Monday, 29 June 2009

Death takes a holiday, visits Hollywood

After the double whammy of Farrah Fawcett and Michael Jackson, suspicious celeb-watchers, convinced of the rule of three, have been scrutinising the news media for details of who would complete the terminal tryptich. Conveniently disregarding the death of long-time Johnny Carson cohort Ed McMahon and shouty infomercial legend Billy Mays, the harbingers of doom have grown increasingly random in the search for celebritragedy.

As a result, we were treated to the shocking news that stuttering movie mumbler Jeff 'one note' Goldblum had fallen off a cliff whilst filming in New Zealand. Suspicious movie fans' skepticism was presumably piqued by the very idea that Goldblum was working, given the fact that almost a decade has elapsed since anyone has seen him in anything. Nonetheless, it only took a couple of hours for the lanky ex-BrundleFly's supposed demise to be ranked in Google Trends' top five most popular search terms.

A day later and it was Britney Spears' turn to do battle with the Grim Reaper's online counterpart, as pranksters spread bogus information after hacking into her Twitpic account. Why no-one bothered to question how Britney was able to tweet from beyond the grave I'll never know. Still, with the world already in mourning mode, I guess it didn't seem too much of a stretch to add Louisiana's favourite pop tart to the 'in memoriam' guest list.

The whole phenomenon of prematurely announced celebrity mortal-coil-shuffling is nothing new, even Mark Twain once famously had to write a letter stating "the report of my death was an exaggeration". The difference is, tweets and blogs give the anonymous masses the power to make up whatever story they like and transmit it across the world in a nano-second. And information overload means its almost impossible to seperate the factual wheat from the fictional chaff.

Sunday, 28 June 2009

Pop will Tweet itself

I've made several mentions of the micro-blogging phenomenon Twitter on this blog, but I thought it warranted a more detailed mention since the site has been in the news a few times over the weekend.

First off, as Paramount celebrates an astonishing $201 million five-day weekend (second only to The Dark Knight) for Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen, questions are being asked about its unscrupulous marketing techniques. Thanks to some 'investigative journalism' on the part of Sci-Fi Wire (hardly Woodward and Bernstein but commendable nonetheless), it's emerged that Paramount has been looking to counteract the astonishingly poor reviews by activating some good old-fashioned word-of-mouth to stimulate interest.

The problem is, in treating the public like idiots they've unwittingly showcased their own lack of brain-power. Why else would they activate hundreds of anonymous Twitter accounts and use the exact same message, in order to try and get the word out there that Transformers wasn't a painfully tedious car-wreck? Whether or not these mind-numbingly vacuous posts inspired anyone to drag themselves to a multiplex to see 150 minutes of whirring machinery is hard to tell, but this should still be cautionary tale for marketeers who think that social networking sites are an easy way into their target audience's mindset.

Twitter has also given a wealth of celebrities the opportunity to claim their own share of Michael Jackson's limelight directly, rather than waiting for the press to come to them (unlike Liz Taylor who hilariously issued a statement through her publicists that she was too grief-stricken to issue a statement about how grief-stricken she was). Peter Andre, Jenni Falconer, Chris Fountain and Philip Schofield are just some of the non-entities who've managed to shoehorn themselves into the international dialogue about Jackson's passing by sharing their 'shock and sadness' in a public forum. All of this rampant twittering has ultimately seen Michael Jackson dominate 15% of all posts, apparently three times more than any other subject in the history of the site.

Also adding to the dialogue are more established Twittebrities, whose prolific postings are threatening to supercede whatever it was they were famous for in the first place. Despite the fact that no-one I know can name a single film they can recall seeing him in, Ashton Kutcher made international headlines by being the first person to claim one million followers. Likewise, Lindsay Lohan prefers to Tweet about her ex-girlfriend or what she thinks Justin Timberlake has been getting up to, rather than concentrating on what used to be her day job.

It should come as no surprise that such unprecedented access to celebrities has seen the creation of sites like CelebrityTweet! a website which offers you the chance to 'stalk celebrities on Twitter!' Marc Chapman and John Hinckley Jr must be gutted that they were born too early to miss out on all the fun.

But isn't that what's really changed here? Celebrity used to be the price you paid for following your art, but not anymore. Now, your success is measured in the number of people following you, and surely there's a fine line between that and stalking. Only now, celebrities are all too willing to open themselves up and share the mundane minutiae of their lives with their adoring public. And we're only to happy to go rooting through their garbage...

Saturday, 27 June 2009

The highs and lows of culture

There seems to be a media black-out on anything not related to the ex-King of Pop at the moment. The only celebrity news currently being reported is who's said what on Twitter about their grief for Michael Jackson. But as is always the case when someone is dispatched to the great VIP area in the sky, there are also a number of commentators who feel compelled to analyse the context of the grief and what it says about us as a society.

Usually, these editorials are less than complementary about the hoi polloi, and strive to intellectualise the writer's viewpoint. One such bullshit bulletin was posted on the irritating website which claims to be the ultimate destination for 'the most interesting and creative artists, authors and culture creators'.

In an astonishingly pompous posting that epitomises 'shitting on one's doorstep', entertainment writer Lou Carlozo attacks not only Michael Jackson himself, but also the entire concept of 'popular culture'. Given the nature of this very blog, Carlozo's words have a particular resonance that I'd like to address.

Having rechristened Jackson as the 'King of Pop Culture', Carlozo begins by accusing pop culture as "valuing the ephemeral over the substantive". Aside from the fact that some of Jackson's most remarkable contributions to both music and dance are almost thirty years old, who's to say that art must be enduring? Surely an artistic creation is valid, even if its lifespan only lasts for seconds rather than decades. Carlozo also sniffily dismisses Jackson as an entertainer rather than an artist, as though the two concepts are mutually exclusive.

The writer's second concern is that pop culture focuses on the artist rather than the person. Apparently his problem is that not all artists are nice people. Some of them cheat on their partners, neglect their children and focus on their career. He condemns John Lennon for being an absent father and Kurt Cobain for his selfish suicide, but it's often the demons that drive the most creative souls. Whether or not you agree with his worldview, which would imply that Pat Boone was a more worthy artist than Sam Cooke simply because he led a more virtuous life, Carlozo completely misses the point about popular culture. The convergence of celebrity and pop culture means that the life of the contemporary artist is scrutinised more closely now than at any other point in time.

Carlozo then goes on to accuse pop culture of profiting from other people's pain. Apparently, the fact that Michael Jackson memorabilia will likely proliferate on Ebay is a sign that people are looking to make money from his death. Now excuse me if I've got this wrong, but I thought that this is also true of high culture. After all, Vincent Van Gogh struggled with poverty his entire life, and committed suicide at the age of 37. It was only after his death that the true value of his work was realised. Interestingly, in 1990 one of his paintings sold for an astonishing $82.5 million.

His final, and most ridiculous claim is that pop culture "worships the wrong gods". Without any facts or evidence to base his theory on, Carlozo speculates that people crying for dead celebrity don't bother to pray for their own dead friends. In his words, "Music can salve. But it cannot save." Actually, music saves people all the time. It offers them hope, redemption and even a second chance. For example, rapper DMC famously credited Sarah McLachlan's song Angel with saving him from suicide.

