Tuesday, 31 August 2010

The girl who cried wolf

As criminal masterminds go, no-one's every going to confuse Paris Hilton with Professor Moriarty. She only stays in her family's hotels as an aide-mémoire for spelling her own name.

Why else would she be caught out, not once, not twice, but three times in a single summer for alleged drug possession?

The first time could reasonably be written off as a case of over-zealous police spotting an easy target. The second time the mud starts to stick. But the third arrest means that she's probably carrying more drugs than a dodgy pharmacist.

On Saturday morning, everyone's favourite social-blight and her boyfriend were snagged by Las Vegas police at a traffic stop, when officers claimed that they could smell “the strong odor of marijuana coming from [their] vehicle.”

Displaying near super-human levels of quick thinking, the trouble-making tart made a dash for the bathroom, citing embarrassment and a desperate need to pee. She also, quite rightly, added that she needed to apply her lip-gloss - because no-one wants cracked, dry lips when they're giving the mugshot camera their best duck-face.

At this point the canny cops noticed that there appeared to be a 'bindle' of cocaine in Paris' purse, especially when the clueless car-wreck tipped it straight into the officer's outstretched hand. Come on, don't act like you've never inadvertently dropped a wrap of class-A into a policeman's palm.

Before you could say 'TTYN', Paris was arrested and charged with felony cocaine possession. This time, however, it doesn't look as though the charges will be dropped as quickly as when Paris was fingered at the World Cup. No, not like that - get your mind out of the gutter.

Given that Paris seems to live her life as though she's appearing in an early season of Beverly Hills 90210, her first excuse was that she didn't know the cocaine was in the purse. She could account for the bundle of cash, the credit card and a broken Albuterol tablet, but stressed that she'd never seen the coke before.

That story didn't seem to fly, so Paris decided to cry victim and allege that she'd been set up by some unscrupulous party-goer, telling friends "It could be a setup. Everyone knows how against cocaine I am."

But the best alibi to emerge from this whole preposterous palaver, is the one offered by a 'source' who spoke to The Sun. They told the tabloid "This purse in question was a high street brand - and by no means up to her high fashion standards. Paris is hoping authorities will see sense and let her off the hook." Now there's a rock solid defence if ever there was one.

At least now we're one step closer to understanding the logic behind the long-running reality show 'Paris Hilton's My New BFF' - which depicts her tireless search for new best friends. With such a prolific drug habit, it seems that she's always going to need a host of sacrificial lambs to take the fall, whenever she gets grabbed with a gram in her Gucci.

Monday, 30 August 2010

The spy who came out in the cold

If your feet are feeling a little chilly, don't worry - it's not diabetes taking its toll on your circulation. It's just that hell appears to have suddenly frozen over.

So what bizarre circumstance could possibly have initiated such shocking subterranean climate change? Well, I'm sorry to report that I find myself in agreement with a column written by the usually detestable Melanie Phillips in today's Daily Mail.

Like many people, she's aghast at the way GCHQ code-breaker Gareth Williams' death has been spun by MI6. Salacious suggestions about rent boys, cross-dressing and sex games lent a suitably seedy frisson to the investigation, despite the fact that the police renounced all these claims over the weekend.

With the Bond series mothballed due to the financial crisis faced by MGM, and no sign of a new Bourne movie on the horizon, the press rubbed their hands in glee at the prospect of a real-life espionage thriller unfolding before their beady eyes. A dead spy, code-breaking, £18k disappearing from a secret bank account - who needs the movies when shit like this is happening in real life?

So without a thought for veracity or fact-checking, the media thoughtlessly revelled in every speculative claim and distasteful detail. But the real mystery at the heart of this unfortunate story is why MI6 thought it was acceptable to misdirect the public, by sullying William's name with a bunch of sleazy and (it seems) entirely misleading claims about his "very, very private" life. Surely, the whole point of being a spy is that you live your life under the radar?

Melanie is rightfully indignant about the way this whole story has been handled, arguing "...shadowy unnamed sources started putting it about that 'bondage equipment and gay paraphernalia' were found in his flat.The implication was that his death was caused by some seedy sadomasochistic practice that went wrong. At a stroke, Mr Williams's reputation was trashed - transforming him from an unsung hero of his nation into the sordid author of his own terminal misfortune."

Of course, the Daily Mail loves nothing more than idly speculating about gays who succumb to terminal misfortune, but not when they dedicate their lives to defeating the Taliban. Or at least, that's the way Melanie sees it.

The problem is, although MI6 thought that it was perfectly acceptable to invent a gay scandal to throw the press off the scent of a story with implications on national security, the papers were more than willing to take the bait. And the Daily Mail was one of the first to go to print with its own tawdry rumour-mongering.

Melanie can wring her hands and bemoan MI6's insensitivity in causing "further and needless distress to the dead man's bereaved parents". But she has to acknowledge her own employers' complicity in the cover-up.

So even though I might agree with Melanie's disgust at the way GCHQ has attempted to smear the reputation of one of its most promising agents (with a lifestyle that, in itself, is nothing to be ashamed of) I can't help but recognise the age-old hypocrisy that lies at the heart of so much of the Mail's editorial position.

So the Daily Mail got it wrong again after all. Maybe that means that all is right with the world? Well, except for the fact that someone's out there murdering spies.

Sunday, 29 August 2010

A most unHappy Meal

It's time to update those apocryphal stories about life after a nuclear armageddon. For years, people having been saying that when someone finally presses the big red button, the only things left on Earth will be cockroaches, Twinkies and possibly Jodie Marsh.

But New York artist Sally Davies has evidence that the cockroaches might be able to tuck into more than just sugary snack cakes in the post-apocalyptic wasteland. Because there'll be plenty of McDonalds Happy Meals for them to enjoy.

Having worked in McDonalds during my student years (only slightly preferable to hand-washing bed-linen in a whorehouse), I know how fastidious the management can be about product freshness. Even now - when I'm feeling mischievous - I'll go into a McDonalds, order a thick shake and say loudly "I think they need to check the syrup calibration." Then I watch as the Duty Manager panics that I might be from head office, and races down the line tipping every single hot item into the bin. Ahhh, good times.

