Thursday, 30 April 2009

A prophecy fulfilled

When the Coen brothers released their masterpiece 'Fargo' back in 1996, the people of Minnesota were rather displeased with their portrayal. Those cheeky auteurs were accused of depicting Minnesotans as being rather dull-witted, folksy and agreeably unthreatening. As a consequence, this misinterpretation of the movie's intention has led to the perpetuation of these unfortunate stereotypes.

But then we have to consider Michele Bachmann, and the nine-toed dullards who saw fit to elect her to Congress. Maybe the view of Minnesota as a kind of magnetic north for stupid, isn't so far off. Last year the grinning Evangelical waded into the election season debate by imploring the news media to instigate a new era of McCarthyism, by rooting out liberal views which she deemed as 'unAmerican'.

Next up, she responded to (now President, despite her idiotic scare-mongering) Obama's cap-and-trade proposal for greenhouse emissions, by arguing that she she wanted Minnesotans "armed and dangerous" because "we need to fight back."

Michele's latest outburst relates to the Swine Flu outbreak, which currently has every news channel excitedly firing up its graphics department in an orgy of panic-inducing hyperbole. Her quote on the subject: "I find it interesting that it was back in the 1970s that the swine flu broke out then under another Democrat president Jimmy Carter. And I'm not blaming this on President Obama, I just think it's an interesting coincidence."

Aside from the fact that Gerald Ford was actually president at the time of the last outbreak, where's the coincidence she thinks she can see? Obama's presidency and swine flu are about as related as Michael Jackson is to his children.

That's Minnesotan logic for you. America elects an African American president and look what happens - Mexican pigs develop a chesty cough. Of course, it all makes perfect sense. Yah?

Wednesday, 29 April 2009

A lesson in points missed

With the best will in the world, I have to question what Mia Farrow thinks she can accomplish with her latest project. Having given birth to the Devil, and been partner to several legends, she's now a humanitarian activist with a big heart and a shocking perm. Incensed by the global indifference to the crisis in Darfur, she's opted to do something to shake us from our apathy. She's going on hunger strike - usually the reserve of dissidents and terror suspects.

Mia has decided that the world will care more about the displacement of 2.5 million people if she stops eating. Despite the fact that she looks like she's a couple of weeks away from her last decent meal anyway. In fact, it's not so much a hunger strike as a sponsored starvation, just without the sponsors.

I can't fault her commitment or passion. But I do question the logic of her action, since the only people likely to care about this are the lazy showbiz journalists looking for an easy story. Possibly the worst offender is Us Magazine, which manages to spectacularly miss the point, time and time again.

Covering Mia's valiant effort, the magazine's website starts off well, by articulating her agenda and the preparation she undertook. But within a couple of paragraphs you can clearly see their attention wandering, as they start to find ways of connecting this article to other (more conventional) stories in their archive. First, Mia mentions Darfur, so Us interrupts the story to link to a travelogue of places in the world that Angelina Jolie has visited.

Mia talks about the damage her body might suffer from her endeavour, so they link to 'other stars who underwent shocking weight transformations'. Best of all, when mentioning George Clooney's support for Mia, they can't help but link to pictures of gorgeous George before he was famous. All in all, it gives the feeling of Newsnight presented by a Heat reader with attention defecit disorder.

I think it's wonderful that celebrities occasionally use their privileged position to raise awareness and engage the public. Unfortunately, the only people who tend to care what they're doing can be just as easily distracted by a picture of a kitten dangling from a window sill. So keep at it Mia, just don't be surprised if people flick past your article to read about Paris Hilton's next parking ticket.

Don't give up so easily

I feel a little cruel, attacking the Daily Mail when its defenses are so clearly weakened. Because even its own writers seem to be losing faith in its 'write anything as long as it fills space' credo, especially where celebrities are concerned.

The latest revelation is that Help-The-Aged volunteer and part-time actress Catherine Zeta-Jones is 'desperate' to play Susan Boyle in a biopic of her life. This, despite the fact that Susan's story so far consists of 47 years of nothing, marching onto a stage and singing a song, having her eyebrows plucked, and sitting back as 100 million people watch a clip on YouTube. It's not quite Lawrence of Arabia is it?

Unable to resist adding another ostrich egg to this already over-stuffed pudding of a story, the Mail continues by stating that "It is believed that... director James Cameron has expressed an interest in a similar project." James Cameron, who has spent the last 14 years developing a 3D movie about 10-foot tall CGI aliens, is interested in the non-story of a Scottish spinster who likes Elaine Paige.

Surely, no-one with slightest trace of journalistic integrity would ever consider fabricating a dream of such cheese-before-bedtime proportions? The clues are in the words which pepper every paragraph of this laughable litany of lies. 'Apparently', 'said to be' and 'it is believed' all make a worrying appearance here. All courtesy of a 'source' at Britain's Got Talent.

And that's where it all starts going wrong for the Mail. They talk about Susan saying "she has been dubbed the hairy angel", forgetting that they were the ones who coined this unappealing nickname. The final ignominy is that the only fact that appears in the article manages to negate the entire piece. "Miss Zeta-Jones's publicist in the U.S. said there were currently no plans for her to play Miss Boyle."

Still, if nothing else, the article gives us yet another opportunity to marvel at the skills of their in-house photo-shop department.

Monday, 27 April 2009

Jack's guarding his ring in prison

Smart move. And shame on you if you thought I was being dirty there, it was a harmless and innocent comment about jewellery. Apparently, those nasty brutes have been eyeing up the grieving widower's bling. Which means he probably should have kept quiet about his fabulous wealth, and not boasted about being 'set up for life'.

A couple of weeks ago, it was all about Jack being placed on the suicide wing, to protect him from violent offenders. Surely they could have just given him a set of golf clubs (his own weapon of choice)and left him to it?

But despite leaping from one despairing headline to the next, Jack must be wondering where it all went so right. After all, the media interest that sustained his wife is now his only recourse to income. The stories are hitting the press every day and we're perpetually one day further away from forgetting about him forever.

Interestingly, all of these stories have come directly from inside the prison, and I wouldn't be surprised if the 'source' was someone close to Jack. Like the far side of his bathroom mirror.