You know, it's easy to lay into popular culture and condemn it as mindless ephemera for the unthinking masses. We all know someone who has a TV but refuses to pay for a license because "it's all trash anyway". We all have friends who like films, rather than movies, and will only watch something if it's black and white, subtitled and has been seen by about as many people as can fit into a Renault Clio. And we've all had a conversation with someone who claims to love Fleetwood Mac, but only the Peter Green era.

Pop culture is a broad ranging term that covers all kinds of creative expression, in a context that enables the widest possible audience to access it. And it gives them a universal vernacular that cuts across social, racial, gender and age boundaries, allowing them to connect through a shared experience. I'm proud of my love for popular culture, and if you've read this far, I'm guessing you are too.

Friday, 26 June 2009

The Way He Made Me Feel

Unoriginal, predictable and unimaginative. That's how it feels to be writing about Michael Jackson today, after seeing how coverage of his death is dominating every single terrestrial and cable channel right now. Whenever a celebrity dies, two things always happen - some people rush to deify, while others choose to condemn and dismiss. At first, I thought I might lean more naturally towards the latter.

Then I realised something. Everywhere I've been today, I've heard nothing but Michael Jackson's music. Driving to work it was all I could find on the radio. At the office, the playlist in the design studio played Jackson's music all day. We went out for a team lunch and the pub was playing MJ's greatest hits. Then this evening we went to an arts exhibition, and the DJ played an exclusive set of Michael Jackson. Everyone was nodding solemnly and singing along with every song under their breath.

It was then that I realised that this was something extraordinary. For the last 25 years Michael Jackson has been a one-man joke industry, an easy punchline for anyone who chose to disregard his impact on popular music. Whether or not you agreed with his self-proclaimed status as the 'King of Pop', you'd be hard-pressed to name an alternative worthy of the title. With the news media and blogosphere utterly dominated with quickly written eulogies, I thought I'd take a different approach and simply address all the things I learned from Michael Jackson's fifty short years.

1) Don't stop till you get enough
Michael was already storming the charts with his brothers by the age of 11, scoring four consecutive number ones with I Want You Back, ABC, The Love You Save and I'll Be There. Problem is, when you conquer the world of music before your voice breaks, where do you go from there? By the midpoint in his life he'd already recorded the world's best-selling album Thriller. It's no wonder James Cameron has been under the radar for 12 years since winning the Oscar for Titanic.

2) It don't matter if you're black or white
People found Michael's skin tone an endless source of fascination. It started back in the mid-80s. His face looked patchy and he started wearing the glove - which most people put down to celebrity eccentricity and poor fashion sense. By the time he released Black or White in 1991, they found the lyrics ironic in the extreme. After all, if one's colour was irrelevant, why had he gone out of his way to change his racial identity? It emerged later that he had been diagnosed with vitiligo back in 1986, and in 1990 was prescribed a de-pigmentation cream to even his skin tone. By the late nineties he was almost translucent, and spent his time under a parasol or behind a man-burqa to protect his skin.

3) You've been hit by a smooth criminal
During the latter stages of his career Michael was accused not once but twice of child molestation. The first time his accuser was 13-year old Jordan Chandler who, together with his father, concocted a compelling case against the troubled singer. Eventually the Chandlers settled for $22 million and Jordy refused to participate in any further prosecution. Despite the fact that we live in a world where 'innocent until proven guilty' is supposed to be our legal system's guiding principle, Jackson was forever tarnished by this chain of events. Now that Jackson has moonwalked off this mortal coil, we may finally find out the details of the case. But I've always been willing to give him the benefit of the doubt, if only because I believe that no parent worth their salt would ever accept a payment in place of prosecuting the person who had molested their child.

4) Never can say goodbye
Throughout his life Jackson inspired a level of fandom that George Lucas could only dream of. His impersonators even went under the knife to reconstruct their face to replicate his ever-more grotesque visage. Wherever he went there was always a healthy-sized crowd of uberfans willing to hyperventilate simply by being in close proximity to their idol. I imagine the coming weeks and months will be particularly tough for them.

5) I can thrill you more than any ghost would ever dare try
Not only did Michael break down racial barriers by being the first African-American artist to appear on MTV, his artistry redefined the entire genre of music videos. Partnering with visionaries such as John Landis, Martin Scorsese, David Fincher and Spike Lee, he turned the music video from a three-minute promo into a multi-million dollar experiment in short film-making.

6) The kid is not my son
His love of children led inexorably towards him having children of his own, Michael Jr, Paris and Prince (Blanket). However, following revelations of surrogacy and artificial insemination, not to mention the fact that the children (when we got a glimpse of them) were whiter than the Midwich Cuckoos, it became clear that Michael might have bought the kids rather than made them himself. Either way, he at least made sure that they enjoyed a life outside of public scrutiny, giving them a chance at an anonymous upbringing, something he himself never experienced.

7) You rock my world
Rock With You. Thriller. Bille Jean. Beat It. Bad. The Way You Make Me Feel. Smooth Criminal. Black Or White. Jam. Stranger in Moscow. Ten great hits, and that's just for starters. He rocked everyone's world. Is it any wonder that by lunchtime he filled seven places in iTunes top ten albums chart?

8) Invincible
He wasn't.

Thursday, 25 June 2009

Hell's belles

I'll be honest. I always thought James Ferman, ex-director of the British Board of Film Classification, was a bit of a tit. Seeing his role as an opportunity to dictate what grown adults could and couldn't see, Ferman presided over some ridiculous decisions in his 24 years at the BBFC.

He was so disturbed by The Texas Chain Saw Massacre, that he banned any film that even had the garden implement in its title. He also famously censored any film in which nunchucks appeared. This rendered the already baffling Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles movie utterly incoherent, and even saw innocuous films like A Very Brady Sequel gathering dust on the shelf.

But Ferman's bête noire was a film about a little girl, a troubled priest and a sticky crucifix. William Friedkin's brilliant adaptation of William Peter Blatty's bestseller The Exorcist troubled Ferman so much that the film was effectively outlawed for two decades. He argued that the film was too effective for its own good. Going on a film that's currently doing the rounds in the US, I'm beginning to wonder whether maybe Ferman had a point.

This YouTube clip shows news coverage of husband-and-wife team Patricia and Kelvin McKinney, of the Manifested Glory Ministries in Bridgeport, Connecticut, conducting an exorcism to expel the 'gay demon' possessing a young man.

As well as throwing their teenage victim around like a rag-doll, they yell things like “Rip it from his throat! Come on, you homosexual demon! You homosexual spirit, we call you out right now! Loose your grip, Lucifer!" Presumably because there's no latin translation for this particular invocation.

However vigorously Patricia and Kelvin throw themselves into this misguided venture, it's still doomed to failure, much like electroshock treatment and aversion therapy before it.

I found the following description of the Devil on a Christian website:

"Satan is a con artist. He wants to rip you off, cheating you out of everything that is rightfully yours. He’s the enemy of everything good, hating you with all his filthy fury...the Enemy has nothing left but psychological warfare – illusions, false accusations, attempted brainwashing."

If that's the case, then maybe demons are present on that film. I just don't think they're hiding inside the poor confused kid convulsing all over the floor.

Droidz N The Hood

Posting record-breaking opening day grosses for a Wednesday, Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen is already shaping up to be one of this summer's biggest hit movies.