So, having seen Sally's new art project, I'm wondering why they bother. Sure, they can promise that nothing is ever more than about eight minutes old, but does it really matter? If the food had been sitting there longer than that, would anyone really be able to tell?

Not according to Sally, who bought a kids' Happy Meal on April 10th. She decided to watch what would happen as the food deteriorated, documenting its gradual decomposition with her camera.

Problem is, it didn't. In fact, four months later, the meal looked slightly more appetising than it had at the beginning.

We've all heard tales of people who've gone for a colonic and marvelled as the bold clinic employee sifted through their partially digested detritus. Legend has it that a colon cleanse can unearth bits of food that have been sitting silently in your bowels for half a decade.

Presumably, this means that each of us is carrying around enough undigested McGarbage to cater a children's party (ice cream and cake is extra). Give it a quick rinse and it's as good as new.

Now, do you really want fries with that?

Saturday, 28 August 2010

All dressed up and no place to go

Think quickly people - with only eight weeks to go, you need to start figuring out that all-important Hallowe'en costume. Two years ago, Sarah Palin was all the rage. So thousands of women, and probably even more men, threw on a smart tailored suit, a big brown wig and some sensible-looking glasses in order to terrorise their friends and neighbours.

It's no good looking to horror movies for inspiration. The slashers of yesteryear are long gone, replaced by movies that revel in low-fi camcorder hauntings or slow, grisly and un-anaesthetised limb removal. Not much to go on there, unless you fancy going to a party looking like partly-ground beef.

Thankfully, help is at hand, courtesy of everyone's favourite pop icon. With enough time for everyone to get their orders in, the officially licensed range of 'Haus of Gaga' outfits has been released to the general public.

OK, so there's going to be a bunch of very pissed off drag queens who've spent the last few months hunched over a sewing machine trying desperately to recreate Gaga's influential look. However, everyone else will no doubt delight in the fact that they can go to a Hallowe'en party looking like they just collided with a ceiling fan.

There are some pretty cool accessories too, including the beer-can wig from 'Telephone' and the cut-away 'Poker Face' swimsuit. Sadly though, there's no sign of Gaga's now-infamous Kermit outfit, or the sunglasses made out of cigarettes. The amphibians are safe, for now.

Nonetheless, Gaga's 'Little Monsters' will be thrilled to be able to emulate some of the most iconic outfits since Marilyn Monroe felt a sudden breeze up her gusset. I say 'some' because of course Gaga isn't the first blonde superstar to inspire legions of dedicated followers with her outlandish fashions.

Back before Gaga was a twinkle in Mr Germanotta's eye, Dolly Parton was inviting the world to take a look inside her not inconsiderable closet. Appearing on The Mike Douglass Show in 1977, the gravity-bothering country bombshell showcased some of her favourite outfits in an extraordinary fashion show.

Although Dolly has always had a quick wit and a natural ability to perform, she seems a little sad in this footage. And not because she's being forced to stand and pose in an empty TV studio, wearing some of the ugliest garments ever captured on video-tape. One ensemble, which she claims she would wear to the recording studio, involves a bulky overcoat and a platinum hairpiece, making her look like a flasher hiding behind a wedding cake.

At the time she was desperately unhappy with her weight, and seemed to think that the easiest way to distract people from her bulges was to wear wigs so grand that Elton could have borrowed one for his Louis XIV-themed 50th birthday. She's still wearing wigs today, although, like Gaga, she's at least had the good sense to turn this into merchandisable business stream.

Gaga's critics are always quick to point out that she's borrowed much of Madonna's schtick - from the overt sexuality to the continual image re-invention. But it's worth remembering that Madge wasn't the first to show her Blonde Ambition, and hopefully our Lady won't be the last.

Friday, 27 August 2010

Why fake it?

Reality TV comes in for a lot of stick. "It's dumbing down TV" people cry, not to mention the fact that its ongoing popularity diverts funds away from more expensive properties that involve needless costs such as actors and script-writers.

Well, at least that used to be the case. In the ongoing quest for compelling content, smart producers have started plotting out 'narrative arcs' for their shows. They engineer scenarios, introduce new characters and even re-stage key events to maximise audience appeal. Suddenly, the word 'reality' doesn't seem quite appropriate.

This year, Sky One took the genre to its logical conclusion by presenting the quite spectacular Pineapple Dance Studios. With a comical voiceover from Michael Buerk, characters so preposterous that they made Melrose Place look like Dogme 95, and regular song-and-dance numbers, 'Pineapple' accidentally rediscovered the value of entertainment - a concept long absent from most of the shows being broadcast.

Admittedly, that's not much of a recommendation. After all, by the time last year's Big Brother rolled around, it had evolved into the equivalent of watching 13 weeks of CCTV inside a low-security prison.

Still, the world didn't know quite what to make of Pineapple's star attraction Louie Spence, a lisping, pirouetting dervish of gay energy in stripy feline leggings. After all, no-one could be that gay. Could they?

Viewers were similarly incredulous about Louie's co-star Andrew Stone. The one-time boyband member, dance teacher and solo 'artiste' was so lacking in self-awareness that Ricky Gervais couldn't have created him.

Appearing at the Edinburgh International TV Festival this week, Louie told the assembled crowd that the show was definitely unscripted and the characters are all pretty much as seen on TV. However, he did admit that some of the scenes were faked for the cameras - "There are moments that we do act, or they say, 'Can you do that again?' But we're all performers in that building."

Not that any of this will have come as a revelation to anyone who happened to see the show - every fifteen minutes a group of builders would break out into a carefully choreographed dance routine, unbeknownst to the main characters.

Ultimately, it doesn't really matter how much of it is staged, scripted, set-up or spur-of-the-moment. Its only objective is to entertain, and unlike most of the trash that gets commissioned by unimaginative network executives, Pineapple Dance Studios accomplishes that in spades. Roll on series two.

Thursday, 26 August 2010

The sincerest form of flattery

For over 30 years, pop culture commentators have struggled to explain the appeal of Star Wars. In spite of its stiff acting, hokey mythology and occasionally painful dialogue, the films have managed to exert a curious hold over several generations.

