-the-minute, as-it-happens coverage of another dead pop star, that story had plummeted off the radar. The hacking scandal was all but forgotten and I can only assume that the fact Greece – not to mention America, but that’s being kept strangely quite – is on the brink of financial ruin and there are wars raging across the globe are only of minimal significance in comparison. I’m reminded of Derrick Bird’s killing spree in Cumbria last year, which saw 12 people shot dead and 11 more injured before he turned the gun on himself. It was major news for a short while, until Raol Moat went on the rampage and the story was all but forgotten about. Despite a much lower body count, a siege was ready-made for live streaming news and much more likely to capture the nation’s imagination than something that was over before the cameras could be on the scene.

I’ll admit, I was never a fan of Winehouse’s work, and don’t think she was an ‘incredible talent’, and the monumental outpourings of grief on-line seem wholly disproportionate. In the same way that everyone loathed Jade Goody for being a fat racist ignoramus until she was diagnosed with cancer, when she was immediately presented with a halo and became a national treasure, it seems that dying young alters the mass perception to such an extent that all is forgotten. Seemingly, dying young it a tragedy no matter what, and makes one a better person, a hero, an instant deity. Thus, while I have no wish to disrespect the dead, I’m not going to suddenly change the opinion I held of her while she was living – a rough, skanky no-mark who got lucky.

But this isn’t about my opinions of Amy Winehouse or her music. I’m more concerned about taking an objective look at the media response – by which I also mean on-line media, interactive media. Sure, a lot of people did like her music, but did she and her work really touch the lives of so many, so profoundly, as to require the Twittersphere to become clogged and Facebook to become a no-go zone for those who want to read anything other than ‘RIP Amy Winehouse’ and what a tragedy it is that the world’s lost one of its greatest talents? Or is it simply an example of people being seen to do and say what’s expected of them, the herd mentality of not wanting to be left out? ‘Yes, me too, I never got any of her albums, but I really loved her music, so amazing, blah blah blah’.

It’s all a matter of perspective. It’s about time people started to think for themselves.

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Liberator! Part 10

Tim had a point to prove and a gospel to spread. He had seen the light, he could feel the liberation surging through his veins. He was reborn! He scanned the slightly tatty leaflet on both sides, then pasted the images into a document. Within an hour, he had a hundred sheets of double-sided print stacked in the tray of his printer. He then proceeded to take the pile and fold each A4 sheet in half to produce four sides of A5. The quality was pretty good, and while obviously not an original, first-generation copy, and the background had been darkened slightly on account of the source document being an off-white shade, the text was perfectly legible. Over the next few weeks, he circulated them as widely a he possibly could, leaving them in public places – pubs, the library, on trains and busses, even tucking them into and between books in various book shops, with particular focus on the self-help sections, in the hope of replicating for others the circumstances in which he first discovered the life-changing publication.

Walking down the high street, a girl stopped him with an extended arm. a leaflet advertising a new eatery or somesuch held toward him in her hand.

‘I’ll take one of yours in exchange for one of mine,’ Tim said flamboyantly.

The girl looked perplexed and probably agreed out of bewilderment, at which point Tim took one of her flyers and shoved one of the ‘Liberate Yourself’ handouts, folded in half, that he had been carrying in his pocket into her small hand.

Happy and confident that he had made some gesture toward altering the life praxis of another lost individual caught on the wheels of contemporary culture, Tim headed home with a spring in his step.

Arriving home his mood altered dramatically. The place was empty and unkempt. The surfaces were dusty and dirty dishes were piled high in the sink. The shower’s plughole was clogged with hair, wet towels lay in a heap beside the shower and unwashed clothes littered the floors throughout the residence. An odour resembling hot dogs permeated the whole bedroom. It had been a month since Amy had left and she hadn’t come back, hadn’t called him or made any form of contact, she had simply cut him out. Slumping on the greasy settee, a discarded pizza box and a clanking pike of empty beer cans about his feet, Tim felt tired, physically and emotionally drained. He rubbed his eyes with his thumb and forefinger. His skin felt rough and dry, his eyes sensitive and watery. He was exhausted, and this was reflected in his sallow appearance. No-one had called him in weeks. He couldn’t bring himself to check his emails or his Facebook profile. The last time had broken his rule and snuck himself a tentative sign-in the bottom had dropped out of his world when he saw there was nothing: no messages, no emails, no comments, not even a pathetic poke. Two months missing and the world hadn’t noticed his absence.

The realisation hit with a sickening thud and a sinking feeling in the pit of his stomach. Tim had gained nothing, learned nothing. He had simply replaced one set of rules with another, bound himself with new ties. Having cut the shackles of technological totalitarianism, he had embraced another equally restrictive mode of living, only this time one with even less sense of connection and community than the dislocated confusion of culture he had existed in before. Instead of finding freedom, he has enslaved himself once more, and this time, without any of the support mechanisms that ostensibly held together the web of mainstream society, he was alone. Was he to blame, or was it the instructions he was following? Had he interpreted them correctly? The world wasn’t changing enough to accommodate his alternative lifestyle, wouldn’t allow him to reject it without it rejecting him in return. The fact he didn’t need it was immaterial: society needed him a whole lot less than he needed hit.

If you want to truly liberate yourself, stay in bed. Do not go to work. Do not phone in sick. Just do nothing, and enjoy. If no-one contacts you to query your whereabouts after a week, you may as well kill yourself.

Tim knew what he had to do. He knew who his friends were alright.

 

 

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