Sunday, 26 April 2009

Are we sure they're related?

Kerry Katona must be furious. After all, her own (estranged) flesh-and-blood have put the mockers on her plans for a tearful family reunion.

It turns out that the death of her (also estranged) father led to the discovery of a whole host of new relatives to parade in front of MTV's all-too-eager camera crew. Presumably, now that she's taken back Mark, Kerry's recently announced series about her imminent divorce has had to be pulled. So she needs another area of her disastrous existence to capture on video instead. But when Kerry set up the meeting with her new-found family, they objected to the fact that she wanted it all capturing for her next TV series. Imagine that - someone that shares Kerry's genetic code objected to having an important moment in their life turned into disposable celebutainment.

Apparently, the meeting went well and the family plan to catch up again soon. Which means we'll probably never hear about them again. After all, the cameras are only ever interested if things are going wrong, and in these terms, Kerry Katona is like ground zero. If an unfortunate life is considered a car crash, Kerry Katona's is a 14-car motorway pile-up involving a school bus full of orphans and a tanker full of toxic waste. And we're the rubberneckers slowing down to view the carnage.

Don't let us stop you

Good old Michael Caine, he's nothing if not consistent. Not content with trotting out the same old 'cockney bleeder' routine for forty years, he also makes sure that every time he opens his mouth away from the film set he says something graceless and idiotic.

Just last week he was telling everybody that his parents thought he was gay when he expressed a desire to go into acting. In Michael's charming words: “That’s what we thought actors were - all poofs. And sometimes we were right.” Wonder if he's on Sir Ian McKellen's Christmas card list?

This time, the topic is tax rates. That 50% rate on Britain's highest earning 1% of the population is the final straw. Michael's had enough and he's threatening to leave. Furthermore, he reckons that other top talents will follow, making him some kind of shouty, one-note Pied Piper of Hamlyn. Here's hoping he'll take Michael Winner and Jim Davidson with him.

The choice quote in all of this is: "We've got three-and-a-half million layabouts laying about on benefits and I'm 76 getting up at six o'clock in the morning to go to work to keep them."

I'm sure the 600,000 people predicted to lose their jobs in 2009 would be delighted to know that they've already been pre-judged as layabouts, even as they're still clinging desperately to gainful employment. I think in the US they call this compassionate conservatism. Warms the heart, doesn't it?

Bye bye Bea

Genuinely sad news today as the world of comedy loses one of its most dynamic lights. Bea Arthur, star of Maude and Golden Girls, passed away at the age of 86. In a world of instant celebrity and fame for fame's sake, the story of a woman who worked for 30 years before being 'discovered' and became the star of two of the most popular sitcoms of all time, should be an inspiration to anyone who dreams of a career in showbiz.

In the early seventies Bea Arthur gave a (very deep) voice to the growing feminist movement, and addressed the kind of issues that, 30 years later, American TV wouldn't dare touch. Her iconic character Maude Finlay advocated for civil rights, addressed alcoholism, suffered domestic abuse at the hands of her fourth husband and even tackled the menopause single handed. Most significantly, she had an abortion at the age of 47, just months after the landmark Roe vs Wade decision that legalised abortion in the US. During the show's six-year run, Arthur's character had her finger on the pulse of every major issue to hit the headlines.

As if that wasn't enough, she managed to rewrite the rules all over again in the following decade, when she was cast as the appealingly masculine Dorothy Zbornak in The Golden Girls. Indeed, here was a woman who could take feminine deportment lessons from Hulk Hogan.

Fighting against the dictat that woman needed big hair, pert breasts and shoulder pads that could clog a revolving door, The Golden Girls focused on women their sixties (and above), in the process giving them active sex lives and daring to suggest that people don't curl up and die once their hair turns grey. AIDS tests, homosexuality and promiscuity were all tackled by this disarmingly challenging show, but the quality of the performances and the strength of the writing meant that viewers were more than willing to follow the silver-haired saucepots into undiscovered country. During the course of the show, Dorothy was mistakenly identified as a man in drag, an adulteress and a whore. But never an idiot, that simply wouldn't have been believable.

Since the Golden Girls' demise, Bea Arthur made special appearances in Futurama, Malcolm in the Middle and Curb Your Enthusiasm, as well as treading the boards with her one-woman show. Throughout it all, she demonstrated a sharp wit and a self-deprecating world-view that won her fans around the world. Although she lived to a ripe old age, 86 just doesn't seem long enough when you're talking about a genuine legend. Goodnight Ma!

Friday, 24 April 2009

The dream fades

Poor little Leon Jackson. The teary Scottish crooner must have been born under a bad sign because he's suffered yet another setback. It was reported recently that he'd been dropped by his record label Sony after only shifting 130,000 units, but now it seems like his luck has gone from bad to worse. It's been announced that he's had to cancel ten concerts on his forthcoming UK tour, including dates in London, Manchester, Cardiff and Edinburgh. Still, Ipswich and Birmingham must be delighted that the pint-sized troubadour is still heading their way.

According to the fan forums this is 'heartbreaking news'. Especially since no real reason has been given for the cancellation, except unforeseen circumstances. I suppose both acts (because Leon was being supported by Same Difference) being suddenly dropped by their fair-weather record label could be considered an unforeseen circumstance - they certainly won't have been expecting it. Scottish enthusiasts of the bargain-bin Buble can at least take heart that there are still seven events taking place north of the border. Although it's telling that a spokesperson said "We tried to cater to as many fans as we could and we think we have done that.", meaning that there weren't a whole lot of people interested in spending £30+ on a ticket in the first place. Especially since most people couldn't drum up £8 for the CD, where at least he sounds like he's in tune.

It's not all bad news though. The silver lining on this thunderhead is that Leon has a powerful advisor in his camp. Ex-X-Factor mentor Dannii Minogue has apparently been on the phone to offer career advice. Which is nice. So let's try not to point out that this is a woman whose own record contracts seem to have about the same shelf life as soft cheese.

It could have all been so different. A little bit of encouragement, a half-decent marketing budget, and maybe a singing voice that could cut it live, and who knows what heights Leon might have scaled? He did at least have a couple of decent songs on his album. In fact, here's one of them, so have a listen and imagine what could have been...

