Friday, 30 July 2010


I had a boss once who came back from a seminar with a new phrase that she just loved using - 'neg ferret'. It sounds like some kind of grim sexual proclivity that has no place on a family-orientated blog such as this.

In fact, it's a name given to people who wallow in negativity. It doesn't matter how good an idea is, or how happy people are - they'll somehow find a way of pissing on everyone's picnic.

There's even a branch of journalism dedicated to neg-ferretery. Stories that are written solely to irritate and upset. I'm sure you can imagine which papers they tend to proliferare in, I don't need to mention them by name.

Yesterday there was a great example of 'neg ferret' journalism, and it didn't pull any punches in insulting its readers. It opened with: "Are you wealthy, sophisticated and smart but don’t care about anybody else? The chances are you own an iPad."

Now, my own experiences of iPad ownership are well documented here. So needless to say I was horrified to find out that I'm "unkind and have little empathy for others." I know my writing can be a little snarky at times, but 'unkind' seems a little harsh.

There's no sense arguing the point either, since it's all scientific fact. At least that's the way Tim Koelkebeck of MyType sees it. He carried out a Facebook poll of 20,000 consumers and came to the conclusion that we iPad owners are just not very nice people.

The survey claims that "iPad owners are six times more likely to be wealthy, well-educated, power-hungry, over-achieving, sophisticated, unkind and non-altruistic 30-50-year-olds. They are self-centered workaholics with an overwhelming interest in business and finance who cherish power and achievement and will not cross the street to help others." It's true, I am 35. So the rest of it must be pretty accurate too.

Or is it? In amongst the staggeringly insulting generalisations, there are also some worryingly obvious assertions. For instance, would it shock you to learn that the iPad is popular with "people who enjoy interacting with new technology"? Hold the front page, we have an exclusive.

When the iPad was first launched, Steve Jobs promised that it would revolutionise our lives, from the way we travel to the way we read. Clearly, he neglected to mention that it would also provide a shiny black mirror, allowing us to gaze blankly into the gaping chasm where our soul should be.

If you're chuckling to yourself, thinking that Koelkebeck is onto a winner, and that iPad users are all mindless, morally questionable wankers, I have some bad news. You're a hopeless inadequate, with neither the versatility nor the sex appeal to handle such a stylish piece of kit. Don't blame me - that's Koelkebeck's opinion.

So, what have we learned today? I've learned that surveys are largely worthless. I've learned that some people consider stating the obvious to be proof of their own expertise. And I've learned that you're damned if you do, and damned if you don't.

I'm happy to be someone who always does. Even if that makes me a moral vacuum.

Thursday, 29 July 2010

Biting back

Is it just me, or does it seem as though vampires are taking over the world?

For a start, there's the Twilight series, which has singlehandedly turned a bunch of blue-balled Emo teenagers into the world's most bankable box office stars. Forget about the Lost Boys, who wanted to sleep all day and party all night. The Twilight set prefer to fix motorbikes and write bad poetry. Rock and roll.

At least there's a little more variety on TV. If you prefer your vamps with a side order of angst, you can sink your teeth into The Vampire Diaries, with its 'Dracula's Creek' take on small town teen drama. Alternatively, if you like your entertainment a little more 'adult', you could try True Blood, which uses vampirism as a one-stop-metaphor-shop for sexuality, drug abuse and racism.

With the genre springing back into afterlife, it's nice to see one of its most famous advocates in the public eye again. When she first published 'Interview With The Vampire' Anne Rice was singlehandedly responsible for resurrecting a long-dead archetype - the sexually ambivalent gothic antihero.

Although her prose is stodgy and cold (think 'Hammer Horror' but with a screenplay by Dame Barbara Cartland) the ongoing adventures of Lestat and co have won her millions of followers - although you'd never guess by looking at her, since she insists on dressing like a frustrated turn-of-the-century librarian.

Originally inventing the tortured Louis and his surrogate child Claudia to express her grief over the death of her own daughter, Rice's novels explored the duality of unholy monsters struggling with their own morality. Real laugh-a-minute stuff. And in much the same way that her troubled characters spend eternity searching for meaning in their existence, Anne has also had her own struggles.

Plagued with ill health, she's often turned to Catholicism to get her through, but she's battled to reconcile her liberal sensibilities with the church's hardline approach. Now, it seems that something has finaly snapped, and she's turned her back on Christianity once and for all.

Writing on Facebook today, Anne declared "Today I quit being a Christian. I’m out. I remain committed to Christ as always but not to being “Christian” or to being part of Christianity. It’s simply impossible for me to “belong” to this quarrelsome, hostile, disputatious, and deservedly infamous group. In the name of Christ, I refuse to be anti-gay. I refuse to be anti-feminist. I refuse to be anti-artificial birth control. I refuse to be anti-Democrat. I refuse to be anti-secular humanism. I refuse to be anti-science. I refuse to be anti-life. In the name of Christ, I quit Christianity and being Christian. Amen.”

Were it not for the explicitly political motivation on display, this would be precisely the kind of declaration that one of her characters might make, shortly before chomping on a carriage full of comely courtesans. But then, Anne has always understood, better than most, the vicarious appeal of the creatures of the night. It's not just their sensuality and decadence that appeals - it's the fact that they have the ability to pick and choose which societal conventions they want to keep, and which to discard.

I'm sure the Catholic church will be unfazed by Anne's announcement - they've had more vocal critics on their back recently. Still, it wouldn't hurt for them to sleep with a crucifix in hand. You know, just in case...

Wednesday, 28 July 2010

Hardy by name...

Speculation about an actor's sexuality is so commonplace, it's now a mandatory part of the career trajectory for any young man in the performing arts. From the moment someone first catches a casting director's eye, they're likely to be subjected to feverish speculation on every film-based message board.

But every once in a very long while, along comes an actor who isn't just prepared for the question, he's thought about his answer and decided to plump for honesty over obfuscation.

When country rock singer Vanessa Carlton and actress Anna Paquin recently announced their bisexuality to the world, pop culture commentators carped that it was easier for women. A little shock, a little titillation, and no harm done. It certainly didn't seem to hurt Angelina Jolie's career when she revealed that she'd munched some muffin in her time.

So what should we make of Tom Hardy's revelation this week that he's happy to embrace his gay side, not to mention other men's? OK, so maybe the tense is a little off - he did specify that this was a phase in his past. But his refreshing openness about sex with other men is still pretty encouraging.

Asked if he'd ever done the nasty with guys, the pretty pouter said "Of course I have. I'm an actor for fuck's sake. I've played with everything and everyone. I love the form and the physicality, but now that I'm in my thirties, it doesn't do it for me."

But have-a-go-homos shouldn't lose heart about the fact that he's now happily engaged to actress Charlotte Riley. As Tom says, "I'm done experimenting but there's plenty of stuff in a relationship with another man, especially gay men, that I need in my life. A lot of gay men get my thing for shoes. I have definite feminine qualities and a lot of gay men are incredibly masculine."

So there you go - you might not get to suck on those bee-stung lips of his, but you can happily while away an afternoon with him in Schuh.

And if Tom decides to fully embrace his 'feminine qualities' there's a new TV show in development where he can make his big announcement. Created by publicist Howard Bragman, 'Coming Out' while be a documentary-style show that will follow celebrities as they take their first tentative steps out of the showbiz closet.