Despite the fact that most critics seem to equate watching the movie with staring into the spinning blades of a Kenwood Chef for two-and-a-half hours, the big-budget sequel has proved itself critic proof. No doubt director Michael Bay is laughing all the way to the bank, even whilst planning to blow it up and film it from 14 angles in slow motion.

But it's not just the critics who've laid into this orgy of clanking cogs and pyrotechnics. A number of concerned viewers have expressed dismay at the addition of two new robots, Skids and Mudflap (both of whose names have unpleasant scatalogical connotations), who seem to be based on horribly outdated racial stereotypes.

These two comic relief characters speak in street slang, claim to be illiterate and come from 'da hood'. One even has a gold tooth - but don't worry if that sounds ridiculous. This is, after all, a film that features an older transformer called Jetfire, whose age is represented by his beard.

With the controversy growing by the minute, Michael Bay and the voice performer Reno Wilson have argued that it's just for fun. Not so, say hotshot writers Alex Kurtzman and Roberto Orci, who have expressed (rather belated) dismay at the distasteful interpretation of their script. Kurtzman said in an interview with, "It’s really hard for us to sit here and try to justify it. I think that would be very foolish, and if someone wants to be offended by it, it’s their right."

This kind of gross ethnic stereotyping is nothing new, just ask Mickey Rooney who played Holly Golightly's 'Japanese' neighbour in Breakfast at Tiffany's, or anyone who had to sit through two hours of George Lucas' Rastafarian frog Jar Jar Binks.

With breathtaking effects, astonishing character designs and globe-trotting scale, it's easy to see how far summer blockbusters have come since Jaws first scared people off the beach and into the cinemas. Unfortunately, when it comes to race, the ground we've covered isn't nearly as impressive.

Wednesday, 24 June 2009

Green eyes monster (deal)

There's a great moment in The Empire Strikes Back when Luke Skywalker faces Darth Vader in a battle to the death. Hanging on for dear life, a battered and bruised Luke is hit with the facts behind his mysterious upbringing. His masked nemesis tells him that ObiWan Kenobi had lied, and that he was in fact Luke's father. Still, it's not all bad news for the Jedi in-training. Vader makes him an offer he can't refuse (or so he thinks), saying "Together we will rule the universe."

The relevance? I can't help thinking back to that momentous scene when I read about Simon Cowell and Philip Green planning a transatlantic media organisation that could rival Disney. The fact that they're still talking means that Simon Cowell didn't scream "No", attempt suicide and end up hanging upside down from a weather-vane. I also imagine that he still has all his own fingers.

So what does all this mean? No-one's really sure, since the contract have yet to be signed. However, I can't help but be a little cynical about the notion that this partnership could be bigger than Disney. After all, despite being a union-breaking, anti-semitic, pro-McCarthy dictator, Disney was also a visionary creative. His story-telling skills, imagination and entrepreneurial risk-taking marked him out as a true original. He also gets extra points for inadvertently inventing the immersive brand experience. Simon Cowell, on the other hand has precisely two ideas to his name - a resurrection of The Gong Show, and a slight tweak to the Pop Idol format.

As for Philip Green, he's got a reputation for buying up old stock and selling it on, finding innovative ways to avoid paying tax, and getting on the wrong side of anti-sweatshop groups. All of which makes me think that this is going to be less of a Luke and Vader team-up, and more like a Sith and apprentice arrangement.

Who knows, in five years' time Mickey Mouse might be queuing up to have his photo taken with Susan Boyle...

Tuesday, 23 June 2009

Perez Hilton takes a whole fist

Screeching gossip hack Perez Hilton is nursing an ego as bruised as his face today, after being beaten outside the MuchMusic Video Awards last night. A heated exchange with various members of the Black Eyed Peas turned to violence outside a Toronto nightclub, resulting in the band's manager Polo Molina doing what countless thousands have been dying to do for years - smacking that bitch up.

Having been violently accosted, Perez did what any victim would do - he contacted the police. Via Twitter. The fame-hungry media whore clearly forgot the number for 911, and decided the quickest way to receive police support was to post a message to his 'fans' on Twitter, "I am bleeding. Please, I need to file a police report. No joke." Meanwhile, Molina turned himself into the police and was charged with a single count of assault.

Those of you who remember the whole Miss Californiagate fiasco may recall that Hilton returned to his hotel room after the pageant and posted an angry video rant aimed at the gay-hating runner-up who had failed to answer his question satisfactorily. So it should come as no surprise that the bleeding name-caller employed a similar tactic after being punched. In a sobbing, hysterical video he blurted erroneously "What happened to me in Toronto happened to me as a human being and it should never happen to anyone."

However, it emerged that the fight broke out because Perez decided to call a 'faggot'. Post-rationalising his choice of words, Perez argued "...I knew that it would be the worst thing I could possibly say to him because he was acting the way he was. I said 'You know what, I don't respect you and you're gay and stop being such a faggot.'"

When Perez entered into a war of words with Carrie Prejean, he was motivated by a desire for equality and gay liberation, seeing Prejean's beliefs as an affront to his dignity and identity. So it's unfortunate that in his eyes, the worst insult he could choose for his nemesis was a gay slur. GLAAD have already condemned his choice of words, rightly arguing that "For someone in our own community to use it to attack another incredibly dangerous. It legitimises use of a slur that is often linked to violence against our community. And it sends a message that it is OK to attempt to dehumanize people by exploiting anti-gay attitudes."

Unfortunately it seems that, like many gay men, Perez Hilton still has some internalised homophobia to work through. And until he does, let's hope he avoids speaking out on behalf of his community. After all, with friends like these...

Monday, 22 June 2009

Hero to zero

Marvel Comics are currently riding the crest of a wave, with Spider-Man, X-Men and Fantastic Four all launching highly lucrative franchises, as well as Iron Man and The Incredible Hulk bringing up the money-making rear. But there's one key comic title yet to find its place on the silver screen, largely because no-one knows quite what to do with it.

X-Men were originally created in the early 1960s, clearly intended as a commentary on prejudice and injustice in contemporary society. Similarly, the Incredible Hulk was a Jekyll/Hyde update that dared to make the monster within the hero of the story.

But back in the 1940s, Marvel's agenda was a little more conservative. Captain America was created in 1941, as an aid to the war effort. The alter ego of Steve Rogers, Captain America was a four-colour propaganda machine, enhanced by an experimental serum designed to help the US war effort, and wearing a costumer based on the American flag.

By the 1960s, while his stable-mates were busy overthrowing the Man, the captain's relevance and integrity had long since begun to fade. Instead, he was depicted as a reverse Austin Powers, defrosted from suspended animation and trying to adapt to contemporary society.

Flash forward forty years and some people are asking questions why Steve Rogers has yet to take his turn on the big screen. One right wing cartoonist, Bosch Fawstin, has asked why Captain America hasn't been depicted going after the Jihadists responsible for 9/11. Even though Marvel actually ran a story showing the square jawed hero going after a terrorist cell, Fawstin isn't happy because the terrorist leader was depicted as 'having his reasons'. But isn't that the point of terrorists - that they have reasons for what they do?

Ultimately, the creators of Captain America knew that they'd created a short-term propaganda tool. In his first incarnation, the Captain was shown punching out Adolf Hitler, and for a nation about to be plunged into world war, that was deemed appropriate. But by the end of the Second World War, there was little else for him to do, which is why he ended up in suspended animation.