Thursday, 23 April 2009

Art imitates life imitates reality imitates life

Anyone who thought that Jade had finally been laid to rest has another think coming. It emerged this week that plans are afoot to turn her bizarre life into a musical, and the search is on to find an actress with the self-loathing, lack of dignity and pure desperation to play the Primark Princess.

It seems that the astonishing success of The Full Monty, We Will Rock You and Calendar Girls have shown that people will pay £60 to watch any old shit as long as it's familiar. So now we can look forward to two hours of toe-tapping genius depicting a clueless dental nurse with a one-armed lesbian for a mother, who goes on a game show, goes on another game show, opens a shop, goes on another game show, makes half the world angry and then dies. It's like Evita, without all the arm waving.

There's no word yet whether songs will be composed especially for the musical, or if the producers will just take familiar pop songs and repurpose them to suit the narrative. I imagine that, to keep costs down (because this doesn't exactly feel like a sure thing), they'll plump for the latter. I'm just not sure there are too many popular songs out there that describe the emotional trauma of discovering a verucca on your finger, showing off your 'kebab', or expressing disgust as your partner wanks up your leg.

Wednesday, 22 April 2009

Jenna shows us how it's done

If you're easily offended, look away now. Still here? Good.

In case you don't recognise her, this is Jenna Jameson. She's something of a legend in the world of grumbleflicks, having starred in over 100 specialist titles, including 'Deep Inside Celeste', 'Where The Boys Aren't' and the spectacularly titled 'Jennatilia'.

So the news that Jenna was 'blessed with an easy birth' last month when she delivered twins came as less than a surprise, given that the foxy star's pelvic floor must be sprung like a gymnasium's. But when I looked into Jenna's backstory, easy jokes about the heavy traffic that must have passed through her Blackwall tunnel suddenly seemed a little harder to come by. Because Jenna has always called the (pop) shots, and been very clear about what she would and wouldn't do.

Jenna's actually a pretty interesting character. Her early life reads like a rather predictable cautionary tale, peppered with tragedy and hardship, including an eating disorder, drug use and violent sexual assaults. But somehow, Jenna managed to turn things around, starting by earning $2,000 a night as a stripper before she even finished high school. From there she moved into porn, largely as an act of revenge directed at a cheating ex.

Six years of 'hard' work later, Jenna was earning $60,000 for a day and half's work, and more importantly, had set up her own company called ClubJenna. She gradually stepped back from performing and turned her hand to production and other business affairs, including the acquisition of a cabaret club and the creation Club Thrust, an online gay grotshop. In 2006 Jenna and her husband sold ClubJenna for an undisclosed sum. Now Jenna can count successful author, mainstream actress and mother amongst her accomplishments.

So to anyone who dismisses pornography as a misogynistic, oppressive and exploitative industry should look at Jenna's biography. She might never be a guest on The Apprentice: You're Fired!, but she's an inspiring businesswoman nonetheless.

Tuesday, 21 April 2009

The great homo hoo-ha

You may not have noticed, given that it has about as much contemporary relevance as a 'duck and cover' safety leaflet, but the Miss USA pageant has been fanning the flames of controversy recently. Celebrity judge Perez Hilton, a man more nauseating than a bad hangover on a cross-channel ferry, asked Miss California for her opinion on gay marriage, and was somewhat displeased with the response he got.

To be fair to Carrie Prejean, who certainly is stunning in a bleached-hair, porcelain-veneered, fake-tanned, overly-aerobicised sort of a way, she answered honestly, if somewhat disingenuously. She said “In my country, and in my family, I believe that a marriage should be between a man and a woman." Obviously, syntax and relevance aside (who else's country would she be talking about in a Miss USA pageant?), she's spoke from the heart, if not the brain. And who cares if it's a heart that's been dulled by the indoctrination of the church? Perez asked her for her view, and she gave it. Like so many millions of others in her country, she preferred to let her religion answer for her, which was entirely her prerogative. I personally believe all beauty queens should be neutered because stupidity is hereditary, but again, that's just my view.

So I'm a little surprised by Hilton's vicious response just hours later, when he posted a video blog accusing Prejean of being a 'bitch'. In his angry rebuttal, he argued that anyone with half a brain would have answered "It's up to the states to decide." But that's not the answer she should have given, it's just the one he wishes she'd given. there's a big difference. We have to accept that we don't always hear what we want to hear. And anyway, he can hardly express surprise that her answer was stupid - she was up for Miss USA, not the Nobel. Admittedly, there's a certain irony in the fact that the prize for the winner is a scholarship, given that most of the contestants seem to have barely finished a primary education. Let's not forget this YouTube gem from the Miss Teen USA pageant:

If Perez really wanted to fight back, he should perhaps have picked up on the fact that there's an inherent hypocrisy in a devout Christian celebrating her vanity (still a sin last time I checked) by parading in a swimsuit and heels. Especially since, when interviewed after the contest, Prejean claimed “...I was raised in a way that you can never compromise your beliefs and your opinions for anything.” Unless there's a prize and fifteen minutes of fame thrown in.

So where do I stand on all this? Well, admittedly, it's like trying to pick sides in an Alien Vs Predator movie. Perez is a graceless, unsympathetic hack, and Carrie Prejean is the kind of person who would rather pray for someone with a differing opinion rather than try to understand it. So I'm going to side with Perez, if only for daring to introduce a frisson of timely politics into an otherwise vacuous and hopelessly outdated contest.

Monday, 20 April 2009

The politics of funny

Say 'hello' to Chuck DeVore, California State Assemblyman, candidate for U.S. Senate in 2010 and ex-Reagan appointee to the Pentagon. He's got his camouflage boxers in a twist because he's being sued by The Eagles lead singer Don Henley. You see, Don got upset because Chuck decided to use his songs without authorisation to parody the Obama administration. Taking exception to the fact that fans might misconstrue the use of his song as a sign that he (and Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers guitarist Mike Campbell) are political supporters of DeVore, Don Henley is taking a stand. He's looking for $150,000 in damages and an injunction halting any further use of the song.