It remains to be seen which celebrities will be willing to make a potentially career-defining declaration on an A&E reality show. If the whole point is that 'it's no big deal' - building a whole show around what a big deal it is might be counter productive. In the meantime, we can all start placing our bets on who's likely to appear. Time to hit those message boards then...

Tuesday, 27 July 2010

It's just a Tweet for help

Reality TV fans the world over are flicking through their EPGs hoping to find a replacement for The Hills, which finished its six-season run run last week. Audiences were left shocked by the final scene, which pulled the cameras back to reveal that the show's characters were performing on a soundstage, rather than out in the real world.

According to the show's creator, Adam DiVello, the last shot was devised as "a nod to how much work goes into making it feel like a scripted show." But not everyone's taken it that way, with many believing that this was a final-act reveal that the show was more rehearsed than anyone had realised.

Several cast members have added to the conspiracy by speaking out about how staged the show was, and that much of the animosity between the 'characters' was staged for the cameras. Unfortunately, it seems as though someone forgot to tell Spencer Pratt.

Long established as the show's villain, Heidi Montag's estranged husband seems to have confused the role he played on the show with real life, and has subsequently turned his own life into a kind of surreal piece of performance art. You know, like James Franco, but without the thesis at the end of it.

Described on Wikipedia as 'Reality television personality and part time rapper', the self-confessed fame whore has struggled to adjust to life after fame. His wife may have undergone a whole Joan Rivers-worth of surgery in a single day, but she seems happy to distance herself from the world of celebrity. Spencer, on the other hand, is choosing to leave sanity behind instead.

He recently relaunched his website, in the process pronouncing himself "creator and writer of one of the most famous websites in the world". Spencer's posts range from idle speculation (Bradley Cooper relationship w Renee Z is a sham... He's gay!) to downright defamatory (Brody Jenner likes to choke girls when he has sex w/ them). But they're all written with all the clarity and focus of Peter Greenaway's doodle pad.

Spencer's tweets aren't much better. There's something desperately delusional about someone who will publicly send a message to MTV saying "It's pilot week over at the network. I know I didn't have time to submit my pilot so I hope you are thinking of me when buying projects." Failing that, he also offers such telling insights as "being alive is so cool" and "having no friends makes life super easy".

Having already attempted to crash The Hills' wrap party disguised as Robinson Crusoe's unkempt flatmate, it seems as though Spencer is having something of a meltdown. Unfortunately, because he's fogged the boundaries between reality and perfomance, it might be that these cries for help will go unheeded. Then again, when the only thing you crave is an audience, would that be such a bad thing?

Monday, 26 July 2010

Neither fancy, nor dressed

For fans of genre movies (that's horror, sci-fi and fantasy for the uninitiated), the last week in July is a lot like Christmas. San Diego Comic-Con International is a four-day event that gives fans a sneak-peak of the effects-heavy delights heading their way over the coming months.

As well as star-studded panel discussions and exclusive screenings of forthcoming features, it's a chance for like-minded weirdos to dress up as their favourite characters and come together in a non-judgmental (and, in all-likelihood, non-bathing) environment. As a result, you'll often see some truly spectacular costumes, from the bevy of women who turn out in Princess Leia's Jedi-era metal bikini, to would-be Wolverines with tinfoil blades jutting from their wank-weary knuckles.

Funnily enough, the best costume this weekend didn't actually make an appearance at Comic-Con. Instead, it popped up at another genre film convention - Fangoria's Weekend of Horrors. In amongst the homemade Freddy, Jason and Pinhead costumes, one outfit really stood out, not least because it involved more cooperation than a pantomime horse. Although with considerably less fabric.

The three lucky winners who'll be sharing the $1,000 prize (and hopefully a bottle of mouthwash) were inspired by the latest horror phenomenon, one that's been turning stomachs and flipping wigs since it was first announced over a year ago. The Human Centipede is a fantastically controversial Dutch opus that tells the story of a German doctor who kidnaps three tourists and joins them surgically, mouth to anus - hence the film's curious title. Hardly surprising, then, that the film has been described as 'the most disgusting horror film of all-time'.

But credit where credit's due - it takes a certain level of dedication to turn up to a film convention with your head buried in the backside of a close friend, with only a few bandages to protect your modesty. Especially since the movie you're honoring has hardly been seen outside a few niche film festivals and a handful of video-on-demand services. Still, the one up-side is that there was never any danger of turning up and seeing someone else in the exact same outfit. Because that's the kind of nightmare no-one needs.

If you have the stomach for it, here's the trailer...

Sunday, 25 July 2010

I think I'm turning Lebanese

Men have it so easy. For most, the mid-life crisis amounts to little more than filling out the financing form for a new car or trying to hit on the office secretary. According to a new study, to be shared with the American Psychological Association in August, women have a much tougher time as they approach middle age. Rather than pricing up a Porsche Boxster, they seem to spend their time balancing hot flashes with a spontaneous change of sexuality.

The dating market is currently being flooded with with 'late-blooming lesbians' - women whose only previous brush with sapphic sensuality was occasionally hearing 'Constant Craving' on Radio 2. Suddenly, and without warning, they're strapping on (steady now) some sensible shoes and putting up their own shelves with a same-sex partner, leaving emasculated (but probably turned-on) ex-husbands in their wake.

As with most news stories, it helps that there are some celebrities who can be held up as examples - in this case Sex and the City's Cynthia Nixon and Mary Portas, Queen of Shops. Despite being entirely heterosexual throughout adulthood, they both decided in their forties that their furry cups runneth over.

As you'd expect, the coverage of this 'phenomenon' is suitably melodramatic - lots of references to illicit liaisons, bullied children and "irrevocable damage" caused to relationships. The Mail, in particular, makes repeated reference to the women's "devastated husband[s] and utterly bewildered children".

One husband in particular lashes out at his ex-wife, saying "I can only describe her actions then as incredibly selfish, because she put herself and her feelings first. Overnight I was left on my own with two impressionable young boys, who were totally bewildered and terribly upset, having to explain where their mother was." Of course, it's easy to overlook how often men put their wives in similar situations when they run of with younger women, but lesbianism makes for a convenient bogeyman.

Thankfully though, all the lesbians featured in the story are happy and contented with their new sexual identity, and have generally been able to repair the rifts with their families. What's more interesting is the question that this situation throws up regarding the fluid nature of human sexuality.

Gay rights advocates have always been keen to prove that sexuality is pre-determined. So the idea that a woman can choose to switch sexuality, the way she might bring out the summer wardrobe when the weather improves, makes for a troubling twist in the tale. Does the fact that women can 'select' their sexuality mean that it's a lifestyle choice, rather than a genetically programmed quirk of nature?

Dr Ceri Parsons of Staffordshire University believes that it's not as simple as that: "Generally people are more aware of lesbianism - so while it appears that there is an upsurge in lesbian relationships when actually it might simply be the case that they are just more visible. Historically psychologists have tried to pigeonhole people as homosexual or heterosexual but these categories are highly inadequate. Sexual preferences aren't always set in stone."

For the foreseeable future, experts will continue to compile reports, analyze statistics and test hypotheses to see if they can find the definitive answer. But they miss the point - finding happiness is what really counts. The only thing, in fact.

