Sunday, 28 February 2010

History repeating. Again

Haven't we been here before?

Last year, Carrie Prejean hit the headlines with a bumblingly inarticulate answer to a question about gay marriage in the Miss USA contest and inadvertantly turned herself into the poster child for homo-haters everywhere. Before the glitter had even settled on the pageant stage, she was being wheeled out to speak up for 'traditional marriage' on behalf of the Proposition 8 crowd.

Carrie ended up doing pretty well out of the whole controversy, releasing a best-selling book and film off the back of her time in the spotlight - although technically, the film was of Carrie on her back. But that's not important right now.

In the transient world of celebrity, there's always someone more interesting waiting in the wings. So say 'hello' to Lauren Ashley, the self-proclaimed Miss Beverly Hills, who plans to compete in the Miss California contest in November.

I say 'self-proclaimed' because, no-one from Beverly Hills has actually awarded her that title. She comes from Pasadena, but presumably thought that the 90210 postcode might lend her some extra flair and make her seem extra classy.

Then she opened her mouth.

Speaking to Fox News (who did so much to champion Carrie's freedom of self-expression) the winsome wannabe managed to trump her predecessor by going straight to the Bible for her answers: "In Leviticus it says, 'If man lies with mankind as he would lie with a woman, both of them have committed an abomination. They shall surely be put to death and their blood shall be upon them.' The Bible is pretty black and white... If he says that having sex with someone of your same gender is going to bring death upon you, that's a pretty stern warning, and he knows more than we do about life."

Thankfully, Beverly Hills Mayor Nancy Krasne was quick to decry Lauren's 'holier than thou' outburst, stating “The City Council was shocked to see statements made by a beauty pageant contestant under the name of Beverly Hills who does not live in nor represent our city. We are dismayed by any potential association with the City of Beverly Hills, which has a long history of tolerance and respect.” Lauren may be entitled to describe herself as 'Miss Beverly Hills', but she's got a tough few months ahead of her if her chosen district is so keen to disown her.

If nothing else, at least she's consistent. As well as being ugly on the inside, she's not exactly an oil painting on the outside either - unless it's by Edvard Munch. Rather than a beauty contest, I'd expect to see her auditioning for 'From Pramface to Princess'.

Still, I'm looking forward to seeing what passes for 'evening wear' when the contest finally rolls around - judging by the red dress she's wearing in all her pictures, I think she'll be hard pressed to find anything appropriate on the discount racks at Target.

It's unfortunate really. God may well know more about life than we do, but if she wants even a snowball in hell's chance of winning that contest, she really ought to concern herself with people who know more about makeovers. Plagues, famine and pestilence can only get a girl so far. She needs the guys who know their tweezers, straighteners and body-shapers. Perhaps she should have waited until they'd helped her on the road to victory, before condemning them.

Saturday, 27 February 2010

You're not going out looking like that

Liz Jones needs to watch a good porno. Don't get me wrong, I'm not suggesting that the permanently pissy pundit is sexually frustrated - I'm sure she's found countless ways of fruitfully filling her days on the farm in Somerset. But if she's going to accuse every female pop star of turning their videos into pornography, she really needs to jog her memory about what it's supposed to look like.

It might also help, if she's going to position herself as a champion of women, that she take a slightly more positive view of her own sex. Because, on the strength of her latest article in the Mail, they're all a bunch of weak-willed, underdressed whores who spend their whole time looking to be violated.

Liz's problems (well, the ones I'm going to address today at least) began when the not-exactly-dowdy psychologist Dr Linda Papadopoulos submitted a report to the Home Office on violence against women. In her report, she argued that provocative pop videos shown before the watershed are exacerbating the problem: 'Children and young people today are not only exposed to increasing amounts of hypersexualised images, they are also sold the idea that they have to look "sexy" and "hot".'

Sniffing out the chance to bash a few women in the name of 'sisterhood' Liz picked up this story and ran with it. Unfortunately, along the way, she forgot to visit anywhere even remotely close to coherence.

Whereas some women like to work through their issues with a vigorous kickboxing class, Liz is more than happy sticking the knife into everyone from Madonna (like shooting a fishwife in a barrel) and Beyonce to Shakira and Girls Aloud.

Take Rihanna for example. The Barbados beauty's last album yielded a remarkable eight hit singles, including Umbrella which managed to top the UK charts for ten weeks. And yet Liz charitably describes her as "an American pop star most famous for having been beaten up by her boyfriend." In an critique so surreal that David Lynch would have trouble following its logic, Liz shares her disdain for Rihanna's new video because she dresses "in leather bondage gear... writhes on a floor [and]...sits astride a zebra." Maybe Liz's taste in porn is a little more underground than we gave her credit for.

As if further evidence of that were needed, consider the fact that when Liz sees a women lying prone it can mean only one thing - they "look as though they have been or are about to be raped."

It's all getting a bit much for the poor, demented soul. In the name of research she bravely spent 24 hours watching MTV to make sure she didn't sound out of touch (I think we can consider that a fail on all counts), commenting "My eyes hurt. My brain has lapsed into a confused coma. I felt nauseated one moment, bored out of my skull the next." Which is strange, because she could have been describing how I felt by the time I got to the end of her article.

But before pop music gets consigned to the graveyard shift, alongside the infomercials for Nads hair removal, perhaps we should consider the role of parents in all this. Sorry - there's no point. David Cameron can't even stop his "very young daughter listening to Lily Allen's music" so what hope do the rest of us have? Well, the rest of us might retain control of our iTunes account, or observe the 'parental advisory' sticker on the CD before we bought it.

Of course, it's not just the music videos that have got Liz seething with puritanical rage. MTV's other output also has a lot to answer for. There are 'reality' shows featuring "hysterical, tanned, fake-breasted imbeciles with names like Brittany" and "hip-hop's answer to Whose Line Is It Anyway?, in which a half-naked girl is leered at by sportswear-clad men who have nothing witty whatsoever to say to her". Imagine that - girls called Brittany, and young men clad in sportwear. It's like the tenth circle of hell has been discovered in Liz Jones' Freeview box.

That's why she's so busy lamenting the female stars of yesteryear: "Where are the Carole Kings, the Tracy Chapmans, even the Bjorks of today?" she asks plaintively. Perhaps if she'd spent more time researching her favourite artists and less time watching Tila Tequila's bisexual dating show, she might have noticed that Carole King recently toured Japan with major R&B stars Mary J. Blige and Fergie.

Ultimately, Liz is concerned that girls and young women are having their self-image destroyed by a barrage of negative images. This lack of positive role models is giving them an unrealistic perspective on what it takes to be successful.

Rather than tuning into MTV, perhaps impressionable young women should pick up a good magazine and embrace the unattainable world of high fashion instead. It worked for Liz - although she did famously boast that she blew half a million pounds on her shopping addiction whilst working as the Fashion Editor of Marie Claire. And all in the pursuit of looking 'sexy' and 'hot'. Dr Linda would be so disappointed.

Friday, 26 February 2010

It's an honour just to be paid

Excitement is building over in Hollywood, as the final preparations are made for the 82nd Academy Awards. The obituaries are being reviewed to make sure no-one's left off the 'In Memoriam' showreel, the seat-fillers are being advised about how long Colin Farrell is likely to spend in the bathroom, and Jack Nicholson is working hard on an all-new smirk.