As a consequence, the point of the character is not to celebrate blind patriotism, but to question how we might reconcile old world ideals in an ever-changing world. Perhaps once Hollywood grasps that concept, there'll be a film worth making.

Sunday, 21 June 2009

FBI opens wide

Thirty seven years after the fact, the FBI has finally opened its files on a major investigation it undertook back in the early 1970s. But this particular case didn't involve shady politics, mafia activities or drug smuggling, it concerned a low-budget movie about a woman with an astonishingly accommodating uvula.

Written and directed by Gerard Damiano, Deep Throat made its star Linda Lovelace a household name, and ended up becoming the most successful film of all time - making over $500 million from a $25,000 investment. But the FBI was concerned about what it saw as a cultural shift towards more permissive entertainment. Audiences lined up around the block to see Linda's penile party trick, and the film became so much a part of the zeitgeist that its title even played a role in the downfall of a president.

Meanwhile, investigators were busy analysing the film's negatives, interviewing actors and producers, and even speaking to people who delivered the reels to the cinemas. The unfortunately named Mark Weiner, a constitutional law professor and legal historian, comments that "The story of 'Deep Throat' is the story of the last gasp of the forces lined up against the cultural and sexual revolution and it is the advent of the entry of pornography into the mainstream."

Ironically though, Weiner (seriously, could there be a more apt name for this guy?) continues: "Today we can't imagine authorities at any level of government — local, state or federal — being involved in obscenity prosecutions of this kind." But that's because self-appointed moral guardians have taken up the mantle of 'protector'. And there's still much work to be done.

Organisations like 'Christian Spotlight on the Movies', 'ChildCare Action Project' and MOVIEGUIDE® all spend their time diligently scrutinising films for 'unsuitable' content, in much the same way that horny teenage boys scour the channels for a late night flash of boob.

The worrying thing is, although primarily motivated by their Christian ethics, their goals are becoming increasingly politicised. Dr Ted Baehr, who I wrote about here, has just published another report about the movies that have been most successful overseas. But instead of just focusing on traditionally 'objectionable' content, he analyses movies for liberal philosophies, pro-environmentalist content and anti-capitalist sentiment. His highly subjective, scientifically dubious studies portray a movement looking to control what messages filter through to the populace, beyond good old sex and violence.

Still, as long as there are people with a desire to dictate what people can watch and think, there'll be film-makers and TV producers willing to push the envelope. So this blog is dedicated to Colette Burson and Dmitry Lipkin, co-creators of a new show on HBO called 'Hung' about a well-endowed, middle-aged gigolo. It sounds like a concept that even Ms Lovelace would have found hard to swallow.

Saturday, 20 June 2009

Hot 100

Well, I never thought this day would come, but here we are at the 100th post on PopVulture. Thanks to everyone who’s visited, double thanks if you stuck around and read something. And if you came back more than once, then that Faustian pact I made with the Devil paid off after all.

In honour of this momentous landmark (seriously), I thought I’d take a tip from the magazines and do a roll call of the great and the good (not to mention the screamingly awful) who’ve graced these pages over the last 99 posts. Who knows, by the time I make it to 200, some of them may no longer be in our public consciousness. We can but hope. So here (in order of appearance) are the hundred names who’ve been cruelly picked at by PopVulture:

1) Jason Voorhees – hockey mask-wearing teenage euthanizer
2) Pet Shop Boys – miserablist electropop duo
3) Velvet – trashy Swedish pop tart
4) Jonathan Fagerlund – four bookends short of a boyband
5) Alcazar – Hi-NRG ABBA-aping threesome
6) Malena Ernman – Village of the Damned opera diva
7) John Segeant – lumpen-faced Jo Brand impersonator
8) Todd Carty – Walford’s village idiot
9) Colleen Nolan – dignity-dodging girlband relic
10) Eoghan Quigg – X-Factor’s favourite mistake
11) Seth Godin – Marketing blogger and inbox worrier
12) Michelle Bass – hard faced soft porner
13) Sting – Olympic sexing tree-saver
14) Sarah McLachlan – Canada’s least-prolific warbler
15) Sonia – Perma-grinning scouse ginger belter
16) Pete Hammond – Eighties-defining knob-twiddler
17) Alphabeat – Danish S-Club wannabes
18) Michael Caine – Cockney wheezer
19) Ruth Badger – Bolshie brummie bulldog
20) Michelle Dewbury - Apprentice-winning loser
21) Sir Alan Sugar – shouty face painted onto a Weetabix
22) Natasha Richardson – Sonny Bono’s successor
23) Jade Goody – motor-mouthed, empty-headed tragicomic victim
24) Max Clifford – cancer-leveraging moral vacuum
25) John Travolta – scientology-touting alleged heterosexual
26) Chris Moyles – salad-dodging loudmouth with obese ego
27) Christopher Biggins – Pantomime shame
28) Jim Davidson – wife-beating tax-dodging laughter repellent
29) Mr.T – tasteless fool-pitying oven flogger
30) Peter Greenaway – nudity loving surrealist Mail-worrier
31) Craig Philips – MDF-hammering brain donor
32) Russell Brand – Granddaughter humping phone pest
33) Evan Davies – cock-pierced stater of the obvious
34) Chantelle Houghton – zeppelin-chested shell in search of a soul
35) Preston – Ordinary boy made good
36) Prince William – long-faced baldie
37) Madonna – wrinkly-handed baby grabber
38) Josh Freese – sales-incentivising drummer
39) Dr Ted Baehr – fact-fumbling moral guardian
40) Katie Price – mess
41) Rhydian – dead-eyed tune-bellowing smugster
42) Dannii Minogue – frozen-faced second stringer
43) Joseph Fritzl – home improvement enthusiast
44) Britney Spears – car crash fanny flash trailer trash
45) Anne Diamond – lacking lustre
46) Adam Rickitt – gay baiting soap scum
47) Amanda Holden – clap-happy slapper
48) Andrew Lloyd Webber – phantom of the musicals
49) Jay Brannan – underappreciated and over-exposed
50) Geri Halliwell – carrot-topped tune-killer
51) Michael Parkinson – fame-fawning fossil
52) Adam Lambert – Idol-losing rock screecher
53) Bill O’Reilly – fact-fudging psychopath
54) Lindsay Lohan – perpetual part-timer
55) Samantha Ronson – who’s a pretty boy?
56) Susan Boyle – epic fail
57) Ant & Dec – balding cruet set
58) Ashton Kutcher – Tweeting toyboy
59) Daily Mail Reporter – anonymous tag hiding a multitude of sins
60) Nadja Benaissa – risky business
61) Miley Cyrus – gum-heavy herald of Armageddon
62) Simon Cowell – creating judge dread both sides of the pond
63) John Barrowman – jazz-handed and cock-hungry
64) Zac Efron – Ken doll come to life
65) Robert Pattinson – Stephen Fry in a funhouse mirror
66) Catherine Hardwicke – virginity-valuing hack
67) Chuck DeVore – Worst. Satirist. Ever
68) ‘Weird Al’ Yankovic – MTV legend and accordion player
69) Carrie Prejean – gay-hating hypocrite
70) Perez Hilton – petulant fame-whore
71) Jenna Jameson – head for business, bod for sin
72) Jack Tweedy – golf-swinging cabbie-basher
73) Leon Jackson – this Bublé’s gone flat
74) Bea Arthur – deep-throated comedy rectangle
75) Kerry Katona – nuclear meltdown
76) Mark Croft – cash-grabbing knuckle-dragger
77) Catherine Zeta Jones – helping the aged
78) Mia Farrow – hunger-striking perm victim
79) Michele Bachmann – Minnesotan McCarthyist
80) Christian Bale – self-absorbed strop-thrower
81) Michael Jackson – coming undone
82) Jessica Biel – pretty, average
83) Kiefer Sutherland – shark-jumping Torquemada
84) Nigel Lythgoe – talent show Leatherface
85) Liz Hurley – always someone’s ‘better half’
86) Chuck Norris – born again beefcake
87) Mel Gibson – anti-semitic babymaker
88) Sharon Stone – karma’s bitch
89) Marie Osmond – the whole tooth and nothing but the tooth
90) Sacha Baron Cohen – teabagging controversy magnet
91) Danny LaRue – dude looks like a lady
92) Speidi – Celebrities, get them out of here
93) Davina McCall – you make me wanna shout
94) Angelina Jolie – home-wrecking lip service
95) Hollie Steel – tutu-twirling tearjerker
96) Cheeky Girls – nightmare in stereo
97) Megan Fox – bendy, underdressed quote-maker
98) Dustin Lance Black – got Milked, and we all saw it
99) Sarah Palin – gun-toting, child exploiting laughing stock
100) Duffy – straw-haired valleys-girl