Saturday, 24 July 2010

Make mine a half

In the balmy days of summer, there's nothing more refreshing than a nice cold beer in the garden. Well, at least that's what I'm told, since I prefer to sip on an exotically coloured cocktail. Although I defy anyone to watch The Shawshank Redemption and not wish they were up on that prison roof, choking on tar-fumes and knocking back a cold one with Andy and the lags.

Beer drinkers themselves are a diverse bunch. There are some who like an ice-cold Mexican beer with a lime wedged squished pretentiously into the neck of the bottle. Others drive old Morris Minors and will happily quaff room-temperature bull piss as long as it's been recommended by CAMRA. And then there are the guys who sit in the park, shouting at pigeons over a can of Tenants.

However, by far the most interesting subset of beer drinkers is the connoisseur. He's the one who dedicates his life to searching for exotic new flavours and liver-rupturing alcohol percentages. Two such pioneers are James Watt and Martin Dickie, owners of Scotland's largest independent brewery 'BrewDog'.

As they say on their website, they're "dedicated to making cool, contemporary and progressive beers showcasing some of the world’s classic beer styles. All with an innovative twist and customary BrewDog bite." But their newest beer doesn't just have bite, it has a full set of teeth.

Appropriately named 'The End of History', the 55% alcohol beer is an extremely limited edition - only 12 bottles were made. And despite the hefty £500 price tag, they sold out within four hours.

It doesn't really matter what the beer tastes like (although I'd hazard a guess that it's like battery acid filtered through a rugby-player's sock), since it's the packaging that really grabbed people's attention. Forget about bottles and cans - that's far too 'high street' an approach for a product that "pushes the boundaries of extreme brewing". This beer comes encased in the body of a dead animal.

So if you had half a grand to splurge on a bottle of grog, you could be supping it from the mouth of a dead stoat. Or squirrel, if that better suits your palate. Looking like something Leatherface might keep in his fridge, this Belgian blonde ale is presented inside the hollowed out body of roadkill - each of which was lovingly created by a "very talented taxidermist".

It's not enough that these poor rodents had their final moments extinguished beneath the wheels of a Ford Mondeo, they get to spend the rest of eternity as a novelty bottle holder.

Now, whose round is it?

Friday, 23 July 2010

How very dare they?

There's been a bit of a kerfuffle in TV land this week, as gay rights group Stonewall has conducted a study into the depiction of the LGBT (fries on the side) community. According to Stonewall's less-than-scientific-sounding investigation, 36% of lesbian, gay and bisexual people were portrayed in what the group considered to be a negative light.

Ben Summerskill, Stonewall's chief executive, claimed "It's hardly surprising that there's still almost endemic homophobic bullying... when, even if gay people do appear on TV shows... they're depicted in a derogatory or demeaning way."

But what constitutes a 'derogatory or demeaning' depiction? Writing in the Mail, Andrew Pierce blames the show which portray gays as "promiscuous, predatory or figures of fun" and laments the lost innocence of a time when homosexuality was still illegal.

Considering he claims to be a proud gay man, Pierce doesn't seem entirely comfortable with matters of gayness. In the space of a few paragraphs, this tediously self-loathing prig bullies his way through Graham Norton (too mincey), Gok Wan (too campy), Julian Clary (too fisty), Paul O'Grady (too draggy), Alan Carr (too lispy) and Louis Spence (too Louis).

Andrew prefers gays who follow the football and "worry... about the state of the economy". Confirming every ill-informed stereotype he claims to abhor, he proudly states "None of my gay friends is effeminate, speaks in high-pitched voices, frets endlessly about what to wear, listens only to songs from musical shows, and has dogs which you can fit into handbags."

Ironically enough, Andrew represents one of the biggest, and most irritating gay stereotypes of all - the 'straight-acting gay'. They seem to think that their 'faux macho' drag act differentiates them from the limp-wristed masses. What none of them seem to realise is that their self-definition is a contradiction in terms. If you like cock - you're not acting very straight at all.

But it's not just the Daily Mail that has its manly, shapeless boxers in a twist over this report. The BBC also weighed in on the debate, asking Radio Times TV critic Gareth McLean to share his thoughts about gay characters in soaps.

McLean assesses the situation by lamenting the fact that most representations of gay people occur in soap operas, since their characters tend to be "perpetually suffering or miserable". But don't the same rules apply for everyone in soaps? I haven't seen anyone crack a smile in Albert Square since Anita Dobson was hovering under the optics.

His argument is further weakened by the fact that the gay characters currently appearing in UK soaps suggest a diverse, realistic and compelling representation of gay life. There's the conflicted Muslim, the beefy gym bunny, the camp factory worker, the self-loathing closet-case and the stroppy lesbian. Interestingly, at least two of these five characters here are played by out gay actors, adding an extra layer of authenticity.

There's no denying that Stonewall's Unseen on Screen report is a well-intentioned piece of research. But the demand for 'positive' portrayals of LGBT characters is disingenuous at best. Hollywood may like its gays pithy and sexless, but the world is more complicated than that. Gays can be cruel, judgemental, slutty, irresponsible, angry, shallow, bitter, fun-loving, kind-hearted and even badly dressed.

We should be less concerned with positive portrayals of the gay community, and more interested in authenticity. And that's going to involve x-ray specs, not rose-tinted glasses.

Thursday, 22 July 2010

Added values

They may have finally created an industrial-strength tampon to plug the Gulf oil spill, but BP isn't out of the woods just yet. They're currently under investigation for their alleged involvement in lobbying the Scottish government to release Lockerbie bomber Abdelbaset Ali Mohmet al-Megrahi. It's speculated that BP got involved in order to help secure a lucrative oil deal with Libya.

This isn't another BP-bashing post, it's just the latest example of the power that major corporations have in the way the world operates. We no longer live in a world of superpowers with their fingers poised precariously over the big red button. The decisions that lead us into war are now made in the boardroom rather than the 'War Room'.

But not everybody sees it that way. US conservatives in particular are unhappy with the fact that Hollywood no longer makes movies depicting the 'Red Menace' as the big bad. They're upset that corporations are portrayed as the bad guys. To them, it's distinctly 'unAmerican'.

Incensed that liberal Hollywood is alienating American audiences, a new production company has been set up to reclaim the movie industry for 'real American values'. That means patriotic, pro-military, Christian values.

Declaration Entertainment is a new company founded on those traditional beliefs, and aims to provide America's silent majority with moral sustenance. They've studied the history of Hollywood and realised that the real problem lies with the industry's financial model. Since movies now generate much of their revenue overseas, they're no longer beholden to the attitudes that American conservatives hold so dear.

So here's their idea - citizen producers. Anyone willing to part with $10-$30 per month (depending on the package they're interested in) becomes a co-producer of the company's slate of would-be movies. As soon as enough investors have joined up, the movie is greenlit, produced and released. It sounds a lot like a pyramid scheme - except there's no financial reward. Any profits generated by the completed movies are used to finance future ventures.

So what's in it for investors? A heady mix of rewards await those willing to stump up the cash on a monthly basis - they can access all the content on the website (whoopee), read script excerpts, watch casting videos and even win trips to the film set or red-carpet premiere. But that's not all, as the site boasts: "you’ll be doing your part to turn the tide of anti-Americanism in the culture by portraying our shared values in a positive light – the way Hollywood used to."