Meanwhile, in mansions across Beverly Hills, the great and the good are being coached in some last-minute nominee etiquette. Unfortunately though, those lessons may be a case of too little, too late for Mo'Nique, who's up for Best Supporting Actress for her monstrous turn in Precious: Based on the Novel "Push" by Sapphire.

The talk-show host/comedienne/actress has, so far, enjoyed a fairly successful awards season, winning gongs from BAFTA, the Golden Globes and the Screen Actors' Guild, amongst others. But she's always made it quite clear that her only concern is the impact that this recognition will have on her earning potential.

Before her Oscar nomination was even announced, she was quizzing Terrence Howard and Taraji P. Henson on the subject "Let me ask y'all this, because I know y'all are gonna school me correctly, what does it mean financially?" Her point was that there was no point 'campaigning' for her award, unless she was going to be paid for the appearances she'd have to make. Never mind all the extra publicity it could generate for the little movie that managed to secure her nomination in the first place.

Speaking to the AP recently in curiously intermittent third-person, the Oscar hopeful said "Well, when they say Mo'Nique was worried about money, I wasn't worried about money. Mo'Nique has a talk show that comes on five nights a week and she tapes six times a week for that talk show. And yes, when I leave my home, I leave my home and get paid to leave my home, so I wasn't worried about money. They simply said, 'You know, well Mo'Nique we can't pay you to do that.' ... We said, 'OK, baby. Well, then, that's not something we can do.'"

Another low-budget movie keeping its fingers crossed for next Sunday is The Hurt Locker - the smart money's choice for Best Film and Best Director. But just in case any of the Academy voters are dithering between Kathryn Bigelow's Iraq-set nerve-shredder and her ex-husband's big blue epic, the former's co-producer decided to send out an email appealing for support in the run-up to the awards.

Apparently oblivious to the rules concerning campaigning, Nicolas Chartier emailed friends and colleagues begging them to spread the word: "I just wanted to write you and say I hope you liked Hurt Locker and if you did and want us to win, please tell (name deleted) and your friends who vote for the Oscars, tell actors, directors, crew members, art directors, special effects people, if everyone tells one or two of their friends, we will win and not a $500M film, we need independent movies to win like the movies you and I do, so if you believe The Hurt Locker is the best movie of 2010, help us!"

In the eyes of Oscar, this kind of activity is about as welcome as a political lecture by an award presenter or a five minute acceptance speech. Although no formal 'punishment' has been determined by the Academy, a contrite Chartier has already penned a suitably grovelling apology for his conduct, reminding everyone that "being nominated for an Academy Award is the ultimate honor."

Competitiveness has always magnified the ugly side of human nature - whether it's people who expect rewards just for getting involved, or those who break the rules in order to give themselves the upper hand.

Having said that, if you wanted to vote for p0pvulture as your favourite culture blog, you could always click here...

Thursday, 25 February 2010

Alice fair in love and war

Is it just me, or have you noticed an alarming amount of news coverage concerning the 'Alice in Wonderland' cinema debacle? For the last week or so, every major news broadcast has been scrutinising the significance of the 'Odeon boycott' and its impact on the likely success of the new Tim Burton movie.

Things all kicked off when Disney decided to reduce the theatrical release window for the movie, from 17 weeks to just 12. Given the fact that most films make about 90% of their revenue in the first month of release, it's hardly surprising that the House of Mouse can't wait to get Alice back out there on the shiny disc format.

But according to the news reports, Europe's leading cinema chains objected to the shortened release schedule and refused to carry the movie.

Thankfully, for fans of sleepy rodents and tardy rabbits, the dispute has finally been settled, and Disney's 3D extravaganza will be shown on the big screen after all. That means that families can spend their Easter break wearing Ronnie Barker specs and ducking in their seats every time Helena Bonham-Carter's Red Queen loses her rag.

The great news broke just in time for the film's royal premiere in London, and all the key news programmes dutifully reported the story, along with plenty of footage of the Alice and pals enjoying a predictably Burtonesque adventure.

There was even an official statement, released by the Odeon chain, that said "Odeon is pleased to announce that it will now be showing Alice in Wonderland beginning March 5 in its cinemas in the UK, Ireland, Italy, Germany, Portugal and Austria. As a result of this agreement, Odeon is pleased to confirm that it will be able to continue with its plans for significant investment in new cinemas, in digital technology in 3D capability and the other exciting developments designed for the increased enjoyment of all its customers."

Now, forgive me for my cynicism, but couldn't this whole story just be a really smart PR campaign designed to maximise free publicity for the movie? Don't forget that TV ad revenues continue to fall as viewers find all kinds of ways to avoid the commercial breaks, meaning that would-be advertisers need to find more innovative ways of getting their messages out. And film studios are no different.

As far as this story's concerned, everybody wins. The news shows get a big entertainment story that will engage far more viewers than the continuing saga of Bully-Boy Brown, Disney gets footage of its new movie on every prime-time news broadcast, and cinema chains like Odeon get to make big statements about their investment plans and 3D capability. To cap it all off, audiences are now fully aware that they have a limited opportunity to see Johnny Depp playing Bonnie Langford on crack in their local fleapit.

Tea party anyone?

Wednesday, 24 February 2010

Some are more equal than others

What's the difference between exhibitionism and exposing yourself? That's not the set-up for a joke, it's a genuine question.

Two different women, two different outfits, two different nights out. Neither one seems to have any qualms about showing off the goods, and yet the Mail has two very different ways of reporting their exploits.

The first is Liz Hurley, who never met a dress she couldn't spill out of. From attending a film premiere dressed like a punk's earlobe, to turning up at someone else's wedding in a limelight-hogging frock, Liz has always had a penchant for picking the perfect outfit to guarantee column inches.

This week she and husband Arun Nayar arrived at the Love Ball charity event, with Liz sporting a sheer blue sari and nothing else. As a result the paparazzi's flashbulbs revealed Liz's Notting Hill's in all their glimmering glory.

But because La Hurley is plummier than a bottle of hoisin sauce, the Mail decided to give her weather-inappropriate outfit a fawning write-up - "Now that's sheer exhibitionism, Liz. With a figure like hers at 44, who can blame La Hurley for wanting to show it off?"

However, it was a different story for Peaches Geldof, who took a picture of herself showing some leg in the back of taxi en route to the Issa catwalk show. This time the Mail's slightly more condemnatory coverage read "Why IS Peaches exposing herself in the back of taxi? Dress rode up to expose her heavily tattooed thigh - the perfect picture to Twitter then."

Now, I can't blame the Mail for taking a dislike to Peaches, a woman so pointless she could have sprung from the pages of the Innovations catalogue. But why is she described as 'attention-seeking', whilst Hurley gets a commendation for 'accidentally' overlooking the need for underwear?

Attention is like oxygen to any celebrity - especially those who serve a mostly decorative function. Self-worth is measured in column inches. So by all means congratulate Liz on looking fantastic at 44, but don't give her a free pass only to condemn those who try a similar tactic.

Besides, if they really want to take a pop at Peaches, they're hardly going to be short of material - unlike her dress.