Although the franchise has always pushed the envelope in terms of innovative special effects technology, its popularity can be accredited to the heritage that came before it, as much as the legacy it left behind. Like Quentin Tarantino, George Lucas is a proud magpie, happily plundering the archives for inspiration. Pick it apart and you'll find bits of everything from Greek mythology to Flash Gordon.

So it's appropriate that Star Wars has continued the tradition and inspired countless imitators itself. Anyone with a bucket and a broom handle has recorded footage of themselves announcing "I...am...your...father."

It's precisely that kind of thinking that led to the creation of 'Star Wars Uncut' - an amazing 'interactive arts project' created by, and for, die-hard Star Wars fans. The whole movie was broken down into 15 second segments and posted on Vimeo.

Fans could then select which micro-chapter they wanted to remake. This whole 'crowdsourcing' approach meant that no-one had to reproduce more than 15 seconds of content. And there were no restrictions to how the footage could be recreated.

Stop-motion animation, carefully-placed fruit, humiliated pets in embarrassing outfits and crudely crafted props all made an appearance in the content that was uploaded. Once every clip had been reproduced and uploaded, the finished film was stitched together and hosted on the project's website.

The final triumph for Casey Pugh, the project's visionary creator, came this week as the film won an Emmy award for 'Creative Achievement In Interactive Media - Fiction'. OK, so the category's a bit of a mouthful, but this is still a momentous accomplishment. Just as exciting for Pugh is the fact that George Lucas is rumoured to be a fan.

But that's because he understands how stories used to be told. The legends and myths he incorporated into his sci-fi series were passed orally from generation to generation. The details changed differently with each retelling, but the core elements remained unchanged, despite the passage of hundreds of years.

You can dress up 'Star Wars Uncut' as an opportunity to "explore the dynamics of community creation on the web", but its really just a new-fangled way of retelling an age-old story. So we're back where we started. As Darth Vader would say, "The circle is now complete."

Wednesday, 25 August 2010

X marks the spot

Hmmmm. It's been raining for so long that pairs of animals are starting to congregate nervously awaiting the arrival of a big wooden boat, and the papers are filled with X-Factor 'exclusives'. So it must be August.

As Big Brother 11 limps past the finish line with barely enough public interest to warrant a write-up in the Hertfordshire Mercury, the press must be delighted to be able to switch their 'random scandal generator' back on. It's been a slow summer after all.

Thankfully, Simon Cowell's ratings juggernaut is here to save the day, and its press team is leaving no stone unturned in ensuring that every page of every paper is filled with more twists than the James Patterson shelf of Waterstones.

First was the shocking exclusive that the show's producers have been using 'Autotune' to enhance performers' live vocals. Eagle-eared viewers were quick to clog up the message boards, decrying the cynical show for manipulating their emotions and swaying their voting inclinations.

The Daily Mail even roared in its headline that "Bosses admit they have routinely used 'auto-tune' technology before as fans accuse them of deception." This, despite the fact that their own story admitted nothing of the sort. The producers did confirm that audio was edited to prepare footage for broadcast, but so far, the only person to 'confirm' the use of Autotune is an ex-employee of the show. And we all know what reliable witnesses they can be.

Next in line for a full-page story was Katie Waissel, the poodle-permed lovechild of mid-eighties Madonna and Gwen Stefani (assuming that the pair had a sperm donor and a turkey baster to hand). Although she won over the crowd with a half-decent rendition of 'At Last', it's since emerged that she has recorded a jazz album in the US which is currently being lined up for release.

Now producers are looking into whether Waissel actually has a management contract, which will mean her forfeiting her place on the show. Rather than wait for the matter to be settled professionally, the Mail preferred to label her a 'lying Madonna wannabe'.

But perhaps the most explosive story so far concerns Shirlena Johnson, who improvised a unique take on Duffy's Mercy - prompting Simon to comment that it was like listening to an exorcism. To be honest, his assessment was a little too kind.

Since Saturday's broadcast, it's emerged that Shirlena's 'mad-as-a-sackful-of-Janice-Dickinsons' persona was no act. In fact, Shirlena has well-documented mental health problems and is on medication for long-term stress.

Given the fall-out after Susan Boyle went postal following her rise to fame, Simon's clearly taking no risks this time around. Shirlena, who has apparently made it as far as the judges' houses stage, was released from the show on Monday. Although I'm not sure what that says about the mental acuity of the people who put her through this far.

Within 24 hours of this news being announced, Shirlena's family were on the phone to the Mirror accusing the show's producers of being cruel for building up her hopes and then dashing them. Producers were quick to respond that, although the medical forms had her GP's contact details on them, they only received the doctor's notes this week. I'm amazed they got them that quickly, but that's for another blog.

So poor old Simon is damned if he does and damned if he doesn't. Susan Boyle's brother seems to be in the paper every other day complaining how his sister is being manipulated and exploited. And now when Cowell attempts to do the right thing (and is reportedly 'devastated' about it), he gets another kick in the veneers.

But who's he kidding? This isn't really about Simon Cowell. And it certainly isn't about the contestants. They're all just grist to the mill. The papers keep printing their speculative stories, and the viewing figures keep rising. Pats on the back all round then.

Monday, 23 August 2010

Suck it up

Spare a thought for poor Jennifer Keeton, a student at Augusta State University, who may soon be packing up her 'Hello Kitty' pencil case and heading home without any qualifications. She's been kicking up a stink about the faculty's insistence that she take a remedial course in order to complete her studies, arguing that her First Amendment rights had been violated.

The problem is, Jennifer wasn't flunking her classes, she was insisting that she knew better. She was objecting to the fact that the counselor education program in which she'd enrolled was expecting her to give moral support and encouragement to gay service users.

As a committed Christian, Jennifer believes that homosexuality "is morally wrong" and would work to help clients "change that behavior." Unsurprisingly, the university took exception to her judgmental position, arguing that it affected her ability to offer emotional guidance, and
recommended that she attended a 'remediation program' that would "address issues of multicultural competence and develop understanding and empathy." The evil bastards.