Stilted dialogue, thinly-veiled propaganda, unrealistic representations of morality - what's not to love? There must be a market for films like this, since company founder Jeremy Boreing (as dull as he sounds) claims that 60% of American's "don't approve of Hollywood".

He doesn't actually explain what element of Hollywood that relates to, or the impact that this disapproval has on business. But he has definitely heard people saying that they plan to boycott Hollywood's output as a result. Pretty persuasive, I'm sure you'll agree.

If you have some cash to spare (and an empty shoebox where your brain should be) perhaps you'd like to invest in the studio's current slate of projects. There's Aurora, a science-fiction epic about a space vehicle designed to open up "the entire Solar System to colonization and free enterprise, beyond the reach of bureaucracy." Or maybe you'd be more interested in 'The Arroyo', the tale of an ex-special forces cattle rancher concerned about over-regulated Border Patrols.

It's just a shame that the people behind Declaration Entertainment don't understand that the real issue audiences have with modern film-making is quality, not values. And judging by their projected output, that's not likely to change anytime soon.

Wednesday, 21 July 2010

The kids are alright

Forget about the 'obesity timebomb' that threatens to turns the world's kids into listless, corpulent slugs. There's another healthcare crisis looming on the horizon - a mass outbreak of peptic ulcers amongst the Daily Mail's constantly agitated readership.

That's right folks, it's time for another flick through the pages of everyone's favourite anger rag to see what's causing Middle England's intestines to spontaneously erode. And this week's bone of contention is with a new craze that's getting kids hooked on a new 'legal high'.

With mephedrone and naphyrone already banned, and MDAI expected to follow, young people are seeking out alternative ways to cut loose and elevate their consciousness. Neither of which are concepts likely to appeal to the Daily Mail or its apoplectic readers.

So it's with a suitably sombre tone that Daniel Bates reports on the i-Dosing craze, in which young people listen to "repetitive drone-like music" in order to "change their brains in the same way as real-life narcotics." Forget coke or heroin, if you really want to enter an altered state, all it takes is a couple of Basshunter tracks.

According to Bates, YouTube is awash with tracks that "mimic different sensations you can feel by taking drugs such as Ecstasy or smoking cannabis." The thing is, kids have always been prone to suggestion wherever 'drugs' are involved. Most fourteen-year olds only need half a can of Top Deck shandy to start carrying on like George Best in Wogan's green room.

Of course, this wouldn't be a Daily Mail feature without a bunch of ill-informed speculation and conjecture. So Bates uses the fact that the Oklahoma Bureau of Narcotics and Dangerous Drugs has issued a warning about i-Dosing, to confirm the scale of the threat.

Perhaps someone should have pointed out that taking scientific advice from Oklahoma is like asking Peaches Geldof about meritocracies. After all, this is the state that filed a resolution last year to oppose the teaching of evolution.

Nonetheless, Bates forges ahead with his terrifying tale of tracks with "imposing names such as ‘Gates of Hades’ or ‘Hand of God’ which are ten minutes long" and often "resemble cheap synthesizers being played very fast." Terrifying stuff indeed.

It doesn't seem to matter that Dr Helane Wahbeh, a Clinician Researcher with the Oregon Health and Science University is on hand to point out that the whole concept of i-Dosing is utter nonsense. Bates would rather side with the unnamed 'researchers' who suggest that the placebo effect is enough if users really want to feel it.

But that's also how stories like this work - it's not about the veracity of the concept, it's about the desire to believe.

Monday, 19 July 2010

Man-sized appetite

You know how it is - your stomach's as empty as Alex Reid's brainpan and you happen to wander past the window of a local patisserie. Peering in at the goodies on display, you spy a spectacular arrangement of little cakes, covered in butter icing, sprinkles and other assorted decorative goodies.

But something stops you from going in. There's something just a little too feminine about cupcakes - so you keep on walking and buy a kebab instead. With extra chilli sauce, just to ensure that no-one questions your masculinity. Once you get home, you quietly gulp down the slimy slices of reformed mutton, stifling your sobs and quietly cursing the unspoken judgement of others.

OK, so maybe you don't know how it is. Perhaps that's a rather melodramatic take on the situation. But there must be something in that scenario, otherwise Sky News wouldn't have felt the need to cover the story of the Butch Bakery - which makes 'manly cakes for manly men'.

Founded by a former 'asset backed securities attorney' called David Arrick, the bakery was intended to combine a masculine aesthetic with a traditionally cute product. David was apparently incensed by a magazine article that claimed cupcakes represented everything "pink, sweet, cute, and magical" and decided that his favourite foodstuff needed butching up.

So he set about creating a range of mouthwatering treats that tough guys could proudly enjoy on the building site, the football pitch or in the dark room. He may have designed his cupcakes to be 'manly' but the fact is, they're even gayer than the traditional pink, sparkly variety.

With names like The Campout, Big Papi, Driller and Jackhammer, David's baked goodies sound like the kind of movies you can only pick up in 'specialist' stores. It's all trying just a little too hard to be masculine - from the steel-plate logo to the camouflage disc on top of the B52. It's almost as though he designed the cakes according to his favourite bar's nightly dress code.

In the gay world, butch is just another form of drag. A chance to dress up in costume and act out a fantasy. And that's precisely what these cakes represent. Sure, you can fill a gift box with beer-infused buttercream and 'crumbled bacon' toppings - but straight men just don't get excited about ganache. From my experience, they don't use the word 'butch' either, unless they're talking about the bulldog in those old Tom & Jerry cartoons.

Although David has been receiving orders from as far afield as Australia, the majority of his business is local - the website proudly declares that it delivers to Queens*. No surprise there then...

*as well as Greater Manhattan, New York and Brooklyn.

Sunday, 18 July 2010

Boys will be boys

Writing a blog is a funny old business. Night after night I sit at my laptop, searching for inspiration and sharing my thoughts on all kinds of pointless ephemera. Although I find writing to be cathartic, my enthusiasm is always tempered by the need to provide readers with something engaging or enjoyable.

I imagine that's how writers of slash fiction must feel too - balancing the need for creative expression with the desire to produce something that others will enjoy. If you haven't read slash fiction before, you should give it a go next time you feel like you need a dose of badly-written porn featuring some of your favourite TV or movie characters.

Frustrated that the sexual chemistry you picked up on in that movie wasn't fully explored? Simply write your own version where Robocop and Lewis make the beast with two hard-drives. Or create the scenes where we find out exactly what Iceman meant by that whole 'wingman' offer.

Given the level of devotion needed to write 'expanded universe' material, slash fiction tends to originate around cult properties. For instance, there must be thousands of stories out there about how Spock and Kirk spent those lonely nights stranded on lonely planets.

Unsurprisingly, Twilight has also spawned its fair share of imaginative fans with their own unique take on the Bella-Edward-Jacob love triangle. The archive on currently lists over 154810 stories (many of which are probably better than anything Stephenie Meyer could conjure up).

Since the Twilight series is one long metaphor for abstinence, it's interesting to see the sexual frustration spilling out from the franchise's fanbase. They may be happy watching Kristen Stewart chewing her lips over a chaste kiss with the sparkly vampire, but when it comes down to it, they're more interested in what goes on between the two supernatural men in her pre-afterlife.