Tuesday, 23 February 2010

Wear your manshmina with pride

We're all struggling to keep warm at the moment - this feels like the longest winter since public transport options came with a woolly coat and 16ft tusks.

So how are we supposed to get on with the task in hand when it's frostier than a development review with Gordon Brown?

Let's be honest, it's not easy typing in a duffel coat. Another option is to wrap up in so many layers that you look like Courtney Cox in her flashback fat-suit. Or you could dig out that knitwear that should only ever be seen on a Fisherman's Friend ad.

Thankfully, we no longer have to shiver in silence. According to a number of leading fashion experts, this is the age of the indoor scarf. As long as your neck is warm, you could plan that big meeting or finish that proposal in a meat locker. And slice yourself some delicious carpaccio while you're in there.

It's hardly surprising that the frost-bitten fashionistas in Canada were quick to identify the trend, advising that scarves "are also for indoor wear, lending effortless style to an outfit". However, they're quick to caution against over-accessorising your knitted accoutrements, warning "a scarf placed on one shoulder and held with a brooch would be my idea of dated."

Fortunately, the pairing of winterwear with cameos and brooches is likely to be limited, since the soaring popularity of the indoor scarf is largely thanks to chilly-chinned men. All over the country, guys are happily turning up to work in their favourite t-shirts, with only a stripy piece of knitwear to shield them from the elements.

Ten years ago, it was all about the pashmina. Nervous zoo managers had to beef up the security around the alpaca enclosures, fearful that some under-dressed wage slave might scale the fence with a knife and a portable knitting loom. Suddenly every office looked like a pantone reference book full of part-mummified corpses.

Well now it's our turn to embrace our fashion destiny. Throw off your jacket. Burn that fleece. The 'manshmina' has arrived. And best of all, you'll still feel the benefit when you go outside.

There's also an 'off' button

Poor old Melanie Phillips had to endure a painful experience on a recent flight from Australia. But anyone hoping that the ranting reactionary suffered from deep-vein thrombosis on her long-haul trip is in for a disappointment. Melanie's sado-masochistic experience revolved around the films she chose to watch whilst travelling back to the UK.

I stress the word 'chose' since, as is always the case whenever the censorship argument rears its ugly, mutated head, it's ultimately the viewer's decision to either tune in or switch off.

Melanie observed the 'V' for violence warning in the entertainment guide, but opted to ignore it and watch Quentin Tarantino's 'Inglourious Basterds', finding herself "subjected to images of such sickening violence that they have burned into [her] mind and taken up residence there." To be honest, I think I feel more sorry for the innocent images, stuck in the nightmarish hellhole that is Melanie's subconscious.

Admittedly, the idea of Melanie Phillips sitting down with a bag of butter-free popcorn to enjoy a Tarantino movie is about as ridiculous as Mary Whitehouse firing up Resident Evil 5 on the PS3, but that's precisely what happened.

Like the rest of the auteur's output, 'Basterds' is supposed to be gloriously over-the-top and riddled with dark humour. Unsurprisingly, Melanie didn't see the funny side: "All of this is played for laughs. But what exactly are we supposed to be laughing at? Sadism?Suffering? Genocide?" Decrying the 'sick morality' of Tarantino's latest, she laments the fact that this 'stomach-churning farrago' has received 'mass adulation' as well as the Best Actor award at Cannes.

To make matters worse, Melanie wisely decided to watch violent revenge thriller 'Law Abiding Citizen' straight after, but only because 'Cannibal Holocaust' wasn't available. Once again she was sickened to her bile-ravaged stomach at the copious scenes of 'extreme sadism'. But it's strange that she'd be so affronted by the idea of a film about a crime victim taking the law into his own hands, given that the paper she writes for was ready to campaign for Tony Martin's knighthood.

Melanie professes to be disgusted by the violence she's witnessing but she seems to be conflicted. Quoting director Michael Winterbottom's viewpoint that "If you make a film where the violence is entertaining, I think that's very questionable", Melanie responds with "What humbug. What else is a film like this supposed to be if not entertainment?" Doth the lady protest too much?

Actually, the Shakespeare (mis)quote is apt here. Melanie's argument that society has become desensitised to extreme violence, thanks to Hollywood's pervasive influence, completely overlooks the influence of drama's founding father. Shakespeare's Titus Andronicus famously featured rape, murder, mutilation, decapitation, sacrifice, torture and cannibalism - try getting all that past the BBFC without a fight.

Melanie ends by saying that next time she'll take a book instead. Failing that, she can always check the entertainment guide to see if they're showing Leni Riefenstahl's Triumph of the Will.

Monday, 22 February 2010

Poetic justice

Back in the sixties, Rod Serling's The Twilight Zone made TV history by surprising viewers every week with its ingenious concepts and morbid sense of humour. The trademark of the anthology series was its twist endings, which usually came in the form of a bitterly ironic pay-off designed to show each episode's protagonist the error of their ways.

Although this old black and white show looks like a grainy historical relic now, many of the allegories and parables it depicts have stood the test of time. From The Sixth Sense, right up to this month's Shutter Island, the box office has shown that we never really grew out of our love for a good twist in the tale.

So it's to be hoped that someone, somewhere is taking notes, because the Ballad of Cheryl and Ashley would be a dead-cert ratings winner if the Twilight Zone ever makes another comeback.

Just imagine - the domestic bliss of a young, successful couple is exposed as a sham. Despite outward appearances, the husband is a serial philanderer, who uses an unregistered mobile phone to keep in touch with a string of would-be mistresses.

Wary of being caught out, he decides that the safest bet is to send texts and MMS picture messages to his 'happy slappers'- that way he can conduct his affairs right under his wife's nose. The affairs continue until his cover is blown, when the seemingly trustworthy mistresses go public with the gory details and pixelated pictures.

But then his phone rings one last time. It's another text, but this one doesn't come with a video-taped audition for Television X. It's from his wife, and it simply reads "Move out. It's over."

Forget about disappearing limps, retrograde amnesia or Raquel Welch posters, that's how you end a story.

However, I still think Cheryl missed a trick. After all, she made it so easy for us to conjure up headlines featuring 'Fight For This Love', it's just a shame that she couldn't also find a way to dump Ashley in 3 words.

Sunday, 21 February 2010

No laughing matter

Lookout Hollywood, Sarah Palin's on the warpath again. And although she may have all the intellectual curiosity of a Kellogg's Variety Pack, the bitch knows how to handle a firearm.

Last year, David Letterman came pretty close to finding his head mounted on a plaque in Sarah and Todd's den. This time around it's Seth MacFarlane who needs to be checking over his shoulder.

As writer, executive producer and lead voice performer on Fox's Family Guy, the buck stops with him whenever his cartoon creation crosses the line. Which is pretty often really. But despite all the gay, black, Asian, hispanic, Jewish, Muslim, Christian, abortion, paedophilia and disability jokes, the show maintains an astonishingly open mind, and dares its viewers to laugh at a host of taboo-busting topics.

Last week, Family Guy became the first cartoon show to depict a character with Down's syndrome, as Chris Griffin asked out a girl from his school called Ellen, assuming she'd be kind and loving. Sadly for Chris, it turns out that Ellen is pushy, demanding and rude, leaving Chris to comment "I used to hear that people with Down syndrome were different from the rest of us but you’re not. You’re not different at all. You’re just a bunch of assholes like everyone else."