But Jennifer's not as stupid as she looks (which, admittedly, would be pretty tough) so she did what any beleaguered bigot would do - she called in the big guns to generate some publicity and defend her honour. The
Alliance Defence Fund, a Christian legal defense organisation, saw their chance to create another Carrie Prejean - a media-friendly, pretty blonde poster-child for Church-going America to rally behind.

They were quick to mobilise their forces, with Keeton batting her heavily-lined eyes
at the press and claiming religious persectution: "The school counseling faculty has decided that my views are not acceptable for me or to share with other students. They have required a remediation plan in which the end result would be me altering my beliefs or being dismissed from the program."

The careful wording of this voluntary victimhood approach ensured that Jennifer's media profile rocketed, as news organisations investigated the story in an attempt to uncover an anti-religious conspiracy.

Thankfully, in a rare case of common sense trumping media spin, a
federal court yesterday ruled that the university's stance was 'academically legitimate' - which is a fancy way of saying that a counsellor is supposed to nurture and assist, not sit in judgment.

U.S. District Judge Randal Hall found that the university was not punishing Keeton for her religious views, but was instead attempting to teach her how to counsel without imposing her own views on her clients. Imagine that - an education establishment attempting to educate.

Like Islington registrar Lillian Ladele, who refused to officiate at same-sex civil partnerships, Keeton needs to understand that there's a point where it comes down to the ability to do the job. Moral objections are all well and good, until they get in the way of performing the basic functions of the role.

Perhaps she also needs to see a counsellor - ideally one who can advise on a more appropriate line of work. Let's just hope that they don't pre-judge her as an unemployable idiot.

Sunday, 22 August 2010

He should be so lucky

With over half a billion members to its name, Facebook is now one of the most omnipotent online entities in existence. Appealing to everyone's innate desire to be the centre of attention, the social media site enables people to share the pointless ephemera of their lives.

Of course, this comes at a price, albeit not a financial one. Facebook may be free to use, but conspiracy theorists are constantly speculating about the potential for people's privacy to be breached by the all-powerful web giant.

Matters aren't helped by Facebook's indiscriminate approach to censorship - they've disabled all kinds of groups, from holocaust deniers to breast-feeding mothers. However, Facebook's latest attempt to stifle free speech and self-expression might be a step too far.

At the centre of the controversy is a perfectly innocent picture of Kylie Minogue receiving the gift of a giant teddy bear during a public appearance at G.A.Y. Unfortunately, the pint-sized popstar struggled to get her arms around her ursine buddy, and ending up holding him uncomfortably, with a microphone still in her hand. The resulting picture looks as though she's giving the lucky teddy a happy finish.

Unsurprisingly, the NSFP (that's Not-Safe-For-Playgroup) image soon went viral and inspired more amusing captions than the final round of Have I Got News For You. But Facebook didn't share the rest of the world's amusement in Kylie's grabby antics.

The site's operators yanked (pun definitely intended) the picture from one fan's page, explaining that “We do not allow photos that contain nudity, drug use or violence.” It doesn't seem to matter whether the nudity is real or imaginary. Perhaps they were concerned that Kylie has a thing for 'yiffing'.

Although people are finding the whole debacle rather comical, there's a serious concern here - we're still a long way from the 'democratised media' we were promised when the internet revolution first took hold.

As long as the powers that be have the ability to control what information people share, we'll never be truly free. The one upside is that Amazon Kindles are much harder to burn than their paper-based predecessors.

Saturday, 21 August 2010

A different kind of cut-back

If you live in a shabby, run-down area of town, there are two sure-fire signs that things are improving and property prices are on the up. The first is known in real estate circles as 'The Starbucks Effect' - once the venti-sized coffee giant invests in your locality, the trendy prospective buyers will come flocking.

But don't worry if you still have to buy your mocha frapuccino in an unbranded polystyrene cup, because option two is even more commonplace. All you need is a few gays in your neighbourhood to get property values soaring.

For the last 15 years or so, homo-owners have been carefully gentrifying areas, one street at a time. Before you know it, that crack den next door will have repointed brick-work, cafe-style window shutters and charmingly coordinated window boxes. And there'll be a waiting list for available properties in the area.

Funnily enough, it seems that the gays' love of a tidy frontage isn't limited to property façades either. They can also be found cutting back their own personal undergrowth, like Edward Nail-Scissorhands.

Don't forget, it was gay men who introduced the world to the concept of manscaping, arguing that extensive thatching should be limited to rustic farmhouses in the Cotswolds. As a result, bodily depilation is becoming increasingly popular in the straight world.

Writing for Salon.com, Jed Lipinksi has investigated this new phenomenon, even going so far as to invest in a 'Manzilian'. As he immerses himself in hot wax and the world of the 'aesthetician' - he takes an anthropological approach to getting under the pink, inflamed skin of the topic.

If he wants to know about the appeal of hair removal, he didn't need to be quite so thorough. He could have just pointed out that you have to trim back the lawn if you want people to see the garden path. But that would have left him a few hundred words short.

In the process of writing his article, Jed discovered that straight men make some bizarre requests of their pubic topiary technicians. According to Jane Pham of the Ted D. Bare Salon in San Jose, "Men tend to want the oddest pubic hair shaping. One guy asked me for a blue whale design. Another wanted me to shave the words 'Campbell Soup' into his pubes, because his girlfriend liked Campbell Soup."

Somewhere in Heaven's version of Studio 54, Andy Warhol is kicking himself for not thinking of that.

Thursday, 19 August 2010

Who needs gold when you've got silver?

Brands love a good celebrity spokesperson. Someone with a squeaky-clean reputation who'll happily smile and hold up their 'product of choice' every time they come within ten feet of a camera lens.

Before he became an occasionally tolerable actor, Mark Wahlberg's claim to fame was as a spokesmodel for Calvin Klein underwear - even though he seldom did any actual speaking. And Michael Jordan seemed to spend more time holding shoes in ads than he did wearing them on the court.

For brands with a certain sex appeal, it must be easy to recruit willing celebrities to gnash their teeth and extol your products' inarguable virtues. It's not quite so easy when the shit you're shifting is about as cool as a Scotch bonnet pepper.