Now, it seems, these wannabe writers don't have to imagine any more, since Robert Pattinson is more than happy to fill in the gaps. In an interview with Now! magazine, the bequiffed boy wonder discussed the shooting of a tent scene between him and fillet-steak-with-hair Taylor Lautner.

"I liked the tent scene because I have to grab Taylor’s chest and his nipples get hard really easily. We had to re-shoot the scene basically for that reason!" And I can imagine just how many times they needed to zoom in for a close-up. You know, just in case there was a problem with the tape. Or the lighting was bad. Something tells me the B-roll footage would sell better than the actual movie when it hits DVD.

Robert seems to enjoy the homoeroticism that comes from tusssling with a constantly shirtless slab of beefcake - adding "It seems like I’m always picking on Taylor, but the funniest moment was when he was in this little grey Spandex suit he sometimes had to wear for the CGI. Taylor quite frequently out-mans me, so seeing him in that little Spandex outfit made me feel much better about myself. He looked great in it, though. Very sexy!"

The Twilight series has made over a billion dollars off the back of a load of sexual frustration and unconsummated relationships. So don't be surprised if Stephanie Meyer takes the logical step of resurrecting her best-selling series, and creates a fifth volume where Bella realises she's Forks' first fag-hag. Jacob and Edward buy a condo overlooking the river, Bella moves in next door and spends the next thirty years lusting over the men she'll never have. Truth is stranger than fiction.

Friday, 16 July 2010

Katie's Price

This blog has been a Katie Price-free zone for a while now, which is good because I'd just about run out of analogies for describing the tangerine travesty. But I'd be neglecting my duties if I didn't acknowledge her latest assault on all that is good and true.

There are people out there who still defend Katie, claiming that she's a 'good businesswoman' as though that's some kind of character reference. Fred West was a dab hand at DIY, but that didn't make him a good person.

Anyway, the point is, Katie has singlehandedly proved that an utter dearth of talent, competence and humility is no obstacle to money-making. Everything she's turned her grasping claws to has inexplicably proved successful - no matter how ridiculous the concept. Want you horse to look like a whore? Katie's equestrian range can take care of that.

But it looks as though this plastic-uddered cash cow has finally been milked dry. She's been working the media circuit this week to promote her new single 'Free To Love Again'. Insistent on doing more damage than the Ceti Eel that crawled into Chekov's ear in Star Trek II, Katie has decided to resurrect her dreams of becoming a pop star.

It's not the first time she's stood in front of a microphone and wondered where she's supposed to stick it. She famously attempted to represent the UK at Eurovision in 2005, and performed in a stretched pink PVC catsuit that struggled to contain her pregnancy.

She now claims that her 'Making Your Mind Up' appearance is the only thing in her career is the only thing she regrets, showing just how detached from reality she is. But in characteristically self-absorbed fashion, she chooses to blame everyone else for her poor showing: "I felt like I was used, actually. I feel that as soon as they found out I was pregnant, that Javine won. I mean how fixed is that? Still, that's a long story."

A couple of years later she teamed up with husband Peter to unleash a whole album's worth or torturous reinterpretations of classic love songs, which had all the believability of the couple themselves. It was not a success.

Still, third time's the charm, and this time Katie's come prepared. In a series of interviews and public appearances this week, she's been talking up the single with all the enthusiasm and pride it deserves. Perhaps anticipating a negative response, she argues that she won't be disappointed if she doesn't hit the top of the charts: "It's a bit of fun. I'm not a singer. There's no way I'm a singer, but I love singing, if that makes sense." Having heard the song, I'm not sure who she thinks is going to be having any 'fun' as a consequence.

She may claim to be doing this for the fans (a cruel and unusual punishment, but nothing more than they deserve) but it's clear that, despite what she says, she's gutted that people aren't queuing up in HMV to buy a song that wouldn't have made the grade as a Gina G album track. She's blaming the radio stations for not playing her song, saying "There'll be people that will say 'I'm not playing that song, it's not credible enough." Or maybe because it's fucking awful.

And that's the real problem with this whole debacle. People will be quick to criticise Katie's record, arguing that it's trashy pop garbage. In doing so, they'll be condemning all the artists who make pop with passion, creativity and enthusiasm. These artists might not use real guitars, they might not even sing live - but their energy, imagination and ear for a good tune is unquestionable.

Pop is not music that will change the world - let's leave that to 'serious' musicians like Bono and Chris Martin. But it's no less worthwhile. Sometimes, all it takes is three and a half minutes of escapism to transform a bad day into something tolerable.

Unfortunately, having watched Katie sleep-walk through a badly mimed 'performance' on GMTV, I might need some remedial pop therapy to turn my day around...

Thursday, 15 July 2010

Segway to go

Skateboards are too 'yoof'. Bikes require too much effort. And rollerblades just seem a bit, well, gay. So what's the modern urban traveller to do when they want to get from A to B without exerting themselves or their shoe leather?

Perhaps if we lived in a more just, tolerant and fair society, they could take a leaf out of Lembit Öpik's book and hop on a Segway. The comical politician-cum-reality TV contestant is a big fan of the upright personal mobility solution. Given that he spent two years engaged to one half of the Cheeky Girls, he's more than used to riding an odd-looking laughing stock.

Although heralded on its release in 2001 as an innovative, energy-saving transport option, the Segway found itself stuck in a conceptual no-man's land. Unsure of how to classify it (road-worthy vehicle vs recreational accessory), many countries simply chose to ban it from their streets. That chuckling sound you can hear is Sir Clive Sinclair enjoying the last laugh.

Unfortunately for Lembit, the UK was one of those countries. The government quickly categorised the Segway as a 'motor vehicle' (despite it having about as much power as Katie Price's singing voice). So according to the 1835 Highways Act (which may be due for a rewrite, since it pre-dates the creation of the first modern automobile by 50 years), it's only allowed to be used on private property.

Despite the ruling, no-one's ever been arrested for using the vehicle, probably because no-one in their right mind would be seen dead riding around town clutching a hat-stand with wheels. Or at least, that's what everyone thought until Phillip Coates was stopped by the police in Barnsley when they spotted him trundling down the pavement on his futuristic pogo stick.

Indignant at being branded a law-breaker, the no-nonsense northerner refuses to take this lying down. Or leaning slightly forward for that matter.

The good news is that Lembit is on his side, and wrote an impassioned defence of the mobility martyr in the Guardian today. He questions the logic of banning such an environmentally sustainable mode of transport, and shares his hopes that the new Con-Dem transport ministers will prove themselves to be more "clued up and connected" than their Labour predecessors.

Coates must be hugely relieved to know that a recognisable political figure is fighting his corner. The downside is that it's Lembit Öpik, a man so singularly useless that, by his own admission, he couldn't even get himself arrested.

Without any Channel 5 reality shows to appear in, he's been keeping himself busy "parading about in front of the House of Commons, including on the pavement, using my Segway in a bright fluorescent jacket." But even that wasn't enough to get the police interested.

The Segway may be a fuel-efficient, environmentally conscious way of getting around, but the fact remains that you're always going to be compared to Lembit Öpik or Gob from Arrested Development - neither of whom sets the standard for contemporary cool.