You can understand Henley's frustration, after all, he's donated around $750,000 over the years to liberal political causes. The last thing he'd want, therefore, is for people to think that he supports this Reagan-loving little man, who boasts that his 'ditty' is approaching 1,000 views on YouTube. Chuck meanwhile, has been busy blogging up a storm about "the laughless legions of the left" and complaining about the fact that "liberal warriors are notorious for their thin skins".

Irrespective of which side of the political spectrum you happen to occupy, there's no denying the fact that DeVore neglected to obtain the composers' permission for his song parody. So if Henley wants it taken down, he's perfectly within his rights. More importantly though, the real issue here is that the lyrics to DeVore's lampoon have all the incisive wit of an episode of My Family.

For example, here are the opening couple of verses of DeVore's 'Hope of November' sung to the tune 'Boys of Summer'. Hold onto your sides, it's a laugh riot...

Obama overload
Obama overreach
We feel it everywhere
Trillions in the breach
Empty bank, empty Street
Dollar goes down alone
Pelosi’s in the House
So we now all must atone
But we can see through-
Your broken promises oh One
You got your head cocked back and your teleprompter on, maybe
And can we tell you our love for you will still be strong
After the hope of November’s gone?
We never will forget those nights
We wonder if it was a dream
Remember how you made us crazy?
Remember how we made you beam
Now we do understand what happened to our love

If you're going to do a parody, there's only one rule. Be funny. Unfortunately Republican humour is a little like low fat mayonnaise - pointless, unpleasant and desperately unsatisfying.

In the spirit of goodwill, here's how parodies should be done - with full permission granted beforehand and a healthy dose of funny. This is 'Weird Al' Yankovic doing 'Fat' and 'White & Nerdy'. Enjoy.

Saturday, 18 April 2009

This man doesn't want you to have sex

Pretty, plasticky Zac Efron, he of the sweaty torso and well-plucked eyebrow, has a new movie out. It's called 17 Again and stars Matthew Perry as a man who gets the chance to relive his adolescence in the body of the High School Musical Ken-doll. It opens in the US this weekend and will no doubt be a huge hit with the tweens who make the Jonas Brothers a viable musical act.

In amongst the reviews which have unanimously praised Efron's 'comic timing and charisma' and even the 'masculinity that belies his appearance', there have been a number of references to the film's pro-abstinence message. Apparently, there's a narrative thread running throughout the movie that focuses on Perry/Efron's character's lifelong regret at having impregnated his girlfriend at the age of 17.

Coming so soon after Catherine Hardwicke's adaptation of Twilight, starring the equally hormonally charged Robert Pattinson, it would seem that there's an impetus within Hollywood to carry the torch of George Bush's pro-abstinence movement. In case you missed it, Twilight is the publishing phenomenon responsible for 1 in 7 of all books sold in the first quarter of 2009 in the US. Mormon author Stephanie Meyer created the stories as a metaphor for the advantages of teenage abstinence - lead vampire Edward has to resist his most natural urges every time he's with the love of his life Bella, until they're married of course...

So anyway, the conservatives are all slapping themselves on the back because they've finally got some teen-safe entertainment to push to their kids. Which is great, except for the fact that abstinence programs have been proven time and time again to be unsuccessful. It's a bit like trying to cure obesity by telling people to save their pudding till after the main course.

Since 1982, the US government has spent over $3.6 billion on abstinence programs, with no evidence that they have any beneficial impact on delaying sexual activity or reducing the number of sexual partners that young people have. What they have accomplished, is the creation of an educationally backward generation with no clue how to protect themselves against unwanted pregnancies, STDs, or even merciless bathroom graffiti.

The cruel irony in all of this, is that Hollywood (or at least a specialist part of it) thinks it's helping by creating pro-abstinence message movies. The problem is, by casting hormone-twitching heart-throbs like Robert and Zac, all they're really doing is firing up the loins of millions of lusty young teenage girls, and releasing them into the wild without any idea of how to protect themselves. What an astonishing stroke of genius. Just sit back and watch those teen pregnancy rates soar...

Friday, 17 April 2009

All hail the AntiChrist

Is there anything left to say about Simon Cowell? The porcelain veneers, snide comments and high-waisted pants have all been done to death already, so I'll try to avoid returning to such well-trodden ground.

Simon's been in the news a lot lately, with his finger in more pies than Mr Kipling. Eoghan Quigg's debut album, Alexandra Burke's US record deal, American Idol over-running, and of course the discovery of one-woman weep machine Susan Boyle, have all helped to keep Simon's profile higher than ever in recent weeks.

So it should come as no surprise that once again the knives are out for the supercilious A&R exec-turned media mogul.

Don't get me wrong, I'm not a big fan. His mangled metaphors and repetitive analogies are matched only by his diffident rudeness in terms of irritation factor. In particular I find his all-too-evident indifference to the people involved especially off-putting - just watch how often he has to be told what was just said by a contestant, because he stopped listening the moment the camera was off him.

But despite all this, I can't help but feel the need to defend him when the other media figures go on the attack. This week, Jon McClure, lead singer of Reverend And The Makers branded Simon "Satan", accusing him of only being in the music business for himself and to make money. Which is a little like pointing out that Kate Moss is a little thin. He's an A&R man - his job (ever since it was handed to him on a plate by his Dad) has always been to find artists that will make money for the label. What he's managed to do is turn it into a role that people are willing to sit and watch him do. I'm just thankful he didn't choose a career in colonoscopy.

The problem with people like Jon McClure is that, whilst integrity and a life on the fringe are all well and good, a career in music is still a career. It pays the bills, it covers the mortgage, and if you're really lucky it'll buy you a whole lot else besides. Plus, there's something astonishingly arrogant about anyone who can breezily dismiss all of these shows and their contestants as "soulless". On behalf of Kelly Clarkson, Jennifer Hudson, Fantasia and Leona Lewis, I'd beg to differ. Similarly, when commenting that the "winner of his shows just meet certain criteria" he shows just how clueless he is. Of course there are criteria - most popular, highest audience vote...

It seems that people just want to cast Simon as the bad guy, and his shoulders are broad enough to carry the label. TV presenter, actor, singer and professional gay John Barrowman was interviewed on Digital Spy this week and happily concurred that Simon's shows place the emphasis on humiliating people. But do they? Sure, the cameras are there, and the editing team are on stand-by to find the best stories, but I've never seen anyone holding a gun to the contestants' heads. No-one's forcing them to be there. They've got their reasons, and they're there on that stage (or in that conference centre) because they're drawn to the bright lights like deluded mosquitoes.