So spare a thought for haircare brand Rise-N-Shine, the makers of Go Away Gray. They're desperate to snag their own grinning meat-puppet, but there's a catch.

Since, as its self-evident name suggests, their product eradicates those unwanted grey (UK blog, UK spelling) hairs, it's going to be tough for them to find a handsomely appealing and famous face. Especially one that's willing to admit that they've been pulling the lustrous brunette wool over our eyes all this time.

But that's OK, because they've got someone very special in mind. Anderson Cooper is one of CNN's most respected (and lusted after) news anchors, as famous for his shiny mane of prematurely silver hair as he is for his authoritative journalistic approach.

In a world of screeching blowhards and crusty relics, Anderson's metrosexual appeal and love of figure-hugging sportswear makes him the news man that women want to sleep with, and men, well, they also want to sleep with him. He's famously ambiguous about his private life, but is regularly snapped by the paps with a muscular young friend.

The people at Go Away Gray are hoping that Anderson will be tempted by their offer of $1 million (cue anachronistic Doctor Evil pinkie-finger gesture) to try their fantastic course of Catalese-containing pills. Company mouthpiece Cathy Beggan told the press "Anderson Cooper is a really visible and well-respected figure and [we] thought he would be a great spokesperson for the product and the company. And it doesn’t hurt that he’s a handsome gentleman."

Unfortunately, this is one handsome gentleman unlikely to be swayed by this kind of courtship. For a start, Anderson is the son of heiress Gloria Vanderbilt, and so it's unlikely that he finds himself doing a stock-take of the fridge towards the end of each month.

More importantly, his status as the king of Silver Foxes means that asking him to advocate any kind of hair colourant would be like asking Amy Winehouse to advertise Um Bongo.

On the other hand, as any good PR knows, the key to breaking a story is getting people talking about your product. Anderson Cooper may be more likely to start expressing breast milk live on air than advertise an anti-grey hair brand, but at least they've scored their media coverage.

Let's be honest - that million dollar reward was probably never on the cards. Although just imagine how many people would have gone grey overnight if he'd said yes.

Wednesday, 18 August 2010

...or are you just pleased to see me?

OK, let me state for the record that this blog post is not simply an excuse to share a video of a man pulling sizeable items out of his well-filled underwear. Although if that's what you're here for, you might as well scroll down to the end. You're welcome.

So, why the obsession with what's in people's jocks? Don't blame me, blame the guy in Brooklyn who was arrested for marijuana possession last month. He blew the whistle on a long-kept secret within the drugs trade about how to hide your stash when out and about.

In less advanced, not to mention stickier-fingered, times, to 'crotch one's contraband' meant literally shoving your illegals where the sun don't shine - and no, that's not a reference to Blackpool. Now, nefarious narcotics users can take their pick from a range of cleverly designed underwear, packed with more pockets and pouches than the marsupial enclosure at Paignton Zoo.

These spectacular skivvies can even pass a particularly zealous pat-downs - no doubt helped immeasurably by the body's natural response to such enthusiastic rubbing. That's enough to distract even the most dedicated law enforcement officer.

In response to this revelatory realisation, NYPD has issued a memo alerting police officers to be on the look-out for anyone with a prominently bulging crotch. Which for some, will be like all their birthdays have come at once.

One of the leading brands, (Crotchin' Klein, if you will) is called 'Stashitware' - a name that probably could have benefited from a little more consumer testing before going to market. Anyway, their range of infinite intimates includes one particular model which boasts a 'crotch pocket' large enough to hold a two-litre bottle of Coke.

Now, you don't have to be a prolific drug user to see the benefits of that kind of accessory - it's like the Wonderbra revolution all over again. Hello boys indeed.

They've even produced an instructional video on YouTube, where company owner Phillip Scott, tells potential customers how to keep their valuables tucked away. Delighting in the amazing storage capacity of his duplicitous drawers, Scott reels off a list of items that can be safely stowed away - money, cigarettes, condoms, cellphone, wallet, lighter, credit card, drugs, jewellery. It's like the 'memorise the items' party game we all used to play. But with a pair of boxers instead of a lightly stained tea-tray.

Whether or not you agree with the ethics of making a product specifically for hiding illegal drugs, you have to marvel at the engineering. It's not so long ago that we marvelled at Mary Poppins' bottomless carpet bag. Now the same magical technology comes in a variety of fabrics and waist-sizes.

Tuesday, 17 August 2010

The great java palaver

Modern life is complicated. It's enough to make you hanker after simpler times, when every decision didn't come with fifteen sub-sets of choices to be made.

It all started with upselling - the McDonald's "
Want fries with that?" approach. But now every purchase comes with a mind-boggling range of questions. Making the simplest transaction is like taking an A-level.

One of the worst offenders is Starbucks, which has managed to create an entirely new language around the supposedly simple action of buying a coffee. You need a degree in linguistics to order more than three beverages.

Which helps to explain why a seemingly well-adjusted, highly educated woman went ballistic in an upper west side branch of the popular coffee chain. Having asked for a toasted multigrain bagel, Lynne Rosenthal became incensed at the idea of being forced to specify whether she wanted butter or cheese on it.

Defending her barista-rage to the New York Post, the 62 year-old English Professor claimed "I refused to say 'without butter or cheese.' When you go to Burger King, you don't have to list the six things you don't want. Linguistically, it's stupid, and I'm a stickler for correct English."

In the past, the irate intellectual has enjoyed irritating Starbucks staff by refusing to select 'tall' or 'venti' - instead opting for the decidedly non-canon 'small' or 'large'. But yesterday she met her match in an equally tetchy server who told her "You're not going to get anything unless you say butter or cheese!"

rently, the argument escalated until the police were called and Rosenthal was ejected from the premises, without her bagel. "It was very humiliating to be thrown out, and all I did was ask for a bagel. If you don't use their language, they refuse to serve you."

Looking back, Steve Martin's early-90's classic 'L.A. Story' seems more like a prescient warning of things to come...

Monday, 16 August 2010

Cast-iron defence

OK, I want you to picture a courtroom.