At one point during the episode, Chris asks Ellen what her parents do, and she replies that her mother is the former governor of Alaska. And that's what got Sarah Palin so hot under the plunging neckline. Because, to her, children with Down's syndrome are to be used as political props to garner sympathy and demonstrate her 'working Mom' schtick. Under no circumstances should they be shown as well-rounded, intelligent or sometimes unlikeable people.

Problem is, Sarah didn't get the joke. She didn't understand that the character of Ellen was being sarcastic when talking about her parents. But more importantly, she didn't get that the joke was on her, not her Down's syndrome child Trig.

Taking to Facebook to voice her disgust, the palm-scribbling halfwit called the episode "another kick in the gut" for her family. Just like when David Letterman made a joke about her daughter last year.

Far from making cruel jokes at the expense of children with the congenital disorder, the producers of Family Guy were actually advancing understanding of Down's syndrome, especially since they cast a Down's actress to play Ellen. Andrea Fay Friedman has spoken out about Palin's political point-scoring, telling the New York Times "In my family we think laughing is good. My parents raised me to have a sense of humour and to live a normal life."

Unfortunately, I can't see Trig Palin being similarly blessed.

This one's for you

Today is p0pvulture's first birthday. If I'm completely honest, I didn't expect the blog to last this long - in fact, based on my previous record, it was unlikely to live out its first week.

But here we are, one year later, and still going. This isn't a proper post it's really just a bookmark to signify a point in time.

I've loved writing this blog for the last 365 days, even though it's sometimes felt like a bedazzled albatross around my neck. But as long as people keep reading it, I'll keep writing it.

Please make use of the comments boxes, follow me on Google, or add yourself as a Facebook fan. Make requests, feedback and share it with anyone who might get a couple of minutes' enjoyment from it.

When I first started, I wasn't sure what this blog was going to be about. Looking back at those early posts I'm a little embarrassed to see just how random and under-developed they were. The hardest thing is putting your name to something that you're asking people to spend time reading.

Thankfully, I'm lucky to have some very encouraging and supportive friends who told me it was working. That gave me the confidence to develop my style, and now p0pvulture has grown into something I'm very proud of.

So thank you. To anyone who's ever followed the site, become a fan, added a comment, suggested a story, or recommended it to a friend. My readership may be small but its perfectly formed.

Don't worry, there'll be a proper story up later.

Keep reading...

Saturday, 20 February 2010

Who's sorry now?

It's interesting that, on the eve of p0pvulture's first birthday, a story has dominated the front pages of every major newspaper - one that throws up important questions about the very nature of celebrity, and the relationship we have with those who spend their lives in the unforgiving glow of its spotlight.

Tiger Woods gave an extraordinary press conference yesterday, in which he talked about values, integrity and entitlement. The purpose of this internationally broadcast mea culpa was to demonstrate the depth of Tiger's regret for his self-destructive behaviour.

It's easy to scoff at someone who claims to be in rehab for sex-addiction. In a culture that thrives on victimhood, it seems like a clever way of claiming 'diminished responsibility' for simply being unable to keep it in one's pants.

But Tiger's act of atonement seemed much more sincere and carefully crafted than the majority of half-hearted, mealy-mouthed apologies that usually pop up whenever a sportsman is found to be playing in the 'away' kit. Then again, perhaps the scale of Tiger's misadventures warranted a more considered response.

When the story first broke about Tiger's Herculean libido, everyone was aghast that someone so driven and focused could have imploded on such a massive scale. This was like the Hadron Large Collider of celebrity sex scandals.

As more and more cocktail waitresses and porn stars came out of the woodwork to claim their 15 minutes of limelight, the story took on its own snowball-like momentum. Albeit one that managed to smash its way through an Alpine lap-dancing bar on its irrevocable descent.

Our delirious press couldn't believe its luck. Here, at last, was a story that allowed them to indulge both their iconoclastic tendencies, and their propensity for misogynistic character assassination. In their eyes, no-one could escape this story unscathed. Tiger was portrayed as an arrogant, deceitful letch, his wife Elin Nordegren a golf-club wielding spouse batterer, and all the other women as homewrecking alley cats.

Since then, Tiger's been keeping a low profile, attempting to repair the damage done to his reputation, his marriage and his Escalade. Clearly needing some time to himself to get his life in order, Tiger found his corporate sponsors more than willing to facilitate his solitude.

So it was interesting to see him standing in front of all those cameras yesterday, apologising to the world. Despite the fact that his contrition was palpable and genuine, it was clearly insufficient for some. A column in the Boston Herald ran with the headline "Hey, Tiger Woods: Apology not accepted" - as though it's up to the rank and file to confer forgiveness for the transgressions of our public figures.

Did Tiger Woods owe the world an apology? Has he let us all down by having about as much self-control as a morbidly obese diner attacking the all-you-can-eat buffet?

There are certainly people to whom he needs to apologise, not least the sponsors he misled and the family he betrayed. But as for the rest of us, is our emotional state really tied up in the morality of our sporting legends, or any other celebrity for that matter?

Perhaps we owe him an apology. After all, our insatiable hunger for gory details and tawdry exposes can't have helped matters. But more importantly, we have all helped to create a cult of celebrity that convinces those who achieve it that they answer to different standards than the rest of us.

As Tiger said yesterday: "I knew my actions were wrong. But I convinced myself that normal rules didn't apply... I thought I could get away with whatever I wanted to. I felt that I had worked hard my entire life and deserved to enjoy all the temptations around me. I felt I was entitled. Thanks to money and fame, I didn't have far -- didn't have to go far to find them."

Writing in The Independent today, James Lawton commented that Tiger's apology made it clear that he "had done wrong and wanted to do better". Here's hoping we can say the same.

Friday, 19 February 2010

Stinks in 'ere, dunnit?

Prophetic words from Den Watts there, and co-incidentally the very first line of dialogue ever spoken in EastEnders, way back in in 1985. Since then, the dreary, depressing lives of countless families have trudged joylessly across our screens, making Se7en look like a particularly chipper episode of Glee.

So happy birthday to the BBC's long-running drama, which has conjured up enough misery over the last quarter of a century to push most Samaritans over the edge. It may technically be a 'soap', but everything about EastEnders is steeped in damp and grime. Try watching the omnibus edition and I guarantee that after an hour you'll be expecting Kim and Aggie to pop up with some latex gloves and a rucksack full of Toilet Duck.

All over the world, soap operas depict the drama and incident-packed lives of beautiful people with perfect teeth and hair that would stay in place even if they were fired out of a cannon. The cast of EastEnders, on the other hand, spend most of their time looking like exiles from Terminator:Salvation.

It's not their fault - the show has always made a virtue of under-achievement. When young characters reach adulthood and announce they need to move out and spread their wings, they seldom go further than a a squat on Bridge Street.

Aspirations and ambitions are for the Hollyoaks crowd - if you're an EastEnder, career goals amount to little more than taking responsibility for the service wash. Interested in marketing? Knock up a flyer for karaoke in the Queen Vic. Fancy yourself as the next MasterChef? Try throwing together a few egg sandwiches in the cafe. After all, long-running matriarch Pauline Fowler once dismissed her daughter Michelle's flatmate Rachel as being "all books and salad."