Coates should probably stop complaining and hope for a custodial sentence, in the hope that he might be able to restore whatever smidgeon of credibility he had before he first hopped onto that levitating foot-plate.

Wednesday, 14 July 2010

Well at least he's honest

If you've got a few thousand dollars just sitting around, you might want to use it to make a donation to New York City's Summit School for children with learning difficulties. OK, so you're not convinced. Well, how about if your donation also happened to secure you a hot, sweaty session with Hugh Jackman and his meaty man-chest?

Remember that episode of Friends where Joey argued with Phoebe that there was no such thing as a truly selfless act? Hugh's obviously on Joey's side, since he's offering up his own body in order to incentivise generous giving.

According to, the winner of the charity auction will get the chance to "train side-by-side for one hour with Hugh and his fitness guru Don Scott of Jim Karas Personal Training" in a private Manhattan gym. Since Hugh was recently named as People Magazine's "Sexiest Man Alive", this is clearly loosening the wallets of New York's finest.

Bidding's already at $14,500, and is expected to reach $25,000 before the auction closes. It probably helps that Hugh has even offered to whip off his sweat-drenched T-shirt to enhance the mood, commenting "Sure [I'll work out shirtless]! No problem. You know me, I'm a whore. I think I was shirtless for the whole time in my first movie in Australia and I think I only made about $4,000."

Clearly the world's oldest profession is something that Jackman is perfectly comfortable with, since his description of the experience can easily be misinterpreted as being about something other than squats and crunches: "If someone comes in and says, ‘I want to try it exactly how you train. I want to just go as hard as we can,' we'll go there. But if you want to come and have a light sweat, want to have a bit of fun, maybe an autograph or two, you can do that as well."

Although it's interesting to see a celebrity offering themselves up so freely in support of something they believe in, it's not entirely unique. Only last week Dutch porn star Bobbi Eden announced on Twitter that she would "give a BJ to all my followers" if Netherlands won the World Cup at the weekend.

She even drafted in several of her friends to help take up the slack, since her offer would have meant servicing over 23,000 loyal followers. Thankfully Holland's failure on Sunday clearly spared her a nasty case of lockjaw and several weeks in a neckbrace.

Still, if Hugh's willing to 'go as hard as he can' and build up a sweat with an enamoured fan, it would be churlish to deny him the opportunity. On an entirely unrelated note, can anyone lend me $20,000?

Tuesday, 13 July 2010

Czech these out

Who'd want to be a woman in politics? You're either portrayed as a gargoyle-faced ball-buster or a featherweight filly, and no-one ever comments on your voting history without a reference to your hemlines and heels.

In the 117 years since New Zealand first gave them vote, politically minded women have come a long way - and yet they're still judged predominantly on their appearance. Even in a seemingly progressive society like ours, the press can't help but categorise female politicians according to their gender rather than their policies.

In recent years their focus may have shifted from Blair's Babes to Cameron's Cuties, but journalists are still more interested in what's in these women's pants than what's in their heads. So it's interesting to see the media reaction to a new calendar published in the Czech Republic, designed to highlight the growing presence of women in the country's politics.

Female members of the Czech Public Affairs party have agreed to pose for a charity calendar in a series of provocative poses, following the recent election in which a record 44 women were voted into the 200-seat lower house of the Czech parliament. According to Marketa Reedova, a candidate in the mayoral race for Prague, "Women's political influence is growing. Why not show we are women who aren't afraid of being sexy? Czechs are open-minded."

Whether they're reclining on a bed holding a dog, climbing on a vanity unit clutching a toothbrush or painting their toenails on a windowsill, they're all very comfortable in the unforgiving gaze of the camera lens. It's hard to picture Margaret Beckett or Theresa May lolling around in a soapy bathtub to raise money for charity.

Unsurprisingly, not everyone's happy about these liberated women striking a blow for female empowerment. Critics are concerned that the calendar will simply reinforce stereotypes, although they fail to mention which specific stereotypes are in question.

The Mail's coverage of the story quotes Zuzana Graczova, a human resources manager at Brain Logistics (no, me neither), who said these women "should be presenting themselves by showing what they want to achieve, not by showing off their looks." Because we all know how exciting a calendar about healthcare reform and immigration policy would be.

Still, it's nice to know that the Daily Mail readers are here to remind us exactly which stereotypes Zuzana has in mind. The comments section underneath the story shows exactly what negative views people have about attractive female politicians, and it makes for pretty depressing reading.

Audrey says "who is going to take them seriously - they are setting back women by about 30 years!" Ana in London adds "They look as daft as they obviously are clueless." And Carrie from Bristol comments "I hope these women are booted out of politics. How stupid are they??? These women make Harriet Harman look like Einstein."

Interestingly, all of these lazy stereotypes and disgusted responses have been posted by women. Women who profess to be concerned about the way that their fellow 'sisters' are portrayed and perceived. And yet they're willing to overlook people's professional accomplishments and judge purely on appearances.

It's going to take a lot to shift some of these deeply ingrained prejudices. Maybe it's time for Anne Widdecombe to draw a nice foamy bath and invite the photographers in.

Sunday, 11 July 2010

He's a lethal weapon

Better fire up that old copy of Air America, because it's going to be a while until Mel Gibson is back on the big screen to thrill us with his alpha-male japery. Throughout the eighties and nineties, Mel was the bemulleted bad boy who took no shit and could face off against the most intimidating villains with a swig of Jack Daniels, a flash of his buttocks and a gravelly laugh.

In fact, his two most successful franchises, Mad Max and Lethal Weapon, focused on marvelous Mel's tenuous grasp on his sanity as a major plot point. Now it seems that maybe those blockbuster roles weren't such a stretch for him.

Things all started going wrong for Mel in 2006 when he decided to get liquored up, hurl anti-semitic abuse at the police and introduce the phrase 'sugar tits' to the pop culture vernacular. He issued a few mea culpas and hoped that we'd all forget about his outburst. About the same time he separated from his wife (and mother of his seven kids), eventually divorcing three years later.

Coincidentally, this was about the same time that Mel revealed that he'd impregnated his Russian pianist girlfriend Oksana Grigorieva with baby number eight - setting a fine example to Catholics all over the world about adultery and wedlock. To no-one's great surprise, the happy couple had split up within six months of the baby's birth - leaving most fans to speculate that, at best, this ill-advised dalliance would cost Mel some hefty child maintenance.

Oksana might have been stupid enough to enter into a relationship with Mel in the first place, but at least she was smart enough to protect her interests. Knowing full well that a man of Mel's resources would assemble a crack legal team to pick apart any unsubstantiated claims, she bought herself a tape recorder when the cracks began to show.

And what cracks. It turns out that Gibbo has a ugly side that would make Bernard Manning spin in his ample grave like a rotisserie chicken. The recently released tapes show Mel unleashing a torrent of hateful, racist and borderline surreal abuse at the mother of his youngest child.

He even responds to Oksana's question "What kind of man is that who would hit a woman when she is holding a child in her hands, hitting her twice in the face?" with "You know what, you fucking deserved it." Bet that isn't in the deleted scenes of 'What Women Want'.