Our wrongly accused defendant has taken the stand, sworn the oath and sweated his way through a rigorous cross-examination.The prosecuting attorney has done a pretty good job of besmirching our hero's alibi, calling witnesses' testimonies into question, and outlining his potential motives.

After a hopeful start, this is starting to look like an open-and-shut case. Then the door of the court opens, and the defence attorney's plucky assistant creeps forward, holding a small envelope. He hands it over and our hero's lawyer glances at its contents.

The lawyer then walks around the desk, picks up Exhibit A (the bloody knife - sheathed in a plastic evidence bag), and throws it at the defendant. Instinctively, the hero raises his right hand to catch the projectile, causing a gasp of realisation to ripple through the packed courthouse.

He couldn't have done it you see - because the forensic expert's testimony confirmed that the killer was left-handed, based on the angle of the stab wounds that were inflicted. With a bang of the gavel, our hero is released into the loving embrace of his wife, free to pursue a life of religious fulfilment.

As movie clichés go, this is the oldest one in the book. If there was any veracity in these legal thrillers, southpaws would have been rounded up and imprisoned years ago since, according to Hollywood screenwriters, they're about three thousand times more likely to commit murder.

And yet, in a bizarre case of life imitating sort-of-art, Paul Reubens is claiming the 'left-handed' defense for the time he was arrested for getting a little too 'hands-on' in a grot-cinema back in 1991.

The incident pretty much ended his career as Pee Wee Herman, the falsetto-voiced man-child who occupied a strange place in popular culture throughout the 1980s - somewhere between children's entertainer and Krueger-rivalling nightmare figure.

Ruebens was fingered by police in an 'adult theatre' for taking matters into his own hands - making him and his 'Pee Wee' the subject of a media frenzy. His TV show was dropped and a range of toys and merchandise swiftly removed from branches of Toys-R-Us. Although he kept working, his popular character was shelved indefinitely.

Reflecting on this difficult time in a new Playboy interview, Paul has spoken out about what might have happened had the case gone to trial. "We had... an expert from the
Masters and Johnson Institute who was going to testify that in 30 years of research on masturbation the institute had never found one person who masturbated with his or her nondominant hand. I'm right-handed, and the police report said I was jerking off with my left hand. That would have been the end of the case right there, proof it couldn't have been me."

Well, you never saw that on Perry Mason.

Sunday, 15 August 2010

Feathering her nest

If a grown man wandered around the streets dressed as a sailor, but neglected to cover his lower half, he'd be locked up and put on the sex offenders' register quicker than you could say "Daily Star lynch mob".

And yet, for the last 75 years, Donald Faulteroy Duck, has been wandering the grounds of Disneyland (and WaltDisneyWorld, fact fans) without a thought for local indecency laws. He even poses for pictures with children, as half-naked as the day he was drawn.

So it was probably only a matter of time before he fell fowl (sorry!) of America's litigious culture. Donald is now the defendant in a $50,000 lawsuit being pursued by April Magolon from Delaware.

This deluded chancer claims that she was molested by the lisping waterfowl on a visit to Epcot, Orlando in 2008. It's her contention that the duck stuck his decidedly dextrous wing where it wasn't wanted, ultimately leaving her with "'severe physical injury, muscle contraction headaches, acute anxiety, nausea, cold sweats, insomnia, nightmares, flashbacks, digestive problems and other conditions that are permanent in nature". I guess this means she's gone right off Peking duck rolls too.

Defenders of the Disney empire have been quick to point out that the cumbersome costumes make it hard to make any precise moves, leaving cast members shambling around the park like drunk lab-rats.

Furthermore, the characters are always accompanied by more human-looking attendants. As well as making sure that tourists don't get too amorous, they're also on hand to prevent nervous kids from being terrified by the prospect of seven-foot-tall anthropomorphic wildlife.

When confronted with wild animals, it's commonplace to be told "they're more frightened of you, than you are of them". And it stands to reason that the same goes for these giant, cuddly characters.

Hardly surprising really, when you consider the popularity of 'furries'. For the uninitiated, they're the people who get turned on by dressing up as plush characters and making the beast with two zip-up backs (also known as 'yiffing').

Maybe April Magalon tried it on with Donald, and was angry about being rebuffed with her offer of a quick yiff in the Swiss Family Robinson treehouse. I'll be keeping my fingers crossed that Disney counter-sues on the defenseless duck's behalf...

Friday, 13 August 2010

Think of the children

The Daily Mail's vendetta against the BBC continues this week, as they attack the depiction of Phil Mitchell's descent into drug abuse on EastEnders. Apparently, the shocking new storyline sees the gruff, growling bully spiral into depression and substance abuse at the break-up of his family.

Now I don't watch EastEnders - I'd rather be a guinea pig for experimental laser eye surgery conducted by orang-utans with Parkinsons. But even I know that the only shocking thing about that particular plot is that the producers have the audacity to rehash it yet again. Over the year's Phil's had more troubling breakdowns than a mid-90s Alfa Romeo.

Nonetheless, here he is again, bellowing down a half-empty whisky bottle, smashing stuff and doing his party piece where he impersonates an enraged beef tomato. This time though, the stakes are higher, since he's discovered the joys of crack.

Although various drug charities are happy about the fact that EastEnders continues to tackle troubling issues in a realistic and uncompromising way, the Mail is disgusted that Phil's harrowing scenes were broadcast before the watershed.

Like the Meridian, or the Tees-Exe line, the watershed is an non-existent barrier which, in the Mail's eyes at least, ensures that no-one will accidentally confuse the Teletubbies with The Sopranos. It's an outdated concept anyway, devised long before multi-channel cable, the internet or families with a TV in every room.

The article actually makes for a pretty funny read, since author Liz Thomas writes about the druggie dialogue with all the conviction of a partially deaf person attempting to learn a foreign language phonetically. Every piece of slang used in the show's dialogue is pulled out in quotations, and devoid of context, sounds ridiculously unconvincing.

Still, it's enough to make the editorial staff concerned that EastEnders is in some way glamorising drug use for impressionable kids. It doesn't seem to have occurred to them that the sight of Phil Mitchell, crawling round a squalid living room begging for "the first blast", is about as glamorousas an outbreak of E.Coli on the set of How Clean Is Your House?