The festive season isn't any better. To most people, Christmas is a time of joy and celebration. For the residents of Albert Square it's like a yearly game of Russian roulette. This year's festive victim was Archie Mitchell, once described as "a psycho in a golf jersey", who met his maker when he was bashed over the head with a bust of Queen Victoria.

So this week's 25th anniversary edition finally unmasked Archie's killer, after several weeks of relentless advertising and the kind of PR onslaught that even Katie Price would consider overwhelming. The key selling point for tonight's show was the fact that it was filmed live on the set in Elstree studios.

Although many viewers will have tuned in hoping to see their favourite characters flub their lines or trip over the camera cables, producers clearly wanted to showcase the performers' acting chops - something they like to do every once in a while with their 'single-set' episodes. These critically acclaimed editions usually involve one or two lead characters reminsicing about the past and staring meaningfully at a chipped teapot or faded photo album for a whole episode.

Given the amount of content that EastEnders has to produce each week, it's hardly surprising that the writing sometimes suffers, or that the performances can be a little rough around the edges. Nonetheless, the production team managed to breathe some new life into the show, which is more than can be said for poor old Bradley, who took a dive off the pub roof and became yet another statistic on Britain's deadliest street.

Happy Birthday to the people of Walford. Thanks for 25 years of drama, excitement and more miserablism than Morrissey's pubescent diaries.


Thursday, 18 February 2010

Keeping it real

Well, who saw that coming? This week Nick Herbert, Tory front-bencher and out and proud back-bencher, spoke at the Cato Institute in Washington DC about gay rights. His speech to the libertarian think tank outlined his views about the next Conservative government's likely approach to civil partnerships and gay marriage.

In a twist that would have M Night Shyamalan OMG-ing, Herbert argued that the Conservatives were particularly sympathetic to churches such as the Quakers, who would like to perform gay wedding ceremonies but are forbidden by law. Given the Tory's horrendous record on gay rights (or lack thereof), this is quite an about-face.

Still, anyone thrown into a tailspin by Herbert's shocking revelations can rest assured that the devil needn't strap on those ice skates just yet. Because, where the Tories are concerned, the more things change the more they stay the same.

So give it up for Sir Nicholas Winterton, the kind of old-school Tory who kept a whole generation of 'alternative' comedians gainfully employed throughout the 1980s. Speaking to Total Politics magazine about the expenses scandal, he suggested that MPs had every right to travel in first-class train carriages, in order to keep them away from members of the public. You know, the oiks who get to pick up the tab.

Infuriated by the very impertinence of those who suggested he should rub shoulders with the plebs, he argued "They are a totally different type of people. They have a different outlook on life. I very much doubt whether they are undertaking serious work and study, reading reports and amending reports which MPs do when they are travelling."

Of course, the problem is that commuting from his constituency in Macclesfield to London takes up a lot of time. Time that could be spent in quiet contemplation with his reports. It's just a shame that he couldn't make more use of the London flat his children owned, especially given the fact that he and his wife had expensed over £80,000 in rent on the property.

Oh dear, I think I'd better stop writing before I start quoting the taxpayer's alliance.

Wednesday, 17 February 2010

Slipped discs

There's been controversy in radio land this week, with Radio 4 listeners up in arms over the bastardisation of one of their best loved broadcasts. All over the country lips were pursed and half-knitted jerkins set aside in disgust, as long-running show Desert Island Discs became the latest casualty of the BBC's downwards trajectory towards the lowest common denominator.

The source of all this antagonism? Gok Wan - the pencil-thin motivational stylist who focuses his efforts on a bunch of overweight, depressed housewives who've spent the best part of the last decade moping about in grey sweatpants. In case you've missed it, his show 'How To Look Good Naked' is a makeover programme that rejects Trinny and Susannah's straightforward bullying, in favour of a more passive-aggressive approach.

Playing the instant gay-best-friend (just add water), he calls every woman he meets "girlfriend", snaps his fingers like he's constantly trying to attract the attention of a deaf waiter, and shakes his head like he's in the audience of the Ricki Lake show. Of course, it's easy to dismiss his technique, but he can get self-conscious women to shed their clothes quicker than a bottle of vodka and a fistful of rohypnol.

Although the show is about as intellectually nourishing as the Hot Stars supplement that comes free in every issue of OK! Magazine, it's hugely popular and has made Gok Wan a household name. Ordinarily, that should be enough to warrant an appearance on Desert Island Discs, but not according to the die-hard fans of the radio favourite who voiced their disgust on the BBC messageboards.

With comments such as "I was disappointed to hear Kirsty talking to Gok Wan. Is this an attempt to attract the "youth" audience?" and "What he has achieved I consider slight and unimportant." it's clear that older listeners are unwilling to move with the times. And presenter Kirsty Young asking Gok to describe his outfit was the last straw for some of them, with Valerie Hudson claiming that she "considers this sort of castaway a sort of dumbing down".

What these disgruntled geriatrics seem to be forgetting, is that Desert Island Discs never been much more than a celebrity interview format, with a music playlist twist. Just because some of its past guests have chosen Ode To Joy from Beethoven's Ninth Symphony, doesn't really make it any more worthy than the Celebrity Takeover Playlist shows that litter the MTV schedules.

If anything, the show is guilty of pandering to celebrities' inherent sense of superiority - are we really supposed to believe that they all exclusively listen to classical music and enjoy nothing better than leafing through Foxe's Book of Martyrs? Wouldn't it be fantastic if Germaine Greer had admitted that one of her eight selected pieces of music was Axel F, or that Ned Sherrin was a fan of Mel & Kim's F.L.M?

At least there's a chance that this new generation of 'downmarket' celebrities will have fewer pretensions, and therefore volunteer more truthful answers. Having said that, if I was stuck on a desert island and had to choose between Margaret Thatcher and Gok Wan, I think I'd be running off to join The Others before the plane's fuselage had even finished smouldering.

Tuesday, 16 February 2010

Hollywood's gay panic

In his celebrated alternative history of Hollywood, The Celluloid Closet, film writer Vito Russo addressed the film industry's love-hate relationship with all things gay. Originally published in 1981 (and made into a great documentary in 1996) the book and its subsequent adaptation looked at portrayals of gay men and lesbians, both on and off-screen. Without wanting to spoil the ending for you, Hollywood doesn't come off too well.

Two decades later and visibility is no longer as much of an issue. Milk, Brokeback Mountain and this year's A Single Man have all been lauded by the film-making establishment for their sympathetic and unflinching portrayal of gay life. But it's telling that all three (and the hundreds of other gay-themed movies that have been released in the intervening years) all boast heterosexual actors in the lead roles.

Oscar nominee, and one-time wet t-shirt favourite Colin Firth is only too aware of this issue. Speaking about his Oscar nod for his role in Tom Ford's A Single Man, the debonair Darcy named himself as part of what he considers to be 'the gay problem'.

Speaking to reporters at the film's UK premiere, he commented "If you're known as a straight guy, playing a gay role, you get rewarded for that. If you're a gay man and you want to play a straight role, you don't get cast... I think it needs to be addressed and I feel complicit in the problem. I don't mean to be. I think we should all be allowed to play whoever."