This would ordinarily be one of those times when the great and the good would rally around to support their friends. So it's pretty telling that days before the tapes went public, Mel was dropped by his agency William Morris Endeavor Entertainment.

Nothing says 'guilty' like a management team that can't be bothered to defend their client, which means that this is one battle Mad Mel is gonna have to fight alone.

His Air America co-star Robert Downey Jr managed to battle his own demons and emerge from the ashes as one of Hollywood's favourite leading men. But at least most of the damage he caused was self-inflicted. After this latest debacle, I doubt whether Braveheart has what it takes to rally the troops again.

Friday, 9 July 2010

Entertain me, just don't make me think

It sounds as though the money men at Warner Brothers are having a few sleepless nights ahead of their big summer release next Friday. It might be from the director of The Dark Knight, which made more money than Diandra Douglas' divorce attorney, but 'Inception' is proving to be something of a hard sell.

Despite writer-director Christopher Nolan's impressive credentials, it was still a brave decision on Warners' part to splash $160 million on a film with no dinosaurs, vampires or 3D, that wasn't based on a book, TV show or previous movie. It's a completely original concept, which is ironic considering that the film is all about a guy with the ability to steal other people's ideas.

At least, that's what it's rumoured to be about. Nolan runs a tight ship and kept the film's plot tightly under wraps. The problem is, the studio is now finding that awareness of the forthcoming movie is decidedly underwhelming.

When studios try to measure awareness, they're looking for clues that people have seen the film's marketing efforts and have an understanding of what to expect from the film. It's a bit difficult when limited snippets released to date are as cryptic as a text message from Salvador Dali.

The test screenings have thrown up some similar problems. At a recent showcase in Amsterdam, one industry insider commented "I have heard everything from 'awesome' to 'a bit confusing' from those who went to the screening." If the marketing is designed to build up the opening weekend, then it's word-of-mouth that determines a movie's 'legs'. Unfortunately, word-of-mouth is decidedly underwhelming when it starts with "WTF?"

However, the real problem that Warners needs to overcome lies in America's heartland. According to industry buzz, the film is in danger of being "the darling of the East and West coasts and miss[ing] the rest of the country."

Say what you like about the red states, but it seems that they don't like to think too much. That's why the Republicans have managed to maintain their hold on 'fly-over' country, by carefully positioning the liberal enemy as intellectual elitists.

You'd think that most people would want to be thought of as intelligent and informed, but a couple of decades of cleverly articulated rhetoric has made 'thinking' the exclusive preserve of the Champagne-quaffing lobster-munchers. Who needs fancy book learnin' when you've got NASCAR and the Museum of Britney Spears?

Films like Transformers 2, Hannah Montana and New Moon might be about as much fun as being locked in a cupboard full of agitated, incontinent baboons, but there's a sizeable audience for them in Middle America. They're the ones with the power to turn a moderate hit into a full-scale blockbuster. Fresh ideas, complicated plots and characterisation are not welcome here.

The film's tagline is 'Your mind is the scene of the crime". Ain't that the truth...

Thursday, 8 July 2010

The burden of proof

It's widely known that the Daily Express is to journalism what litter trays are to cat shit. But even the foaming-at-the-mouth tabloid's biggest critics were amazed at the front cover of the 'world's greatest newspaper' today.

With no Princess Diana stories to run on page one, the editorial team decided to focus on their other obsession - immigration. It was announced this week that two asylum seekers from Cameroon and Iran had been granted the right to remain in the UK for fear of persecution, violence or imprisonment if they were sent home.

Whereas most people with any kind of basic interest in human rights applauded the decision, the Daily Express took a contrary viewpoint. Choosing to sub-head the article with a direct quote from Lord Rodgers, they stated "They should be free to enjoy themselves going to Kylie concerts and drinking exotically coloured cocktails."

The issue of asylum for gay people has long been a contentious one, with previous judges claiming that homosexuals could be returned to their country of origin with the instruction to 'act a bit straighter'. Imagine a similar argument being applied to people of colour, or those suffering from religious persecution. In the days of the Spanish Inquisition, Jewish people attempted to hide their faith and were still burned at the stake as 'conversos'. Perhaps that's what the Express would prefer.

As they write in their coverage of the story, "critics warned it could lead to the UK - which is among the first nations to take such a position - becoming a leading destination for asylum seekers who are claiming to be gay." Unfortunately, these critics amount to little more than the usual suspects - a Tory MP and the chairman of MigrationWatchUK, who must be the paper's number one friend on Facebook.

They're concerned that anyone could claim asylum on the grounds that they're gay and, according to Lord Rodgers at least, all it would take is a tight t-shirt, the deluxe edition of Aphrodite on their iPod, and the mixology skills to pour a Cosmopolitan, to make their case.

Curiously, the Daily Mail's coverage of the story is almost a word-for-word facsimile of the article that appeared in their rival publication, implying that the whole piece is just a MigrationWatch press release with the logo removed. If we're going to be disgusted about something, maybe it should be the rapid decline of journalistic standards, rather than the idea that next year's Pride March may have a few extra participants.

Wednesday, 7 July 2010

With friends like these

As the Nation's Sweetheart© Cheryl Cole/Tweedy battles malaria in a London hospital, she must be relieved to know that her loved ones are rallying around her. Bandmate Nadine Coyle is relying on Tweets from fans to update her on the plucky Geordie's status, estranged husband Ashley is picking up trash in LA like a brand new Dyson, and X-Factor alumni Jedward are already planning her send-off.

In an interview with the Daily Mirror, Edward Grimes commented (unironically) "She hurt herself. Two great people hurting themselves… It’s going to be a big funeral." Two great people? A.N. Wilson must be feverishly redefining greatness for any future historical projects.

They may have all the talent and appeal of a poor-man's Milli Vanilli, but Jedward are certainly making the most of their time in the spotlight. Their debut single made Mr Blobby's novelty Christmas number 1 sound like a Radiohead B-side, and they were promptly dropped by Sony Records, who must have won their contract in a bran tub.

But even that wasn't enough to keep the terrifying twosome down - they were snapped up by Universal within 24 hours. Someone, somewhere has a chalky pentangle and a heap of dead goats.

Since the X-Factor final, the tall-haired twins have been sharing their unique take on music with bemused audiences across the country, first on the X-Factor tour and now in a series of torturously shambolic live performances. This weekend, they took to the stage at the T4 On The Beach concert in Weston-super-Mare, only for the back end of pop's pantomime horse to misjudge a jump midway through their 'interpretation' of Ghostbusters.

Edward landed badly and tore the ligaments in his knee. Ever the professional, he smiled through the remainder of the performance, but was rushed to hospital as soon as they finished the show.

With one foot already out of action, Grimes chose to stick the other in his mouth with his ill-advised remark about a joint funeral. Despite having an identical sibling, he even managed to reveal a lack of understanding of familial genetics, commenting "I'm like Cheryl's twin because I hurt myself." Because that's how it works.

It's not all bad news though. Edward also told the paper "In hospital they said I might not be able to dance again and needed surgery. If I couldn't dance again I'm not sure what would happen, so I am a bit worried. The show is about dancing and performance." At least he understands that it was never about singing.

Thankfully, the dream isn't over just yet. There's always MRSA.