Friday, 19 June 2009

Brüno gets the horn

It's almost impossible to visit a website or open a paper at the moment without seeing Sacha Baron Cohen's notoriously waxed derriere in some kind of ridiculous outfit. Tackling the country-by-country unveiling of his new movie Brüno as a small scale world tour, he's notching up the column inches in typically controversial style.

Although the press are falling over themselves to applaud Cohen's (hairless) balls, not everyone is so pleased about the impending film's release. For a start there's Richelle Olson, who's suing Cohen for $25,000 in damages for brain injuries she claims to have suffered when she fell during a scuffle on stage with 'Brüno'.

Given the fact that Universal Studios are confident that the video footage shows that Olson was never touched by Cohen, it seems that this is just another opportunistic exercise in wishful litigation. Although credit to Olson for getting in there before the movie is released, the Borat lawsuits didn't descend until after the movie came out and hit big at the box office.

Far more interesting though, is the 'concern' expressed by the gay community, who worry about the impact that the film will have on perceptions of homosexuality. Despite the fact that Cohen's intention is to hold a mirror up to US society's discomfort with the love that dare not shop at Primark, that's not good enough for some people. Nor is the fact that significant reshoots were conducted to avoid any potential upset.

At a recent industry event in honour of Dustin Lance Black, some prominent (but conspicuously anonymous) people commented that Cohen's portrayal was comparable to a white actor appearing in black face. Of course, no-one bothered to mention that Robert Downey Jr scored an Oscar nomination for doing precisely that earlier this year for his performance in Tropic Thunder.

The point here, is that there's a difference between an ignorant, uninformed portrayal of a minority community, and one which demonstrates an informed understanding of life's complexities. The more 'challenging' elements of Bruno dare to address some of the extremes of the gay lifestyle, that understandably give people pause for thought.

This is something that spoof news source The Onion accurately captured years ago in a brilliant article entitled 'Gay-Pride Parade Sets Mainstream Acceptance Of Gays Back 50 Years'. If we want to be accepted and respected, we have to be understood. Even if that means occasionally we’re forced to acknowledge some of the more distasteful elements of our cultural identity. If we're happy to laugh at ignorant rednecks' intolerance, we can't complain if occasionally the joke's on us.

Thursday, 18 June 2009

On yer bike Duffy

Sighs of relief all round as the Advertising Standards Authority gives the recent Diet Coke ad the all clear. It turns out that 18 people, with nothing better to do than complain about the bits that pop up between pieces of Emmerdale, were concerned that musical Marmite Duffy took to her bicycle without high-vis clothing or a safety helmet.

Somehow, these ridiculous concerns were sufficient to warrant an investigation into whether or not the Welsh popstrel was encouraging irresponsible cycling. But it's not the first time the Diet Coke ad has been subjected to unnecessary scrutiny. Shortly after the ad first aired, a 'making of' mini-documentary popped up on YouTube, showing the creative minds behind the ad talking about their strategy.

Peeling back the Magnificent Oz's emerald curtain to reveal a bunch of high-minded creatives commiting the sin of Onan, this 'featurette' showcased phrases like 'reconnect with yourself' and 'tap into a female zeitgeist'.

Even more shamefully, Duffy pops up to ask herself "How did my relationship with Diet Coke come about?" Presumably, "Because they offered me a wedge of cash and I could teach minute steak a thing or two about being a flash-in-the-pan sensation" wasn't one of the options.

Interestingly, the ASA found that they "...considered the style and treatment of the ad... was unlikely to appeal to very young children...". Funnily enough, I can't imagine it appealing to anyone at all, especially if the public response is anything to go by.

I guess not everyone loves a singer who sounds like Fran Drescher after taking a hit on a helium balloon. But music tastes aside, I can't imagine anyone being too impressed by a singer who, according to this ad at least, turns her back on her fans mid-concert, to bugger off and do something else instead.

Tuesday, 16 June 2009

Letterman let off

Sarah Palin, political flash-in-the-pan, moose-murderer and inspiration to countless Hallowe'en drag costumes, has finally come down from her ivory tower (no doubt hand-carved from actual tusks) to forgive David Letterman.

In case you haven't been following this gripping drama, Letterman mentioned the fact that Palin was in town and went to a Yankees game. He joked that their enjoyment of the game was marred when Palin Jr was "knocked up by Alex Rodriguez."

Given that Letterman never mentioned the daughter by name, it's clear that he was referencing Bristol Palin, whose illegitimate pregnancy caused headaches for the McCain/Palin team last November. Especially since they were advocating teenage abstinence.

Unfortunately, Sarah was actually with middle daughter Willow, aged 14. And that's when the schtick hit the fan. Palin accused Letterman of making jokes about her under-age daughter, and the right-wing commentators were quick to jump into the fray shouting 'statutory rape' (carefully dropping the word 'statutory' along the way for extra emphasis).

Ignoring the fact that Letterman's humour was quite clearly targeting the hypocrisy of 'do as I say, not as I do' moralists, the gap-toothed talk-show host was suddenly a dirty old man accused of making sexually perverted jokes about a 14-year old girl. He even tried to apologise and invited the Palins onto the show, but this was promptly rejected.

Fanning the flames of righteous indignation with further inflammatory rhetoric, Palin suggested "It would be wise to keep Willow away from David Letterman." When asked whether it was appropriate to insinuate that he was a danger to young girls, Caribou Barbie simply said "Take it however you want to take it. It's a comment that came from the heart." Understandable, given that she's not used to speaking from the brain.

After a week of milking the victimhood for all it's worth, Palin has finally accepted Letterman's sincere apology, with a strangely worded statement: "Of course it's accepted on behalf of young women, like my daughters, who hope men who 'joke' about public displays of sexual exploitation of girls will soon evolve." Aside from being unsure as to what a 'public display of sexual exploitation' is, I'm partularly surprised that Palin puts her faith in a scientific process that she doesn't actually believe in.

So, is Sarah Palin a mealy-mouthed opportunist who'll use any means necessary to score political points, irrespective of matters like consistency or integrity? You Betcha!