It's a sad fact that any young actor striving for the A-list has to play the gay game (and I don't mean Twister). This means that they can take on a gay role if there's acclaim to be had, but need to make sure that they distance themselves from all the homo stuff the moment they finish the take. Otherwise, there's a danger that they might look a little too light in their Gucci loafers.

So someone might need to have a word with Robert Pattinson, currently one of the world's hottest young talents despite looking like a badly put-together eye-witness photofit. Taking part in a recent photoshoot for Details magazine, alongside a bevy of naked female models, RPattz told the journalist "I really hate vaginas. I'm allergic to vagina. But I can't say I had no idea, because it was a 12-hour shoot, so you kind of get the picture that these women are going to stay naked after, like, five or six hours."

Despite the rumours of an on-set romance with Twilight co-star Kristen Stewart, Robert may well be tagged with the vagina-allergic label for some time.

Interestingly, a third British actor has also been experimenting with man-love recently, although its far from his first time. Ewan McGregor has a refreshingly open-minded approach to peen, probably on account of the fact that he gets his own out so often it even appears in his passport photos.

Ever since he made Peter Greenaway's The Pillow Book, Ewan's sporran has notched up more on-screen appearances than most B-list actors, and runs a close second to the thistle as Scotland's most recognisable icon. The saucy Scot is currently appearing in 'I Love You Phillip Morris' in which he falls for Jim Carrey, and is quite happy to mix it up with the boys.

Unlike the actors who tackle a gay role to show versatility, dubiously equating their choice with their willingness to play a murderer or rapist, Ewan is far less calculating: "I'm always interested in playing different people, in different situations. It doesn't matter to me whether someone is in love with a man or a woman. I find the idea of love and romance interesting. I'm a sucker for it."

Whether or not actors like Colin and Ewan are part of the problem or the solution remains to be seen. But until gay actors feel confident enough to be themselves when playing other people, I guess we'll never know.

Still, it's interesting that their reticence is based on a fear that they'll be typecast in gay roles and will be unable to convince as heterosexuals. If they can spend most of their lives convincing people they're straight, it shouldn't be too much of stretch to do it on film. Besides, no-one complained about Brad Pitt romancing Cate Blanchett in The Curious Case of Benjamin Button on the grounds that they knew he was with Angelina Jolie in real life...

Monday, 15 February 2010

Top of the Popes

It will go down in history as the day the music died. Last week, and seemingly without warning, Google took the unprecedented step of deleting a number of music blogs.

Perhaps fearful that it would be held accountable for aiding the growth of music piracy, the internet giant decided on a pre-emptive strike and simply eliminated the offending sites.

Years of work were obliterated in a flash, as a host of bloggers representing every music genre received a cordial note that said "We'd like to inform you that we've received another complaint regarding your blog. Upon review of your account, we've noted that your blog has repeatedly violated Blogger's Terms of Service ... [and] we've been forced to remove your blog. Thank you for your understanding."

Their crime was to offer links to filesharing sites where music tracks (some new, some dredged up from the archives) could be accessed by the blogs' readers. As Thursday's report in the Guardian correctly asserts, many of these bloggers operated with the tacit approval of the record companies who regularly send out promos and carefully orchestrate leaks in order to ensure that their music finds the die-hard fans first.

This leaves music fans with a major problem - in the aftermath of "musicblogocide 2010", where can they go for reliable, up-to-date recommendations on the music they need to hear?

Weirdly, it seems that the Vatican is willing to step into the fray and play unofficial DJ for today's musical youth. Following the success of last year's Alma Mater, Pope Benedict XVI's debut CD, the Catholic Church has decided to branch out into playlist territory.

Still, at least this will give people something to listen to while the octogenarian ex-Nazi works on his difficult sophomore album. RedOne has booked some studio time, and American Idol judge Kara DioGuardi has a few demos knocking around that the Pontiff may be interested in.

Of course I jest. But not about the music recommendations - the Holy See’s official newspaper, L’ Osservatore Romano has published a list of what it considers to be the top ten rock and pop albums of all time. Although, sadly, Britney Spears has been criminally overlooked.

The list itself is pretty surprising, featuring some inarguable classics, such as The Beatles' Revolver, Pink Floyd's Dark Side of the Moon and Fleetwood Mac's Rumours. It's a far cry from the days when rock music was decried as evil - in fact, Pink Floyd previously earned a shout-out from His Holiness in 1996 when he included them in a list of 'instruments of the Devil' which 'endangered young people's souls'.

The fact that L’ Osservatore Romano is moving towards a more populist approach should be applauded. But once again, it provides further evidence that organised religion offers few immutable truths that can stand the test of time.

As society adapts, these systems of belief need to acknowledge the changes and evolve accordingly. It's just a shame that they're quite happy to review their position on matters of popular culture, but the bigger issues, which sometimes equate to matters of life and death, remain exempt from discussion.

Sunday, 14 February 2010

Someone call the Doctor

When it comes to significant cultural landmarks, Sylvester McCoy's tenure as the seventh incarnation of Doctor Who is right up there with Glenn Medeiros and So Haunt Me. And yet, despite the fact that his own family must need flash cards to remind them who he is, he's hitting the headlines today for his legacy as the eponymous Timelord.

It turns out that Sylvester's time in the stripy scarf and blue phone box was laden with powerful political subtext, since it occurred during Margaret Thatcher's reign of terror. According to a revelatory article in today's Mail (only twenty years out-of-date) there was a vast liberal conspiracy within the BBC, that felt it could topple the Iron Lady with a weekly science fiction show that relied upon a special effects cupboard filled with egg-boxes and glitter gel.

Margaret Thatcher made a number of enemies during her 11 years at Number 10, including miners, teachers, nurses, children, gays, the Irish and the whole of Argentina. So it's hardly surprising that the artistic community felt compelled to speak out about her ruthlessness - indeed, she's made appearances in more songs than the lyric "Put your hands up in the air, wave 'em around like you just don't care".

1980s Doctor Who Script Editor Andrew Cartmel remains unapologetic about his contribution to the world of science fiction, telling the Sunday Times that "My exact words were, 'I'd like to overthrow the government'. I was very angry about the social injustice in Britain under Thatcher and I'm delighted that came into the show. Critics, media pundits and politicians didn't pick up on what we were doing. Nobody really noticed or cared."

The thing is, if anyone had noticed the anti-Maggie sentiment running through the show, it's unlikely that they would have been particularly surprised. Science Fiction has always been the ideal platform for exploring political ideologies and social tensions, as Avatar and Caprica are currently demonstrating.

Sylvester McCoy has also weighed in on the subject, saying "Our feeling was that Margaret Thatcher was far more terrifying than any monster the Doctor had encountered. The idea of bringing politics into Doctor Who was deliberate. We were a group of politically motivated people and it seemed the right thing to do."

The Mail, however, disagrees, describing the 'Tardis revolution' as "propaganda to undermine the Tory prime minister". Particularly offensive to their delicate sensibilities was Sheila Hancock's portrayal of Helen A, "a vicious and egotistical alien ruler who banned outward displays of unhappiness among her downtrodden people and used a secret police to oppress dissidents". So nothing like the woman who triggered the poll tax riots, eviscerated the NHS and banned teachers from discussing homosexuality with troubled students.