Interestingly, the most startling insight in the whole article comes when Thomas reminds indignant readers about the BBC's habit of ignoring the watershed where its flagship soap is concerned. She cites episodes where a character was drugged and buried alive, the stabbing of a 13-year old boy, and a gay kiss. Because in the Daily Mail's world they're all comparable.

It seems to have escaped her notice that 25 years ago, kids were tuning in to Grange Hill, only to see Zammo scrabbling around on the floor of the school changing rooms, desperate to pick up his spilled heroin. It didn't turn us into a nation of scag-heads.

Most people struggle with addiction during their lives. And popular dramas play a valuable role in demystifying the issues, as well as removing the stigma. Perhaps one day, one of the soaps will be brave enough to portray one of its characters struggling with an addiction to lazy, knee-jerk, reactionary journalism. Just as long as they run it after 9pm.

Thursday, 12 August 2010

What's that on your head?

Poor old Paris Hilton. She seems to attract trouble like Tara Reid attracts half-empty tequila bottles. The poor girl can't go anywhere without the paparazzi performing a smear test with a telephoto lens, or someone trying to arrest her for drug possession.

But despite the regular police interventions and invasive photography, Paris is a hard-worker, dedicated to keeping up the night-job. Those newly-opened nightclubs won't attend themselves - our girl needs to be out and about, showing her face and living it large...

Since this is world where fame is measured in terms of column inches generated, rather than any kind of tangible output, Paris is seen as the holy grail (an empty vessel with little physical value - how apt) for celebrity endorsements.

So brands are constantly sticking things in her mouth, pinning them on her clothes or attaching them to her head in the hope that she'll raise the profile of their products. At least that's how it's supposed to work.

The hard-partying celebutante is in yet another legal tangle, this time with Hairtech International, who are suing our plastic princess. Paris' crime? She went out in the wrong hair. Oh stop sniffing - we've all done it.

Hairtech is looking to claim $35 million in damages, "for fraud and deceit, unjust enrichment and breach of contract" because Paris was spotted partying wearing someone else's lustrous blonde hair extensions back in 2008. Seriously, this is the world we live in.

Not only was Paris signed to an exclusive contract with Hairtech for all her artificial hairpiece needs (for $3.5 million, no less), the company had built an entire campaign around 'spot Paris Hilton'.

In retrospect, that might have been a rather silly decision, since her ubiquity on the party circuit would make it pretty hard not to spot her. Maybe Lord Lucan wasn't on the market for any hair extensions.

Hairtech is also pissed that Paris neglected to attend a commercial shoot, and the Dream Catcher launch party. Although, to be fair, she was in jail at the time. I know the US legal system tends to be pretty lenient on its celebrity inmates, but even they draw the line at day release to attend a party.

Wednesday, 11 August 2010

When strippers fight back

Wherever you go in the States, you can pretty much bet that, if someone's having fun, there's a bunch of humourless Bible-waving fundamentalists standing outside, condemning everybody to hell.

Gay weddings, Pride parades, strip clubs - all are sinful in the eyes of the Lord. So instead of letting people enjoy themselves consensually and using their time in a more constructive manner (making patchwork blankets or having a hog-roast over a bonfire of Harry Potter books) - these people spend their days holding home-made (and often grammatically incorrect) placards over their heads.

In Ohio, the New Beginnings Ministry is particularly incensed by the existence of the Foxhole Club, a local strip joint. Led by Pastor Bill Dunfee, members of the church regularly congregate outside to protest the slack morals (and everything else) of the clubs employees and patrons.

As if protesting wasn't enough, Dunfee and his followers bring along bullhorns and cameras, even taking pictures of customers' cars and posting them on the church's website.

But hell hath no fury like a stripper scorned - as Dunfee's flock found out when they rocked up at church last Sunday. They were treated to the sight of a bunch of strippers in their 'work wear' brandishing signs of their own, featuring quotes such as "Beware of false prophets who come to you in sheep's clothing" and "If Pastor Bill is my ticket to HEAVEN, I’d rather be in HELL with my FRIENDS."

Given the fire and brimstone being preached inside, the women's choice of skimpy outfits was probably appropriate, even if the churchgoers were unsurprisingly disapproving. Thankfully, the girls from the Foxhole are stout-hearted enough to know that, when faced with disapproving glances, it's best to turn the other cheek. Or both of them, for that matter.

Tuesday, 10 August 2010

Quit while you're ahead

Come on, admit it. We've all done it. One minute we're standing in a newsagents, handing over a couple of coins and taking our Lotto tickets. The next, we're imagining the magical moment our numbers are called.

But it's not just the huge house, the supercars and the round-the-world trips that we dream about. It's the moment when we get to tell the boss what he can do with his job.

Weirdly, it doesn't even seem to matter whether we actually enjoy our job, or have a soft spot for the guy in the big leather seat. We all harbour fantasies of throwing down a resignation letter and inviting him to take part in the kind of oral/anal interface usually reserved for specialist adult entertainment.

Maybe we're all just drama queens at heart, and crave the kind of dramatic exit that Julia Roberts enjoyed when she flounced out of that snooty dress-shop in her wide-brimmed hat. If that's the case, then today is an important day for all of us, as two very different people hit the headlines for quitting in spectacular, web-friendly fashion.

In these tough recessionary times, we're all under considerable pressure to tow the line. With fewer jobs to go round, no-one wants to risk rocking the boat for fear of directing it straight into an iceberg. So let's take a few moments to honour Steven Slater and Jenny X (real name unconfirmed) who decided that they simply weren't going to take it anymore.

For this plucky pair, quitting meant turning themselves into instant internet celebrities. Forget about desultory exit interviews and a quick drink after work - Steven and Jenny showed the world how it's done.

The former was a long-serving air steward on JetBlue, who endured one too many abusive rants from an objectionable passenger. Instead of swallowing his pride and retreating to the staff kitchen to bitch about the great unwashed, Scott grabbed the intercom, and boldly announced "To the passenger who called me a motherfucker, fuck you. I've been in this business 28 years. And that's it, I'm done."