Tuesday, 6 July 2010

In the gutter, gazing at the stars

In the last couple of days there have been a couple of interesting articles about modern celebrity in two very different papers. Although the tone, style and approach are as dissimilar as Jodie Marsh's breasts, the underlying message is hard to miss - the world of celebrity is in crisis.

Writing for the Guardian, Aditya Chakrabortty argues that the influx of "low-grade stars has thrown the celebrity world into a sub-prime crisis" - drawing a clever, but not entirely convincing, parallel with the financial meltdown that occurred in the US because the regulators were asleep on the job.

Meanwhile, the Daily Mail published its own attack on modern fame, courtesy of Lisa Norris, a 'celebrity booker' who seems to have worked on every lousy TV show that was ever commissioned. In amongst the breathtaking revelations of imperiousness (Anne Diamond) or egotism (Paul McCartney), Norris manages to contradict herself several times.

One minute she's lamenting the sleazy nonentities who have "hijacked the status of star" - the next she's bitching about the fact that genuine A-listers are filled with their own self-importance. Missing the irony, she even finishes her rant with a plug for her forthcoming book, "The title? What else but I'm A Celebrity Booker . . . Get Me Out of Here!" She's not so much biting the hand that feeds her as chewing her way up to the elbow.

Back in the broadsheets, Chakrabortty argues that the concept of fame-seeking is nothing new, and holds Byron up as the quintessential example of a 19th century 'popular idol'. Rather than being a minority pursuit "taken up only by those with grotesque character deformations", celebrity is now a feasible goal for countless millions of people.

So what's changed, and why should we care? Chakrabortty believes that it's not celebrity that has evolved, more our perspective on it: "If you define fame as being known by strangers, then newspapers, cinema and especially TV have always driven the spread of celebrity... the public used to look up to their stars; now they are minded to look down."

Name-checking such talent-adjacent column-fillers as Paris Hilton, Kim Kardashian and Kelly Osbourne, Chakrabortty reminds us that they make for "frankly ropey" celebrities and gravely warns that the entire fame industry is set for a massive implosion. But he never actually addresses our fascination with people we look down upon.

So why do people like this maintain such premium real-estate in our minds? The classic Hollywood stars of yesteryear depended on talent, determination and a work ethic that would make Bob Cratchit feel like a layabout to make the grade. But having worked so hard to attain their success, they became distant, remote and untouchable.

The instant-win nature of modern celebrity is very different. There are no eligibility requirements, no rules of admission, and no basic codes of conduct. In essence, fame is an all-too-accessible members' club. It's tantalisingly within our grasp - we're just waiting for our keys to the changing room.

Any resentment or innate superiority we feel towards this new generation of 'celebrity' has nothing to do with the diminishing status of the word itself. Instead, it's linked to the fact that we feel a sense of entitlement - we deserve what they've got, since they did nothing to earn it in the first place. As Morrissey once sang, "We hate it when our friends become successful."

Monday, 5 July 2010

Bare-faced cheeks

Gay popstars are a funny breed. We love them for their outrageous fashions, outspoken interviews and camp sensibilities, but there's something reassuringly asexual about them, which enables them to engage that all important middle-of-the-road audience.

Take Elton John for instance - he might be as camp as a row of tents illuminated by the flickering glow of a Louis XIV candelabra, but no-one ever actually spends a moment contemplating he and David Furnish in sexual congress (at least not if they value their sanity). Likewise, Will Young's endless parade of silly hats means we're much more familiar with what goes on his head than what might go on in his pants.

So what to make of the Scissor Sisters? Frontman Jake Shears is an unashamedly sexual creature - in fact it's hard to listen to one of the group's songs without picking up the scent of a water-based lubricant. He can't even take part in a photoshoot without exposing himself like Jodie Marsh at a premiere.

The group's long-awaited comeback album 'Night Work' was inspired by time that Shears spent trawling around Berlin sex clubs. And he decided to promote the new album by hawking his wares on in a series of revealing pictures (not to mention his 'escort out rate').

The Scissor Sisters want you to know that sex is on their minds - and short of sticking their hands down the jeans of every listener, they couldn't be more obvious about it. The new album's cover is a classic picture by Robert Mapplethorpe, the legendary photographer who found an imaginative solution for storing bullwhips and may have inadvertently invented the 'push and grip' tea-towel holder.

The photo in question depicts the impossibly pert buttocks of ballet dancer Peter Reed as they attempt to devour a pair of stretchy 1980s disco pants. The picture is so near the knuckle (halfway to the wrist, in fact) that facebook has banned the album's PR campaign in Italy and Spain.

Elsewhere, the band has been running a rather canny competition, inviting fans to submit their own alternative artwork for others to vote on. The end result being a database of images boasting more arseholes than Jeremy Kyle's guest list.

It's just a shame that a group which prides itself on artistic expression should choose such an iconic image for their album cover, only to invite anyone with an iPhone and a mirror to create their own version. I'm sure they'd turn their nose up at the record label insisting on karaoke versions of all 12 tracks tagged onto the end of the album's playlist.

Sunday, 4 July 2010

The horrifying truth

Ever since Eve first waved her Cox's Orange Pippins at Adam, female sexuality has been portrayed as the pinacle of terrifying temptation. Bite the fruit and you'll pay the price.

Most cultures, unsurprisingly the patriarchal ones, have all developed their own folklore concerning the imaginary dangers of sexually active women. It's a handy way of passing the buck - like stealing a newspaper and then blaming the newsagent for displaying it in the first place.

One of the most enduring myths is that of vagina dentata. Engineered to put the fear of God into tumescent young men, the legend warns people of the perils that await their overeager member if they go diddling where they shouldn't.

Only recently, writer/director Mitchell Lichtenstein made a film exploring the concept, suggesting that the ridiculous concept is still very much alive and well. 'Teeth' tells the tale of a young high school student who discovers that not all her bicuspids are in her mouth, which gives her an evolutionary advantage when she 'becomes the victim of male violence'.

The film wasn't a big hit (I guess audiences only want to see beavers with big teeth if they live in Narnia and talk like Dawn French). Or perhaps they didn't like the idea of the vagina dentata myth being reclaimed for female empowerment.

Bizarrely, that's precisely what's happened in South Africa where a terrifying new prophylactic has been developed to protect women from the all-too-real threat of rape. Invented by a doctor called Sonnet Ehlers, Rape-aXe is essentially a female condom, but with one major difference: "jagged rows of teeth-like hooks line its inside and attach on a man's penis during penetration." Once it's lodged into place, only a doctor can remove it.

There's no denying Ehlers' good intentions - she sold her house and car to finance the project, and set out to donate 30,000 units during the World Cup. But I'm not sure that this cross between Chinese handcuffs and a Venus Flytrap is the most effective solution for South Africa's vulnerable female population.

Critics have pointed out that the device constantly reminds women that they're a potential victim and can cause its own psychological traumas. And since rape is usually about violence and control, rather than sex, someone finding themselves suddenly clamped into a medieval torture device is unlikely to leave quietly, putting the woman at further risk of attack.

A 2009 report by the South African Medical Research Council found that a horrifying 28 percent of men surveyed had committed rape. Dr. Ehlers' heart may be in the right place, but her device certainly isn't - it's going to take much more than a folklore nightmare realised in rubber to turn the country's attitudes to sexual violence around.