By the end of the eighties, Doctor Who was scoring the same kind of ratings as an Open University broadcast on conversational Polish, and it was cancelled soon after.

So there's a delicious irony in the fact that now the Doctor is more popular than ever. Especially since the resurgence in his popularity is largely thanks to the work of Russell T Davies, an out gay man who was characterised as a second class citizen by the Tories' ludicrous Clause 28.

If there's one things that sci-fi has taught us, it's that the underdog will always rise up and overthrow the evil Empire.

Saturday, 13 February 2010

Big Brother is watching, and he's hot

All good trends tend to start with a handful of high-profile early adopters, before eventually getting picked up by the masses. It's what Sideshow Bob lookalike Malcolm Gladwell characterised as The Tipping Point.

Take stalkers for example. It used to be that you needed two Oscars, a Grammy nomination and a centrefold photoshoot before you could expect anyone to start rifling through your garbage or sitting in a parked car outside your house.

Countless celebrities have been terrorised by under-medicated over-stimulated obsessives whose behaviour range from online death threats to dog-feeding. Admittedly, pet care may not seem too threatening in itself, unless you're Catherine Zeta Jones, and have been named as a viable alternative to IAMS.

The situation is so bad in Hollywood that Los Angeles Police Department had to establish a specific Threat Management Unit to deal with all the Annie Wilkes wannabes. But times have changed and now we can all enjoy the thrill of being stalked, thanks to Google's new social networking application, Google Buzz.

Available on Android and iPhone, the software combines yet another Twitter alternative, with Google Maps. So, not only can you update your status and comment on the world around you, the GPS will pinpoint your location for all to see.

If you like your privacy, this is not the app for you. Although given the way the world's going, you could be forgiven for thinking that privacy had already been successfully eradicated, along with Smallpox and cassingles.

Critics of the software have pointed out that it automatically creates "circles of friends based on users' most frequent contacts on Gmail" - but doesn't take into account how reciprocal or desirable those relationships are. Whereas Facebook requires confirmation of a friendship, Google Buzz simply bases its social circle algorithms on frequency of communication.

Meanwhile, a gay version of Google Buzz has already been up and running for months, in the form of Grindr - a mobile social networking site designed for gadget-loving guys who think their inbuilt gaydar needs a 3G upgrade. Billed as "the go-to place for gay, bi, and curious men to meet" Grindr uses GPS to share your exact location and 'dating' profile with other subscribers in your area.

Launch the app on your iPhone and you'll instantly be able to see who's out and about nearby, along with some unrepresentative photos and more information about their proclivities and personal dimensions than you could possibly need.

For years, it's been argued that gays are great at gentrifying neighbourhoods - moving into an undesirable areas, and with a flutter of muslin and a few scatter cushions, transforming it into the place to be. Now, thanks to Grindr, it looks like we're doing the same with cyberspace.

Friday, 12 February 2010

She'll fight for this love

Given that 2010 is a World Cup year, we shouldn't really be surprised that the papers are full of action packed stories of our most celebrated footballers. It's just a little depressing to discover that none of the stories are actually about football.

If the papers are to be believed, most premiership players prefer to warm up for the big game by spitroasting a glamour model, rather than jogging around the pitch. It doesn't help that John Terry has gone from England Captain to a one-size-fits-all punchline for any joke about marital disharmony, in a matter of weeks.

According to American sports sociologist, Jeff Benedict, "Almost across the board, professional athletes have a warped perception of women because of what they are exposed to: women approaching them, offering to have sex with them, sending them their underwear in the mail." I guess sometimes the temptation is just too great.

Look at Ashley Cole (if you have to). He's already managed to elevate his wife to the status of 'national treasure' by cheating on her once. With the revelation that he may be playing away from home yet again, Cheryl is likely to be made a Dame of the British Order before the year is out.

This time around, he's been taking pictures of his little striker and sending it to a 'glamour model' called Sonia Wild. The only thing more unlikely than Sonia's conveniently saucy surname, is Ashley's preposterous explanation of how his extremities ended up on someone else's phone.

Apparently, Ashley took the pictures just for fun on an unregistered pay-as-you-go phone, then gave it to a friend to use up the remaining credit. He just forgot to mention that the phone's memory was full of low-resolution amateur porn. Like you do.

This inconsiderate pal discovered the gallery of images, and decided to send them on to a topless model from Hull. Turned on by the fact that she was getting pictures from a 'soccer star', she reciprocated: "I sent back video footage on my phone of myself naked and doing sexy things. At the time it was a laugh and a bit of a thrill for me." Almost as much of a thrill as going to the press with an SD card full of celebrity wang.

Whether you choose to believe Ashley's imaginative explanation is of little or no consequence. It's Mrs Cole that the foolhardy footballer really has to answer to.

Cheryl has forgiven Ashley before, and successfully leveraged her broken heart into a career-making accessory. But hell hath no fury like a woman scorned second time around.

She may be little more than a Girls' World mannequin who talks like Paul Gascoigne, but Cheryl packs a mean punch - as bathroom attendant Sophie Amogbokpa can confirm. Suddenly, that ankle injury is the least of Ashley's worries...

Thursday, 11 February 2010

Thanks for sharing

Last year it was Megan Fox who was gobbling up the column inches with an endless stream of borderline-incoherent egocentric rambling. Between the release of Transformers 2 and Jennifer's Body, it seemed that she couldn't open her pouty mouth without sticking a pair of Louboutins in there.

But Megan's motormouth is nothing compared with John Mayer, who just can't help embarrassing himself anytime someone waves a microphone in his general direction.

Although he's an acclaimed blues musician, John's media profile is largely thanks to the fact that he's been inside more Hollywood women than an egg-white omelette. Since 2006, when he began dating buxom brain-donor Jessica Simpson, John has become a tabloid staple. It reached a point where he felt the need to steer clear of drugs, clubs and red carpet events, as well as swearing off dating any more celebrities, since he felt that it was detracting him from his music.

He may have ditched the lifestyle, but he seems to be perfectly happy in the spotlight, and has been giving great copy to a bunch of journalists who must be thanking their lucky stars that there was enough tape in their dictaphone.

Amongst the recent revelations, he's told interviewers that he masturbates at an Olympian standard, has a 'white supremacist dick' and compared old-flame Jessica to "sexual napalm". Although I'm not sure whether that means she was incendiary and destructive, or just that he liked the way she smelled first thing in the morning.

He's even weighed in on his fellow celebrities, claiming that Tiger Woods' only mistake was being married: "Tiger Woods' problems come from him being married. The end. If Tiger Woods was single, and he texted a girl and said 'I wanna wear your ass like a hat,' why would that ever hit the news?"

Unfortunately, this rambling, say-anything approach has finally landed him in hot water, with some racially charged language in a Playboy interview upsetting quite a few people. Given the fallout, it's hardly surprising that Mayer has tucked his overworked tail between his legs and apologised for forgetting what he's supposed to be famous for.

As well as grinding his Nashville concert to a halt to issue a tearful mea culpa to his audience, he took to twitter to explain his motivation: “It started as an attempt to not let the waves of criticism get to me, but it’s gotten out of hand and I’ve created somewhat of a monster. I wanted to be a blues guitar player. And a singer. And a songwriter. Not a shock jock. I don’t have the stomach for it.”