There's an unspoken contract here - their dignity in exchange for whatever degree of fame or infamy they can secure off the back of their appearance. It's not really a theatre of cruelty, so much as a set of Do-It-Yourself village stocks. And every once in a while, as last weekend proved, someone surprises us by turning the tables and making us feel like the idiots instead.

Simon isn't the villain here. It's all a circus, and he's the ringmaster, clown and lion tamer, all rolled into one. And I can't think of anyone better to play the part.

Wednesday, 15 April 2009

Foxx and rabbit-holes

Actor, comedian, R&B singer and professional beard-trimmer Jamie Foxx has been a very naughty boy. On his radio show The Foxxhole (gayest name ever BTW), he commented that Disney cash-calf Miley Cyrus should grow up. More specifically, he suggested that she might want to "make a sex some heroin...start being a lesbian...or catch chlamydia on a bicycle seat." Fans of the squeaky clean Disneytronic android were predictably outraged and started baying for his blood.

But maybe the multi-hyphenate has a point, at least about her growing up. After all, the clueless gum-bearer announced confidently this week that Lewis Caroll's Alice in Wonderland (first published in 1865) was all about ecstasy. Confident in her knowledge of literature, she beseeched unbelievers to "look it up online". Perhaps forgetting that it was originally a book, she described the Disney animated adaptation as "perverted". Maybe her understanding of drug counter-culture would be a little more extensive if she had some first-hand experience of it. Otherwise, she just comes across as a synthespian desperately trying to sound cool. And until she's done something slightly more adult than read the Bible with her boyfriend, perhaps she should lay off using 'perverted' as an adjective.

No Angel...

Here's an unusually grim news story. Pop star Nadja Benaissa has been arrested on suspicion of intentionally infecting a lover with HIV.

Nadia is part of hugely successful girl group No Angels, created by the German version of Popstars back in 2000 - like a teutonic Girls Aloud. Having split in 2003 and reformed four years later, the girls represented their country in the Eurovision Song Contest last year, performing an astonisingly tuneless rendition of their song Disappear in Belgrade. Needless to say, they didn't score very highly and came a well-earned 23rd.

It's since emerged that Nadia spent her downtime from the band having unprotected sex with at least three men, none of whom were aware of her HIV status - I guess it was that or pursue a solo career.

Still, it casts a dark shadow over the sparkly nonsense of Eurovision. Thankfully, I can't imagine Gina G or Cheryl Baker ever turning into black widows of sexually transmitted infection.

Big Brother is watching... and Tweeting

Picture the scene. You don't want to shell out for a pricey trip to the movies, but you've got your eye on a film that you really want to see. So you fire up the interweb to see if your can find a BitTorrent site to download it. Unfortunately, the basic search engine function is too complicated, so you go to Twitter instead and post a tweet about the film you're looking for. The next thing you know, you receive a reply begging you to think again... from the studio.

That's what happened to a woman known only as Amanda, who thought her tweet would only reach her group of friends. She was looking for the movie Adventureland, only to receive a message from the film's distributor Miramax. It read "Cmon Amanda, don't do it." Which, let's face it, is about the friendliest anti-piracy warning ever. Amanda, surprised by the warm (if scarily specific) nature of this message, replied "Okay, I won't - just for you." The outcome? Miramax got in touch and offered her a free ticket to see the movie.

I've written about big companies' approach to piracy before, and how clueless they can be. Here's a nice example of one that gets it right. Instead of treating Amanda like a threat to national security, they gave her a friendly warning and then actually rewarded her for her change of heart. But I'm still creeped out by the fact that big companies seem to pay people to sit watching Twitter (and I imagine all the other social networking sites) looking for chatter about potential piracy. So goodbye personal freedoms, and hello to the occasional free movie ticket.

Tuesday, 14 April 2009

I want it all... and I want it now

We live in a world of instantaneous fulfillment. Instant celebrity, overnight success, that's what we all crave. Take Susan Boyle for example, who just three days (and 2.5 million YouTube hits) ago was revealed as the woefully under-polished diamond of the new series of Britain's Got Talent. Within 24 hours of the show airing, the Sunday Mirror had already run an exclusive interview with the style-stymied songstress. And what a difference a day makes...

The story itself ticks all the boxes - learning difficulties, bullying, dead parents, poverty. We can take our pick as to which heartstring we want tugging. It's no wonder Simon looked like all his birthdays had come at once. But what really stands out in the Mirror's story, is just how predetermined the outcome is looking. Speaking about the kids who bullied her in school, Susan comments "They're all grown up with children of their own. But look at me now - I've got the last laugh." She's refers to Simon Cowell as the boss, and speaks about a meeting that she's already had with Sony BMG. Even the Mirror gets in on the act, talking about Susan's gamble paying off and Simon 'grooming her' for stardom. I don't know about stardom, I think she'd just benefit from some grooming.

Still, even if this interview makes her success in the show seem like a fait accompli, and pretty much invalidates the notion of an audience voting for the winner, at least Susan's got one thing right. She never makes the assumption that she'll be working with Simon Cowell - she's very clear that she'd be "happy to work for him".

Monday, 13 April 2009

Blame 'Skins' (whatever that is)

It's the oldest trick in the Great Big Book of Journalism - try to connect your news story to a pop cultural phenom in order to create a tasty headline. That's how we end up with stories about cloning breakthroughs that talk about 'Jurassic Park' technology, or small town scandals described as 'the real Desperate Housewives'.

So well done to the Daily Mail, one of the country's leading purveyors of popculture-news hybrids, who managed to plumb new depths today with a story that their own readers clearly won't understand. In a story about a vengeful buy-to-let landlady who evicted her tenants after seeing photos on Facebook, the Mail describes their debauched activities as being Skins-style parties, before realising that none of their readers would have the slightest clue what that was supposed to mean. In a subtle piece of exposition, 'Daily Mail Reporter' explains "Skins is a TV series on the E4 channel and is based on the riotous life of teenagers", thereby invalidating the whole point of the reference in the article's headline.