Monday, 15 June 2009

Divide and conquer

It's long been a Hollywood tradition that when something successful ends or at least begins to stagnate, it's customary to pick out a core element that worked and transpose it into a new setting. It's called the spin-off, and over the years has given us Frasier, Mork & Mindy and Private Practice. Of course, it has also given us Joey.

So congratulations to Katie Price who has taken the principle of the spin-off and applied it to the reality TV show that is her life. Those cynics who speculated that Katie and Peter's split was a short-term fly in the stretch-mark ointment, obviously never counted on Ms Price's willingness to do absolutely anything in front of a camera.

It was announced this week that Katie and Peter have both signed up with ITV for rival 'reality' shows depicting their post-split lives and the gruesome details of their divorce. Since neither of them has any shame at the best of times, the bitterness and ignominy is likely to be at near toxic levels. And if they look like this when they're happy together, you can just imagine how ugly this is going to get.

Sunday, 14 June 2009

Who's a naughty boy then

Spare a thought for Dustin Lance Black, the Oscar-winning screenwriter of Gus Van Sant's recent biopic Milk. Currently riding high on the back of his academy award victory, he's found himself inadvertently thrust into the limelight, courtesy of an unscrupulous ex.

Like many better known celebrities before him (such as Pamela Anderson, Paris Hilton, Colin Farrell and Pamela Anderson), footage of him in flagrante has found its way onto the interweb. Now, gay sex tapes are pretty rare, probably because the majority of gay celebrities are closeted and would run a mile the moment someone whipped out a camera phone or camcorder. But given that Dustin's a writer, and a little known one at that, I don't suppose he ever considered that recording his posterior for posterity would come back to haunt him.

Ordinarily, a sex tape of someone largely unknown outside of the industry would be small potatoes (for the record, Dustin's spuds seem quite plentiful), but this story has exploded thanks to the involvement of Perez Hilton. Thankfully, the videos don't involve Perez, otherwise I'd be sewing buttons into my eyes like Coraline. No, Perez simply broke the story and published the (very not-safe-for-work pictures), figuring that anyone who records a sex tape is fair game for exposure.

The problem is, Dustin's writing and idealism have marked him out as a new poster-child for grassroots activism. His screenplay for Milk looked at Harvey Milk's extraordinary impact on the people and politics of 1970s San Francisco, as he mobilised a disenfranchised and disconnected community. So it's problematic that the pictures posted on Perez Hilton's website show Dustin indulging in some bareback mounting.

As a result, Dustin's had to issue a public statement apologising for the pictures and stressing the importance of 'responsible sexual practices'. The media is concerned that young people will see Dustin's exploits and decide to follow in his under-dressed footsteps. I'm not sure anyone ever looked to a Hollywood scriptwriter for tips on their sex life, but nonetheless, there's an important point to address here.

Recent advancements in HIV and AIDS treatments have created a misperception amongst young gay men that the disease is no longer a killer. Instead, they figure it's more of a condition, like diabetes, that can be managed. It's highly likely that this is precisely what the young writer thought three years ago when the pictures were taken. So it's just a shame that he didn't reference that point in his mea culpa.

Black is a talented screenwriter, and has a bright future ahead of him. I just hope that when he looks back at this whole unfortunate experience he realises just how good he looks taking one for the team.

Saturday, 13 June 2009

Quote me on that

This is the spectacularly fit Megan Fox, the Hollywood starlet whose breakout role was playing the smoking hot tomboy love interest in Transformers. Her character did actually have a name, but no-one bothered to remember it, having suffered short term amnesia after seeing her repair a car engine in a crop-top and low slung jeans.

With the sequel 'Revenge of the Fallen' just days away from release, the world's sexiest woman (according to FHM readers at least) has been all over the press, inspiring brickbats and bouquets in equal measure. It seems that every time she opens her mouth she either says something staggeringly stupid, or strangely entertaining. Sometimes her comments are quite endearing, such as "Wonder Woman is lame. She flies around in an invisible jet, but she's not invisible. I don't get it." The fanboys who make up a healthy percentage of her target audience must think they've found their dream girl when they read comments like that. And when she said "I'm not promiscuous. I'm extraordinarily sexual within a monogamous relationship. Nothing's off-limits." I reckon they probably just locked themselves in the bathroom.

But she has also inspired the wrath of right wingers everywhere, commenting that the evil robots in the Michael Bay blockbuster should just "take out all of the white trash, hillbilly, anti-gay, super bible-beating people in Middle America."

So what to make of Megan's troublesome mouth? On the one hand, it's refreshing to have a young Hollywood actress who's unafraid to speak her mind. It's just a shame that she hasn't yet figured out how to be herself, without acting like she's got something to prove. She complains about actresses who need to mention their SATs to show how smart they are, only to then say "I'm smart and I can be really funny and interesting and I can go toe-to-toe with anybody in a conversation." And she speaks unironically when she says that she was happy to play 'bikini girl' on the set of Bad Boys II, "I was going to a Christian high school and I wasn't a feminist yet."

More importantly, for a proto-feminist, she has a dim view of sisterhood, alleging that "women aren't good friends to one another". She also says that women assume she thinks she's hot shit, "And that makes them feel bad about themselves and so they hate me." I'm not sure that these are the kind of issues that keep Germaine Greer up at night.

Nonetheless, at least she gives good soundbite, and seems to be reasonably self-aware about the role that she plays in Hollywood. And if she manages to piss of a few right-wingers in the process, she gets my vote.

Friday, 12 June 2009

Good Lord!

OK, so I figured I should do a double post today, to make up for the fact that I missed one yesterday. And the last post was a little bit heavy, so here's something light, frothy and only mildly distasteful.

My new hero is Chad Hardy, the canny inventor of 'Men on a Mission'. This is a best-selling calendar series featuring twelve of America's hottest Mormon missionaries, recently returned to the US from spreading the word of Christ overseas.

Apparently, not everyone is too chuffed about Chad's business venture. He was excommunicated by a disciplinary council of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. But that hasn't stopped him from expanding his business empire - coming later this year, Hot Mormon Muffins featuring 'sexy Mormon mothers'.

Chad is also a master of post-rationalisation, arguing that his calendar offers "a light-hearted spin on a social taboo... and is a tongue-in-cheek celebration of the selfless servitude of missionaries." I'm sorry, but to these jaded eyes, it looks more like a soft-porn celebration of the rippling joys that lurk just beneath the most conservative of exteriors.

Still, at least Chad lives by the theory that you should never ask someone to do something you're not prepared to do yourself. According to one article, he stopped paying the required tithing and stopped wearing the sacred holy undergarments six years ago. I imagine they're crumpled up on the floor of a photographic studio somewhere.

OK, so beefcake calendars are nothing new. First it was firemen, showing off their abs for housewives who needed something to hang inside the airing cupboard. Then it was rugby clubs, playing up the inherent homo-eroticism of the sport by posing naked with each other (and smartly charging the gays about £30 a copy). But semi-naked Mormon missionaries? It's just weird. It's like spiritual entrapment. Perhaps they believe that they can convert gays to Christ with some square pecs and a flash of their obliques.

As the audition section on Chad's website asks, "Are you ready to unleash the mormon within?"

It's a mad world...