Then he turned on his immaculately polished heel, grabbed two beers from the galley, and deployed the emergency slide, before leaping from the plane. Although he was arrested several hours later on charges of criminal mischief, reckless endangerment and trespassing, he's already amassed over 20,000 fans on facebook.

Someone else who's been giving unofficial 'quitting in style' lessons is a young woman called Jenny, who decided to tell her boss what she really thought of him using a wipeboard. In a series of 33 self-explanatory pictures (shared with everyone in her office, natch), Jenny listed her boss Spencer's many abuses.

Indignant at overhearing herself being described over the phone as a HPOA (Hot Piece Of Ass) she decided to get revenge in her own special way. As well as taking pot shots at his bad temper and even worse breath (if you can't get even, get personal), she decided to break down how Spencer spends the average week - including a remarkable 19.7 hours on Farmville.

Back in the good old days, folk heroes robbed from the rich and gave to the poor. In this brave new world at ours, they're more likely to be found reveling in their own poverty and telling the rich to go fuck themselves.

Monday, 9 August 2010

You know you make me wanna shout

Although they've only been part of our lives for a few years, it's hard to imagine a world before SatNavs came along to take the pain out of getting from A-to-B. We're so used to having those bossy little screens perched over our dashboards, we even use them to navigate us to places we already know how to find.

Despite making our journeys that little bit easier, the technology isn't without its flaws. Lost signals, slow load times and incorrectly programmed one-way-systems all make life on the road that little bit more interesting.

Plus, we mustn't underestimate the significance of user error - there seems to be a new story every week about some confused Mondeo driver who dunked their car in a lake because the SatNav "told me to". When you put your life in the hands of your automotive gadgetry, culpability goes out the passenger-side window.

Maybe it's the voice of the SatNav that causes these problems. They always sound so confident and self-assured, they couldn't possibly be leading us up the garden path (sometimes, quite literally), could they? Perhaps if they could adopt the tremulous uncertainty of a human passenger, attempting to read a coffee-stained map that's being held upside down, we'd retain the ability to think for ourselves.

But until the technology is advanced enough to say "Oh for god's sake, YOU see if you can make sense of this..." and then sulk for 150 miles, we'll just have to settle for novelty voices to help keep us focused on the route we're taking.

So it's celebratory virgin cocktails all round in recognition of the latest 'people power' campaign on Facebook. This time, a bunch of TomTom users have managed to entice over 25,000 fans to join a group called "Campaign to get Brian Blessed to do a voice over for my Sat Nav".

As a result, TomTom have extended an invitation to the bellowing beardie to lend his distinctive baritone to its downloadable database of voices. With a weary shrug of resignation, a company spokesman commented: "It shows the power of social media, and if we can bring happiness to over 25,000 people who are we to deny it?"

Assuming you don't have a nervous disposition or particularly sensitive hearing, you could soon be driving down the high street while Brian commands you to "Diiiiiiiiiiiiive". Take a wrong turn at the roundabout, and he'll proclaim "Ah well, who wants to live forever?"

Like all novelty ideas, it's worth a chuckle for a few minutes. Although I dare anyone to drive the length of Britain with Brian Blessed as their co-pilot. After an hour of being shouted at by an excitable septuagenarian, they'll be calculating the distance to Beachy Head.

Sunday, 8 August 2010

Who needs enemies?

I've never understood the concept of Gay Conservatives. Given how much scorn conservative politicians reserve for the gay community, both here and in the States, it's hard to understand how anyone could reconcile such conflicting ideologies.

Perhaps they're followers of leading philosopher and hotpants ambassador Kylie Minogue, believing it's better the Devil you know than the Devil you don't. By dry-humping the enemy, maybe they get first dibs on what new policies are being devised to further strip away their rights and maintain that sense of second-class citizenship to which they've grown accustomed.

Nonetheless, there's a thriving movement in the States, enabling homosexual fans of small government and minimal taxation to celebrate their conservative roots. Perhaps the most famous group is the Log Cabin Republicans, who claim to "advocate equal rights for all Americans, including gays and lesbians" from within the GOP.

But there's another group who also claim to look out for the interests of LGBT citizens, and they're stealing some of the Log Cabin's thunder. GOProud's paradoxical mission is to emphasize "conservative principles such as limited government, individual liberty, and national defense over what are usually considered bedrock issues of gay politics such as gay marriage, criminalizing targeted violence against gays and lesbians, and recognition of sexual orientation as a protected civil rights class."

They've been in the news this week because they're currently planning Homocon 2010, their very first celebration of gay conservativism, and have selected a somewhat controversial 'special guest' - Ann Coulter.

A polemicist and political commentator, who can often be found on Fox News screeching over anyone with a coherent viewpoint, Ann goes out of her way to offend people with her willingness to be anything other than "impartial or balanced". For instance, Ann claims that "If we took away women's right to vote, we'd never have to worry about another Democrat president. It's kind of a pipe dream, it's a personal fantasy of mine, but I don't think it's going to happen. And it is a good way of making the point that women are voting so stupidly, at least single women." Great role model right?

In much the same way that Ann's happy recommending that her own voting rights be removed, GOProud think that she's the ideal celebrity to headline their forthcoming party. It doesn't seem to matter that she called John Edwards a 'faggot' in 2007, or that she took a pop at "irritating lesbian Constance McMillen" for daring to argue that she had a right to attend her prom.

Apparently, Ann has even described herself as the 'the right wing Judy Garland' - although perhaps that just means she's going to overdose before she takes to the stage. Or maybe she's planning to announce to the world what many people have long suspected, that she puts the 'T' in LGBT. Critics maintain that she has an Adam's apple the size of Dolph Lundgren's fist, and have lovingly renamed her 'Man Coulter'.

Whatever her reasons for attending Homocon (besides the considerable appearance fee), the real question is why would any self-respecting gay man want to hear what this hateful harpy has to say. It's like dipping your kids in honey and then asking a grizzly bear to babysit.

But then again, the gay community has always struggled with self-destructive behaviour, from drug abuse and alcoholism to unsafe sexual practices. Inviting Ann Coulter to the party is just the latest in a long line of harmful activities.