As an aside, it's worth noting that the landlady in question, with whom the Mail's sympathies clearly lie, sounds like a revolting piece of work, particularly with the comment: "The tenants were found by a lettings agency, who told me they were a very nice middle-class couple...It very quickly dawned on me that they were actually a bunch of massive chavs." What a shame she didn't find a photo of her toothbrush in amongst those Facebook photos.

Sunday, 12 April 2009

Daring to dream

Since I've been writing this blog, a number of people have commented how 'me' it is. Some say sarcastic, others say scathing, and it would be churlish of me to disagree. But sometimes, I see something that cuts through the cynicism and just gives me a dose of the warm fuzzies. Last night, it was Britain's Got Talent.

I'm not talking about the show itself, that's still the same tawdry, variety show that the I hoped had died out in the seventies along with Pan's People and the three-day week. The vast majority of acts are soul-crushingly inept losers, usually just a gossamer thread away from from a full-on nervous breakdown. But occasionally a glimmer of talent emerges, hand-in-hand with a tragic tale of woe, and the tabloids masturbate themselves into apoplexy. Meanwhile, Ant and Dec gurn from the wings, mocking the acts, trash-talking the judges, and generally just filling in time until their next trip to the trichologist.

So it was purely by accident that I happened to see ten minutes of Britain's Got Talent last night, and the performance of Susan Boyle. This 47 year-old (who looks a good 20 years older) has never been kissed and lives alone with a cat in a Scottish village. As she took the the stage, the whole audience and the three insufferably smug judges, were already laughing dismissively at the woman alternately described in the press as 'Ma Larkin' or a 'Hairy Angel'. It didn't help that she looked like she'd been styled by Helen Keller, or that she made the mistake of attempting to gyrate seductively in a manner that reminded me of John Hurt's convulsions right before the Alien made its debut.

She said that she wanted to be a professional singer, but had never had the chance, as the camera cut to some scrape-faced teenager in the audience rolling her eyes. She dreamed of a career like Elaine Paige, which probably sent the younger half of the show's audience to Wikipedia to look up the grand dame of musical theatre. The judges prepared themselves for the worst, and off she went.

It must have taken all of five seconds for the audience to realise what was happening. It was one of those moments where a show like this transforms from a Roman spectacle of Christians vs lions, and becomes something truly magical, with the power to change lives. It's the kind of moment that once took a dentally defective mobile phone salesman and turned him into the best selling recording artist ever discovered on a talent show. Never mind that 'true opera fans' were falling over themselves to deride the bastardisation of their beloved art form. The fact is, someone utterly unremarkable in almost every way, found an opportunity to showcase the one thing about himself that was remarkable. And people loved it. I wouldn't be surprised if Susan enjoys a similar fate.

Interestingly, we got a text this morning from a friend in Australia, commenting on her performance, that he'd heard about on Ashton Kutcher's Twitter feed. I guess good news travels fast.

Anyway, that's my heart-warming story for today - back to venom and vitriol tomorrow. In the meantime, see for yourself what all the fuss is about:

Friday, 10 April 2009

Li-Lo wants to lie low

Spare a thought for poor Lindsay Lohan. The hasbian-in waiting has announced via Twitter that she and Samantha Ronson are on a break. She's also spoken to E!, stating that "We are taking a brief break so I can focus on myself." Which is good to hear, after all those years of selfless do-goodery. So my thoughts go out to the star-crossed girls, in the hope that they'll somehow find the inner resolve to weather the emotional fallout. Or at least the booze cupboard.

As with any relationship breakdown, their respective families rushed to their aid. Via the press and the courtroom. Li-Lo slated the whole Ronson clan on Twitter, and they retaliated by investigating the possibilities of a restraining order.

But I guess that's the nature of modern celebrity. In a recent post about Michael Parkinson, I slated Barnsley's second favourite son (after me of course), for missing the point about the evolving nature of celebrity. Once upon a time, celebrities were mythical creatures, like unicorns and trustworthy politicians, who lived their lives behind closed doors. They engaged public relations companies to keep their secrets. Now, however, it's the opposite. Those same PR gurus (take a bow Max Clifford) are employed to share their secrets. Because celebrity is no longer the side-effect, it's the goal, the career and the reward all rolled into one.

That's why Lindsay felt the best way to tackle the break-up of her relationship was to announce it to the world via Twitter. It's a strange world, but one that I'm unwilling to condemn or celebrate - since I'm also a willing consumer.

Thursday, 9 April 2009

Has America grown up?

Is anyone else following American Idol? They all seem to merge into one now, with the usual round up of nerds, divas, punk grrrls and white-bread R&B wannabes. But there's someone standing out this year, and it seems like our friends across the pond just don't know what to do with themselves (which reminds me, isn't it time for another Burt Bacharach week?)

His name is Adam Lambert, and he's a fantastically talented showman, combining the thick-set good looks of Brendan Fraser with the voice of Axl Rose. He's made some weird song choices, he's got a rockier edge than you'd expect and he can be self-indulgent at times. But from the first of the live shows, he's quite rightly been earmarked as the one to beat. However, there's a hitch - it seems Adam might be one of the 'boyz'.

Here in the UK, we wear our 'not that there's anything wrong with that' with pride. Hell, we even voted one as our first Pop Idol, although he rather cannily waited until after he'd won to announce it. So what will America do? It's tempting to think that, since they managed to vote an African American into the White House, things have changed for the better. But don't bet on it.

Think of Clay Aiken, who came second in season 2. He weathered countless veiled references to his 'theatrical' style, but he was expected to keep 'that' side of his life a secret. When he finally came out last year, his fans were not happy. One vocal blogger commented that they would no longer listen to his bestselling Christmas album, saying "I can't listen to him singing O Holy Night, knowing that he desires unholy nights".

The difference with Adam is that he seems to be unapologetically gay. Currently, it's big news that there are photos on the internet of him kissing guys. Shocking, I know. But the reaction of right-wing blowhards like Bill O'Reilly, tells us why Adam will have to fight to achieve what should be a foregone conclusion. After showing a coyly cropped version of one of these incriminating photos, O'Reilly asks whether Adam's gayness "will have an effect of the program." The answer is, of course not. But let's not forget that someone else has a hand in all of this.