He might not have the stomach for it, but old habits die hard. As he once sang on his debut album, “My stupid mouth has got me in trouble, I said too much again.”

Wednesday, 10 February 2010

Could it BE more over?

It's the end of an era.

After what seems like an eternity, Channel 4 (and its multiple offshoots) have ended their fifteen year deal with Warner Bros to exclusively air Friends.

Even though the show ended five years ago, it's become such a staple of the media landscape that it's hard to turn on the TV without seeing the giant porcelain greyhound, the peephole picture-frame, or a thin Matthew Perry spitting a spray of water out of his mouth.

In fact, Friends has become so ubiquitous, that it's hard to remember that, for the best part of a decade, it was the best comedy show on TV. Maybe we take it for granted, like a moving version of the test card picture of the girl with the terrifying clown ragdoll.

Even now, the show manages to drum up daily viewing figures of around 400,000, despite the fact that the majority of the population must have committed all 236 episodes to memory.

The E4 schedulers must be flicking through page after page of blank diary sheets, wondering how they're ever going to fill all that space without Monica's OCD, Rachel's amazing hair or Ross's borderline paedophilia.

As for The Rembrandts, who performed the show's nosebleed-inducing theme tune, they're going to take a massive hit on their royalties now that it's not going to be broadcast around the clock.

Head of Channel 4 acquisitions Gill Hay says "It's time to say goodbye to old Friends and welcome new ones, in the form of more comedy, drama and entertainment from the US and UK. We are incredibly proud to have been the home of Friends for so long, but at a point when the channel is undergoing a period of creative renewal it felt like the right time to part company."

It's a sad time for anyone who's grown accustomed to their daily fix of Central Perk. Let's just keep our fingers crossed that BBC takes note and follows suit by finally putting 'Two Pints of Lager and a Packet of Crisps' out of its misery. At least Friends had the decency to be funny.

Tuesday, 9 February 2010

Oh grow up!

There comes a time in everyone's life where we must put aside childhood things. Unless of course we happen to be cartoons, in which case we can hang onto our youth longer than Demi Moore.

The Simpsons may have been running for 20 years, but Bart, Maggie and Lisa remain trapped for eternity at the age they were when they first appeared as poorly animated inserts in the Tracey Ullman show.

Likewise, long-running comic characters retain their youthful looks, even into their sixties. Take Dennis the Menace for example - he's been in short trousers since Bruce Forsyth was in short trousers.

However, although the character may look the same, his behaviour has evolved over time. Long gone are the catapults, peashooters and incessant bullying of 'Walter the Softy'. The stories no longer end with a dose of corporal punishment either.

Dennis is still a mischief maker, but he's no longer a bully with an angry, badly trained dog. Some might argue that our sensibilities have softened over time, and that we've lost our sense of humour. But I can't help wondering if the neutering of Dennis is more to do with the fact that we're now overrun with Menaces, and it just doesn't seem quite so endearing any more.

So it's a little strange to see the Daily Mail, which never met a hoodie it didn't want to slipper into a coma, championing old-school Dennis the Menace and decrying his toothless contemporary antics.

Blaming the 'PC killjoys' who made Dennis too nice, the Mail has run a story about a noxious family's letters to the Beano, begging for Dennis to return to his menacing ways. Eight year-old Jacob Rush reportedly wrote to the publishers saying "I don't like Dennis because he doesn't have his catapult or water pistol any more and he's not menacing enough - I want the old Dennis back."

Of course, the real enemy here is political correctness - eviscerating our best-loved characters and leaving a bland soup of mediocrity in its place. The Mail laments the fact that "even his usual scowl has been transformed into a charming boyish grin" and has had to lay off his arch-nemesis Walter to allay concerns over 'gay bashing'. Interesting to note their use of quotation marks, as if to suggest that the very concept of homophobic bullying is in doubt.

Like any other art form (no matter how populist), comics have an obligation to reflect the world around them. Perhaps the publishers of the Beano should have turned Dennis into a foul-mouthed, ASBO-baiting thug who breaks into pensioners' homes, sexually harasses his school teachers and steals drug money from his parents?

Monday, 8 February 2010

What's up, Governor?

It's a sad fact that politicians and scandal go together like Tom Cruise and damaged sofa cushions. Judging by the state of affairs (pun possibly intended) in New York, those associations aren't likely to end any time soon.

New York governor David Paterson is currently the target of a smear campaign involving "a variety of unproven accusations involving [his] personal conduct." In fact, the rumors are so unproven, they haven't even been articulated yet.

Apparently, character assassination has become so easy that these days you don't need a shooter or a smoking gun. In fact, you don't even need to take aim. Just plant the rumor that there may be a threat and let the internet take care of the rest.

All it took for Paterson's troubles to begin was a handful of bloggers speculating that the New York Times was working on a story that would force him to resign. As Doug Muzzio, politics professor at New York City's Baruch College, said in an interview: "I've never seen the rumor of a story becoming the story as this one has."

But the damage has been done, and now Paterson's political opponents are ready to strike. Leading the charge is former Nixon, Reagan and Bush advisor Roger Stone, who has lined up a most surprising alternative candidate.

Former 'Manhattan Madam' Kristin Davis (no, not that one) has put herself forward as a Libertarian candidate, and believes she has a chance of being elected since she 'has nothing to hide'. Having originally found notoriety by helping to unseat Paterson's prostitute-patronising predecessor Eliot Spitzer, Davis plans to run on a reform agenda.

A report in the New York Daily News claims that Davis "laid out her credentials...on the lower East Side" - a trick I'm sure many a man has paid to see. But if you're thinking that Stone is using her as part of a cynical publicity campaign, you couldn't be more wrong: "Kristin knows lots of Penthouse Pets. We'll get four, make them notary publics and have them, suitably attired, collecting signatures at Grand Central Station during rush hour." You stay classy New York.

On the upside (she's probably done that too), it makes a change to see a whore wanting to enter the world of politics, rather than the other way round.

Drown and out

Hooray - 24 is back and badder than ever. Jack Bauer may have mellowed into a caring grandfather with a conscience, but that leaves the other rogue agents to cut off suspects' hands with a circular saw just to ask for directions to the nearest Subway.

As the controversy over the show's emphasis on torture scenes runs and runs, the impact of its over-reliance on crocodile clips and uncomfortable chairs continues to be felt.

The concern is that, as one of the most popular shows on US TV, 24 endorses the use of torture in extracting confessions and other vital intelligence. In doing so, it seems to legitimise the illegal activities taking place in Guantanamo Bay and Abu Ghraib.

But even Jack Bauer would probably question the behaviour of Joshua Tabor, a US soldier accused of waterboarding his four-year-old daughter when she failed to recite her alphabet.

Although he had only recently won custody of the little girl, he decided that the CIA torture technique was the most effective way of encouraging her to remember her A-B-Cs. Choosing the punishment because she was terrified of water, the nominee for 'father of the year' held his little girl's face in the water three or four times.

What's not clear from the reports, is whether or not the child was able to complete the task. But then, that's the problem with violent interrogative techniques - torturers rarely manage to extract the information they need.

But it leaves me wondering what will happen if Sesame Street's ratings ever start to flag. If Elmo wants to know which letters are sponsoring the episode, will he roll up his fuzzy red sleeves and get his hands wet?