There's a bit of a stink kicking off across the pond at the moment, all because of a show called Mad Men. Set during the 'golden age' of advertising in 1960s New York, the drama follows the exploits of advertising genius Don Draper and the fictional ad agency Sterling Cooper.

Unlike ropey schlock like Melrose Place (where someone joins the typing pool one week, becomes an 'executive' the next, and by the end of the month is a Creative Director on the board), Mad Men understands the advertising industry with an incisive clarity that's never been seen before.

Anyone who works in any of the marketing disciplines would see something of their life reflected in this show, albeit all wrapped up in some spectacularly sharp period detail. Everything, from hair and make-up, to attitudes and ashtrays (everyone chain-smokes in Mad Men) is uncannily accurate. Adding to the verisimilitude is the fact that the producers use real products, brands and ad campaigns throughout, so you genuinely feel like you're watching (disposable) history in the making.

So why the controversy? Well, cable channel AMC has been pressuring show runner Matthew Weiner to cut the episodes short by two minutes to allow for an extra ad break per hour. Keen to protect the artistic integrity of his masterpiece, Weiner pushed back. After all, nothing will destroy the quality of a show all about the process of creating advertising like a couple of extra minutes of, erm, advertising.

Don't get me wrong, I get as frustrated as anyone by too many ad breaks during a good show. But that's why I tend to watch them on DVD instead. TV shows depend on advertising revenue, and they're all feeling the pinch as advertising budgets are slashed and networks find their income drastically reduced. The irony of course, is that it's a show about advertising that's kicking off about ads encroaching on its airtime.

For now, the dispute has been settled, with AMC offering to expand the show's time slot to keep its existing runtime and still make room for an extra ad break. But as Mad Men gears up for its third season, it's a shame they couldn't have been a little more creative about how they solved the problem. After all, the final episode of season two was broadcast with just one ad for Heineken throughout its entire running time. Heineken had previously been appeared in the show, playing itself in a paid-for product placement appearance as a beer looking to appeal to American consumers for the first time. Now that's method acting...

If this all seems a little bit insular and industry-specific, it's worth remembering that BBC3 has filmed a pilot of a new series based on one of Australia's biggest break-out hits - The Gruen Transfer. Named after the moment in a shopping mall where our eyes glaze over and we become pure consumers, The Gruen Transfer features a panel of industry experts dissecting the latest ad campaigns. Both these TV shows' popularity suggests that audiences have evolved again, from being media-savvy to media-curious. Which means that those of us who work in the industry are going to have to get smarter, or more inclusive in the solutions we create.

Tomorrow, back to tits and arse, I promise.

Wednesday, 10 June 2009

It's OK, it's for charity

Remember those awful high-heeled shoes for toddlers that featured on a recent episode of The Apprentice? They're called Heelarious, and are designed to give pre-schoolers their first taste of negative body image and back pain.

If you're someone who thought "Ooh, they look like fun!" I have some exciting news for you. Your little girl will soon be able to complete her Minipops Makeover thanks to those Transylvanian trollops The Cheeky Girls.

Having run out of self-esteem bashing reality shows to appear on, the vacant vamps have just launched a new range of glamour products aimed at young girls, including eye-shadow, nail varnish, lip gloss and a perfume(presumably featuring top notes of desperation).

So if you've ever bemoaned your child's plain features or general lack of bedazzlement, you're in luck. Quicker than you can say Nabakov, your little Lolita will be stunning the council estate with her scarily accelerated sexualisation.

If, for some bizarre reason, you find this whole endeavour objectionable, the fact that 10% of the proceeds will be going to Great Ormond Street Children's Hospital should silence those nagging doubts once and for all. I look forward to the inevitable fashion range to go with the make-up, perhaps hot-pants with 'Touch My Bum' across the back? And the proceeds can go to a child abuse charity.

Tuesday, 9 June 2009

Poor me

Yesterday I wrote about the pressures faced by young performers who take to the stage in search of their fame and fortune. Questions have been asked (even at government level) whether these youngsters have the where-with-all to handle the pressure that comes with appearing on the nation's favourite talent shows.

But it would seem that the same questions need to be asked about the grown-ups who appear on these shows. There's a whole slew of them who, smelling the chance to raise their profile for a few more minutes, have crawled out of the woodwork to stick the knife in to Simon Cowell. It helps that Simon is already in the firing line, thanks to the British press refusing to accept any culpability for Susan Boyle's recent breakdown. Apparently, it was the unacceptable pressure of a Saturday night variety show that prompted her meltdown, and not the daily (and highly dubious) coverage of her every move on the front page of every tabloid.

Now here's Niki, Steve, Ben and the MacDonald brothers looking for a belated sympathy vote for the way they were treated by Simon and co. First up is Niki, who alleges that show producers forced her to grieve for her father publicly. There's no evidence for any of this, just the bitter rantings of someone who entered the competition fearful that this was her last chance to accomplish a career in music. If there was something objectionable or distasteful about the production crew's methods, she could always have quit. But that's the problem with fame - it's so enticing that people will happily surrender their morals and values in its pursuit. So there's no point complaining about it after the fact.

And what of Scotland's finest - the MacDonald Brothers. Their selective memories have clearly blanked out the fact that their performances were so terrible they almost insired the second Battle of Stirling Bridge. Despite the fact that Simon signed them and released their (reasonably successful) debut album, they're bitter that they didn't get a five album deal.

Ben Mills (long hair and the voice of a cruise ship Rod Stewart impersonator) acted like he was too good for the X-Factor. He spoke out recently claiming that his mentor Sharon Osbourne tried to force him into storming off the show to score some press coverage. Yet despite such a negative experience, Ben passed up a contract with Polydor to sign a five-album deal with Simon's label instead. Did he sign for the artistic integrity or the value of the deal I wonder...

But my favourite bitter ex-contestant featured in the Daily Mail's 'expose' is Damon Scott. He complains about missing out on a 'lucrative career on Cowell's record label', despite the fact that his act involved a dancing glove puppet called Bubbles the Chimpanzee. Damon's shocking conclusion? Simon's in this for the money. Clearly, Damon is in it for the art - which is why he's complaining about what he missed out on.

In the end, these are TV shows, not a sustainable method for sourcing long-term musical acts. Every once in a while, a genuinely remarkable talent will rise to the surface and capture people's imagination, but they're the exception to prove the rule:

The rest of the time, it's an interactive soap opera, full of drama, twists and the occasional villain. Those who take part must do so knowing that the best they can hope for is a flash of fame, a quick buck and maybe a one-off album recorded on the cheap. Anything more is a bonus. And when they complain about it, it just sounds like sour grapes, however good their pitch might be. Taking a pop at Simon Cowell is a little like Cinderella attacking her Fairy Godmother, because her new glass slippers weren't Louboutin.

Monday, 8 June 2009

I believe the children are our future

We've seen a lot of talented kids in the press recently, especially in the fallout following the Britain's Got Talent semi-finals. Indeed, the controversy was so great that a public consultation has been announced to look at proposals for new safeguards to protect young performers.

The cause of all this fuss was a little girl called Hollie Steel who forgot her lines and had to be given a second chance to do her creepy 'old person in the body of a Victorian doll' act. Having won tons of praise for her initial audition (she could give Sophie Ellis-Bextor lessons in how to sing the word 'dance' and sound posh) the pressure was on for her to prove herself a worthy contender to the mighty Boyler. Unfortunately, she flubbed her lines and burst into tears instead.