Take a bow, Rupert Murdoch. The ruthless media mogul owns News Corp, which happens to own the Fox News Channel (which Bill O'Reilly calls home) and Fox, the channel that broadcasts American Idol. Incidentally, News Corp also recently tried to initiate a boycott of Home & Away in Australia, outraged by the prospect of a lesbian kiss. I guess Rupert just doesn't like the gays.

So let's just hope that for the second time in recent memory, democracy manages to trump right wing media influence.

Tuesday, 7 April 2009

Throwing stones in glass houses

Here's a shocker - Parky didn't like Jade. He's been talking (ranting) at the Radio Times about 'all that is paltry and wretched about Britain'. Meaning the fact that people are celebrating the life and mourning the loss of a 'barely educated, ignorant and puerile' woman.

I don't know who he wants us to feel the angriest about - the wicked media who have created a 'smoke screen' around her death, the 'media chattel' herself, or the British public who have seemingly elevated her passing to that of a martyr.

Personally, I feel the most contempt for Parky himself, for not having the grace or wisdom to recognise his own role in all this, or the irony of his comments. Think about it. Throughout his whole interminable career, this tedious suck-up has earned a fortune from the 'media' for conducting grovelling, obsequious interviews with celebrities. Throughout the seventies and eighties, Parkinson wheeled a never-ending cavalcade of celebrity before our eyes, pausing only to laugh at hopeless anecdotes until he almost slipped out of his leather chair in uncontrollable mirth.

He taught generations to worship at the altar of celebrity, and as the show wore on (and on and on), Parkinson became as big as many of the names he was interviewing - remember Robbie Williams' giddy glee at achieving the stratospheric heights of a Parky interview? So he himself became a celebrity, for little more than a regional accent and a talent for tossing under-arm questions at people like Judi Dench.

In the end, he even turned his back on the BBC, ostensibly because he was tired of the format. Only to turn up presenting the exact same show on ITV, but for more money. Yes, if there's anyone qualified to criticise a nation of celebrity worshippers, and condemn people for making money from a woeful lack of talent, it's the king of both. I salute you Sir.

Magnanimous: showing nobility of feeling and generosity of mind

Great news everybody. Geri Halliwell, currently representing the 'W' in 'singer-actress-whatever', has announced that she has no plans to return to pop music in the near future.

As the world removes its collective earplugs the way a Gitmo prisoner might throw off his shackles, we can celebrate instead the fact that she's going to be writing more Ugenia Lavender books.

And what's the reason for this remarkable declaration? It can't possibly be the fact that her last album only sold around 11 copies. No, speaking to Red Magazine, Geri says "Everybody has their moment and their time. Let somebody else have a crack at it. There are younger people around now." Quite right – indeed, Dame Vera Lynn is no doubt practicing her scales now the competition's stood down.

Geri's also fully aware of the harsh nature of fame, having spent 12 years on the sharp end of it. "I didn't want to have to stay young in order to sell records. And I didn't want to have to rely on my looks." Probably just as well...

Still, she can feel good about the fact that she has found her niche and is making the most of it. After all, she understands that she's a "natural communicator, a storyteller." I can't disagree, given that she spent the last decade actually answering to the job description: 'singer-songwriter'.

Saturday, 4 April 2009

Point, counter-point

Lord Andrew Lloyd Webber looks pretty pissed off. And if you've ever illegally downloaded music from the internet, it's your fault. Although, to be honest, he's always looked like that. The lumpy, tea-bag-faced impressario spoke out about the 'dire consequences' of unregulated behaviour, expressing his concern for the future of music.

I recently tackled the same subject on this very blog, although my viewpoint was somewhat different. The problem is, LLoyd Webber is both a creative talent and a businessman, and you can tell which side his bread's buttered on. Despite expressing his fears for the next generation of Beatles, he seems more concerned with the investments of 'TV, film, games and publishing companies' than the actual artists. Rolling around in outrageous hyperbole, he calls the internet 'a sort of Somalia of unregulated theft and piracy', and laments the 'cataclysmic consequences'. Good grief, it's almost enough to make you want to listen to 'Close Every Door'.

The problem is, in his money-grasping, publishing-company-owning world, it's all about lost revenue. So he can't see that the struggling talents he claims to defend, are actually liberated and empowered by the internet, not robbed by it. They can reach listeners directly, they can develop their own word-of-mouth marketing campaigns, and they can create the music they want to make. These are the people who would never refer to their songs as 'output' or 'product'. Here's a great case in point - this is Jay Brannan, a ridiculously talented singer-songwriter who has managed to turn himself into an internationally loved performer, using YouTube, iTunes and the power of blogging.

Alternatively, let's look at Lord Webber's recent 'output'. Shakalaka Baby (possibly the most tuneless song ever to be endured in a theatre seat) and this, our proud entry in this year's Eurovision Song Contest. Nul points anyone?

Forget Simon Cowell, I'll buy the ticket

Amanda Holden. Lovely, likeable (cough) lightbulb-headed Amanda Holden. Despite a string of successful acting appearances, most people still remember her as the frozen-faced temptress responsible for Les Dennis having a nervous breakdown in the Big Brother garden. However, she's put all that behind her and has forged a lucrative second-life as a talent show judge.

But the grass is always greener on the other side of the pond. So she's been eyeing up fellow judge Piers Morgan's transatlantic status as talent-spotter par excellence.

"I want that for myself. I've dropped loads of hints to Simon. Piers has the best of both worlds - going off for a few weeks to the US, then flying back to London. I could do that." she said recently.

As could most people, since it's hardly the most taxing role in the world - watching a bunch of singing toddlers, novelty acrobats and quirky magicians, then pressing a buzzer. Still, if she'd rather do it over there than here at home, I'd be the first to wave her off.

Let's hear it for the 'droid

After a whole bunch of posts about gormless celebrities unaware of their own fidiocy, I wanted to do something more positive. So here's a little shout-out to Paul Verhoeven, Ed Neumeier and everyone else involved in creating one of my favourite epics of ultraviolence.

Made in 1987, RoboCop was Verhoeven's first hollywood movie, and gave audiences a sharp insight into the kind of films he intended to make - socially progressive, gut-bustingly violent and always ready to veer from horror into humour at a moment's notice.

When I look at what passes for big budget action movies nowadays, I long for a time when a glossy action thriller would feature dialogue like: "There's no better way to steal money than free enterprise." Especially in a film that was so ahead of its time in portraying venal, faceless corporations (could anyone conceive of a more generic name than Omni Comsumer Products?) bidding for public sector contracts to skim a big fat profit off human misery and urban decay. OK, so maybe they weren't able to predict the creation of the internet or the advent of LCD TVs, but in terms of corporate malfeasance, the dumbing down of TV (I'll buy that for a dollar) and its matter-of-fact treatment of gender equality, this was truly ahead of its time.

Stay out of trouble.

Friday, 3 April 2009

Not that there's anything wrong with that...

Spare a thought for poor Adam Rickitt. The one-time Coronation Street star, turned failed popstar, turned failed Conservative candidate, turned successful shoplifter, turned soap actor (again), clearly needs a little publicity. He's currently acting in New Zealand soap Southland Street, and has been talking to the press... about how annoying the press can be.

The source of his discontent is the constant media speculation about his sexuality. According to Adam, there's no truth in the rumours, it's a case of guilt by association: "My manager was gay, my A&R man was gay, my choreographer was gay...but that's what the marketplace is for pop music. It's young girls and gay men. I'm shallow enough to realise you follow the money."

Diddums. So, just to be clear - he's happy to pander to the gay audience, since that's where the money is, but it gets very annoying when people assume he's gay too. In retrospect, maybe videos like this weren't the smartest move.

Still, at least there's a whole generation of girls who can now dream of romantic evenings spent listening to his inarticulate ramblings about Tony Blair's short-comings, and watching him wax his washboard stomach. Swoon.

Thursday, 2 April 2009

Shame on her!

Thank God for the Daily Mail. On a slow news day, I know I can always find something to get me irritated in their Aladdin's cave of indignant, incredulous trash.

Yesterday's hot topic was the headline: Britney Spears Calls In The Airbrush Experts. In typically jeering style, the Mail revels in pictures of Britney's 'wobbly tummy' taken in concert a month ago, compared with pictures of her used in a new ad campaign.

What really irks me about this story is the way they portray the need for photoshop as a diva-like demand from the star herself. The fact is, the photographer, client, ad agency and talent representatives would have all had a say in the use of any image manipulation tools. Britney has been photoshopped whether she likes it or not.

Of course, the real irony in all this, is the fact that the Daily Mail is drawing attention to the misuse of software like PhotoShop. Especially since they are internationally renowned for having some of the sloppiest graphic designers in the business. And let's not even get started on the dubious ethics of a newspaper feeling that it's acceptable to doctor images that accompany its news stories.

My particular favourite is this picture of Anne Diamond, holding a fan of 'offensive' computer games that she reviewed for the Mail. I must have missed the following day's issue when they asked Dominik Diamond to create a knitting pattern.

Wednesday, 1 April 2009

The kids are alright…

“They fuck you up, your mum and dad” wrote Philip Larkin in 1971. And let’s be honest, the man had a point. But this is a truism that touches every sector of society, from the uber-poor to the ultra-rich. To quote another modern poet, Keanu Reeves (in Parenthood), “…you need a license to buy a dog, to drive a car - hell, you even need a license to catch a fish. But they'll let any butt-reaming asshole be a father.”
So thanks then to MTV, for going out of their way to illustrate Keanu’s point in spectacular fashion in their series ‘Super Sweet 16’. Here we get to follow a host of nauseating little arguments for post-natal birth control, as they each prepare to host the ultimate sweet sixteen party, all bankrolled by dads who make Josef Fritzl look like father of the year.
For instance, here’s Jade – a noxious little mess of orange hair and unfortunate features – who wants just a few pictures of herself adorning the walls of her chosen venue. The most priceless moment is her oblivious response to the mockingly sarcastic venue manager who suggests Jade-wallpaper. Jade also tells us: “If I couldn’t shop, I’d probably commit suicide or summink.” If only.
Episode 108  Jade
And say hello to Freddy. He’s so fidiotic that he’s planning his fifteenth birthday party on a show called Super Sweet Sixteen. His big birthday present from his doting, pig-ignorant father is a trip to Hollywood for acting lessons. As Freddy tells us, he’s going to be a famous actor in America, although I’m not sure that Under-Age Puppy-Fat Boyz Part 8 has started casting yet… Still his friends are all like Totally OMFG about the whole thing, so that’s nice.
Episode 205  Freddy
So watch these clips (click on the MTV logos)and weep for the nation’s youth, as well as the God-awful morons that spawned them.

Gracious in defeat

Bad news for anyone with ears or eyes, as Rhydian announces in characteristically low-key fashion that he's going to be releasing a second album. That's right, the secret ginger from the valleys managed to outsell X-Factor winner Leon Jackson with an album full of bellowing pOpera classics that people bereft of inspiration bought for unloved relatives at Christmas.

Unlike Leon and creepy incest act Same Difference (who at least managed a half-decent pop album), Rhydian has deftly dodged the dumper and lived to bleach another day. But with a little distance between himself and the show that discovered him, the pock-marked mask of humility is beginning to slip.

If you cast your minds back, you may remember the early stages of the X-Factor when Rhydian was the comic relief, with his hopelessly unironic arrogance.

But unhappy with his portrayal (sorry Rhydian, the camera might magnify, but it doesn't lie) he complained about the editing, so the producers wiped the slate clean and recast him as the showman, at a level of camp that Liberace would have asked to tone down. Rhydian wasn't happy about that either, and appeared very uncomfortable when taking to a stage awash with seamen (stop it!) to perform Go West. In the end, the weeping Scottish twiglet won, but it was Rhydian that shifted the units.

Now he's gearing up to go back in the studio, but is mindful not to revel in his friends' change of fortune. "I feel for those who have gone off the radar, I think Leon has gone back to Scotland and Same Difference might be at Butlins… I wouldn't know what to say now. I couldn't tell them about all the stuff I've been doing like shows in Japan and Rome and my UK tour. That would be embarrassing." Quite.