Despite the fact that no-one else was given a second chance, Hollie was invited back later in the show to try again. This time, she got her mojo working and nailed the song, prompting Simon to call her 'the bravest little girl in the world'. I guess Anne Frank is SO last century.

More upsettingly, since the semi-finals rumours have begun to emerge, from audience members present on the night, hinting at some decidely brattish behaviour and some over-bearing parental influence. Of course, in the world of child performers neither of these things should really come as any surprise. The world is full of overbearing failures living vicariously through whatever glimmer of talent their progeny are able to demonstrate. Last year, it was all about American Idol runner-up David Archuleta (himself a one-time pre-pubescent talent show contestant) whose father caused so much turmoil that he had to be banned from the studio.

There will always be talented children with a hunger to perform. But not all of them will be blessed with the support network to accomplish their dreams and grow into likeable, well adjusted young adults. Unfortunately, for every Jodie Foster there are a hundred Lindsay Lohans. I'm reminded of this seeing the young stars of Billy Elliot win a joint Tony award for Best Male Actor in a Musical.

The role of Billy Elliot demands almost daily training in dialect, drama, singing, ballet and tap, on top of a regular education. It takes tens of thousands of hours of practice to tackle a role like this, for kids who are only just entering their teens. So when people start questioning whether kids need special protection in talent shows, my response is 'absolutely not'. If they really want this, and they've got the right kind of family support behind them, they'll breeze through it on passion and talent. If not, better that they fall at the first hurdle rather than live a life of unfulfilled dreams.

If this all feels a little one-sided, I can at least say that I speak from experience, since my friend Kevin's son is currently playing Billy Elliot in the West End. So here's a shameless plug for the fantastically talented Fox Jackson-Keen, performing 'Electricity' on Comic Relief: Let's Dance. Enjoy:

Sunday, 7 June 2009

All good things must come to an end

Tonight's the night folks. It's the end of series five of The Apprentice, as Kate faces off against Yasmina for the coveted title of whatever bullshit job Alan Sugar can muster up for them. Because let's be honest, it's never really been about the job has it? How many times have you heard one of the candidates state confidently that they really want to work for Sir Alan, without ever giving a reason for holding such a death wish?

Nonetheless, millions will tune in tonight to see the women's battle royale. Kate is the spare Appleton sister that Natalie and Nicole keep in a cupboard incase Shaznay insists on going for lunch. Despite the fact that her mouth is on the side of her face, like Picasso's idea of a pin-up, she's far more likeable than hard-faced Yasmina who has a vast forehead and all the easy-going charm of Robert Mugabe. It's a tough one to call in terms of who'll win, but it's clear who's going to lose - Nick Hewer. Because Margaret Mountford has announced that this will be her final Apprentice appearance.

Nick and Margaret are Sir Alan's squinty eyes and ears on every task, tutting disdainfully at every cretinous remark and holding their head in their hands at every failed negotiation. Although they are only usually seen together in the boardroom, they have a Butch and Sundance quality whereby it's hard to imagine one without the other. Margaret is leaving to focus on her PhD in papyrology, although I imagine she could also find work as a Tony Benn lookalike.

Interestingly, Sir Alan could be following Margaret if Tory politician John Whittingdale gets his way. Speaking to the Mail on Sunday, Wittingdale claims that Sir Alan's recent appointment as an 'Enterprise Tsar' for the government represents a conflict of interest, and that he needs to stand down from his role on The Apprentice. However, I wonder whether Wittingdale has even seen The Apprentice, since he describes Sir Alan as the show's 'presenter'. Not that it's anything new for Tory politicians to decry something that they haven't even seen. It seems to me that this is someone taking an opportunistic swipe at the BBC (and where better to do that in the Mail?) and name-checking The Apprentice on the day of the final to ensure some high profile coverage.

Saturday, 6 June 2009

How long before Mrs Smith goes to Washington?

All kneel before the mighty Ms Jolie. The prettier half of Brangelina has been bestowed the ultimate honour by being named as Forbes' Most Powerful Celebrity.

The permanently pouting cuckquean (seriously, look it up) earned the prestigious title thanks to a combination of earnings and media profile. It doesn't seem to matter that 80% of Angelina's coverage was either focused on her ever-expanding family or the fact that Jennifer Aniston can't seem to get through an interview without mentioning her. Still, Forbes felt that Angie's profile had remained high thanks to her "high-profile turns in hit films such as Wanted and Kung Fu Panda."

Shockwaves were felt throughout the world of people with little else to care about, as Angelina's coronation saw long-standing list leader Oprah Winfrey relegated to lady-in-waiting status. Despite the talk show, the charitable foundations, the magazine, the book club, the studio, the network and the $275 million pay-packet, even the queen of media can't compete with a bunch of tattoos, a hot husband and a Benetton brood.

Interestingly, Barack Obama becomes the first sitting President to make the list, although he must be smarting from coming in at number 49, five points below American Idol host Ryan Seacrest.

Obama shouldn't feel too disheartened however, since it's not just earnings and media coverage that guarantees your place in the list. According to E!Online, editors at Forbes focus on people with projects to promote - and I don't support the Middle East peace process is the sort of project they have in mind. Furthermore, their source suggests that "...editors check the availability. They will not put someone at No. 1 who can't come to the list party."

It's said (by SpiderMan's Uncle Ben) that with great power comes great responsibility. Let's hope Angelina weilds hers wisely.

Friday, 5 June 2009

The blind leading the bride

You've got to hand it to Rupert Murdoch's media empire, it's never bothered to let facts or consistency get in the way of a good story.

As the US continues to obsess about Proposition 8 and the debate over definitions of marriage, Murdoch's flagship news channel Fox News continues to portray the threat that gays in committed relationships pose to 'traditional' heterosexual marriage.

In typically 'fair and balanced' style, leading blowhard Bill O'Reilly has been particularly vocal about the danger of same-sex unions. He's right to be concerned since, as he quite rightly states, gay marriage could lead to marriage with goats, ducks and dolphins. He's also worried that the longer the issue is debated, the more likely it is that other social issues will follow, meaning that limited gun possession, legalised class-A drugs and unrestricted abortion will be next on the list.

So it's probably good news that Fox doesn't seem to hold up any mirrors to itself, otherwise there might be a few raised eyebrows about what's happening elsewhere in the Fox portfolio. For example, it was announced this week that the Fox Network is developing an arranged marriage reality show, where brides-to-be don’t meet their husbands until they exchange vows. And of course it will all happen in front of the cameras. The show's called “I Married a Stranger” and each episode will cover the preparations for a woman's blind wedding, after their friends and family select a spouse for her. The first time the 'happy' couple meet is the moment they say "I do".

Whenever gay unions are on the agenda, the argument trotted out is that its opponents aren't homophobic, they're just concerned about the sanctity of marriage. So one has to wonder about what a show that encourages women to marry strangers does for the sanctity of marriage. No-one seemed too concerned about marriage as an institution to be defended when Britney Spears married for 55 hours or Drew Barrymore managed to last five whole weeks.

Marriage is an institution. Which means it's strong enough to weather societal changes, from women's suffrage to civil rights. Henry VIII invented a new religion in order to evolve marriage, so I really don't see why this is such a controversial issue. If anything, we should be more worried about yet another shitty reality show. Wasn't The Bachelorette punishment enough?