Monday, 29 November 2010

I'm not a racist but...

The story of The Hobbit's arduous journey to the big screen is longer and more gruelling than the one described in the book itself. Directors jumping ship, legal wrangles over copyright, strikes and a studio bankruptcy - it makes a trek across Middle Earth seem like a piece of piss.

Now it looks like all the pieces are finally in place. The cast has been named, Peter Jackson is snuggling into the director's chair and the veggies have been growing in Hobbiton for 18 months now.

But it's not all plain sailing down in New Zealand, since a new controversy has erupted over the film's discriminatory casting policies. Apparently, Middle Earth is the fantasy equivalent of Tunbridge Wells, and won't tolerate any multi-ethnic halflings.

According to Digital Spy, an actress who attended a extras casting session was turned away for being the wrong colour. Naz Humphreys has complained to the press, saying "It's 2010 and I still can't believe I'm being discriminated against because I have brown skin. The casting manager basically said they weren't having anybody who wasn't pale-skinned."

It's a shame that the franchise has been tainted with suggestions of racism, since Tolkien's tales are all about the need for different races to unite against evil. Having said that, a hobbit of Pakistani descent might seem a little incongruous when surrounded by flaxen-haired, apple-cheeked kinfolk. 

Several years ago, an amateur production of The Sound Of Music saw a multi-ethnic cast of children playing the Von Trapps. Although the kids were all meant to be fantastic in their roles, it did give the impression that their deceased mother was something of a bike.

Peter Jackson's representatives have been quick to apologise for the 'casting restrictions' and stress that "It is not something the producers or the director of The Hobbit were aware of. They would never issue instructions of this kind to the casting crew. All people meeting the age and height requirements are welcome to audition."

But for some, the damage has already been done. So it won't be long before the set becomes overrun with offensively racist statements like "Is it true that all Hobbits have big feet?" and "Once you go Orc, you never go back."

Sunday, 28 November 2010

Gay vultures of the world unite

For years now, scientists have been pointing out the incidences of homosexuality in the animal kingdom to support that argument that same-sex attraction is a case of nature over nurture. Indeed, there are so many animals turning to the love that dare not woof, squawk or whinny its name, that Noah's Arc could have been converted into a Mardi Gras float.

Unfortunately for our furry and feathered friends, life outside of the closet comes at a cost. Because even gay animals can be victimised and bullied.

Take Guido and Detlef for instance. They're a handsome pair of Griffon vultures who found each other's raw animal magnetism too strong to resist. So they shacked up together in a makeshift nest in Munster Zoo.

Interestingly, the birds are described as 'predatory males' and spend their days "grooming one another... and fortifying their nest". Which suggests that it's not just the sexual activity that these birds have in common with their human counterparts.

However, those pesky conservationists were concerned that the birds were so busy gentrifying the aviary that they were unlikely to help grow their species number. And I guess gay adoption would be out of the question for them.

Sadly, Guido was snatched from his paramore and dispatched 400 miles east to a zoo in the Czech Republic, leaving Detlef to mooch about the cage and listen to Celine Dion CDs. The zookeepers have replaced Guido with a potential female mate, but she's destined to a life of loneliness, as the world's first vulture faghag.

Like most ex-gays, Detlef is "reorienting himself", but has yet to touch his new life partner. Presumably, she's wondering what's wrong with her, and he's thinking she needs a makeover.

Gay rights campaigners aren't happy either, arguing that "This is like in the dark middle ages, forcibly making a creature sexually re-orient itself by tearing its partner from its side." They're scared that once this precedent has been set, we might one day see the same thing happen to gay people as well.

Admittedly that's a preposterous assumption. Or is it? Earlier this year an elderly couple hit the headlines when Sonoma County authorities separated them and placed them in different nursing homes, denying them to chance to live out their remaining months together, despite a twenty-year relationship.

It remains to be seen whether or not Guido and Detlef's story will have a happier ending. This vulture certainly hopes so.

Sorry seems to be the hardest word

The life of a political polemicist is not a happy one. Despite devoting your life to the issues you believe in, you can end up spending most of your time battling those who refuse to acknowledge your point of view and refuting their ill-founded allegations.

Michael Moore has had over 20 years to get used to that, but even so, it can't get any easier. So he must be thankful for healthcare industry whistle-blower Wendell Potter's change of heart recently.

Not only does Wendell's incredible volte-face legitimise the points that Moore rasied in his documentary Sicko, it has a knock-on effect on all the other contrary voices which screeched in union whenever the Flint, Michigan native released a movie.

Released in 2007, Sicko attempted to shine a light on the dubious practices of American healthcare companies and the fact that their profitability is based on the denial of treatment. Understandably, the industry didn't take too kindly to Moore taking their temperature with a microphone-sized rectal thermometer.

So they did what any fiscally robust but morally bankrupt business would do - they set out to discredit and smear the film-maker. At the time, Wendell Cooper was the Head of Corporate Communications at CIGNA Healthcare, and was part of the anti-publicity machine built to take the scruffy agitator down.

Part of the industry's response was to establish a bogus organisation called Healthcare America, with the sole purpose of  "reframing the debate". Rather than actually addressing the points Moore was making them and opening up the dialogue, this meant planting new conversational threads into the mouths of willing shills.

As a consequence, millions of Americans (minus the 45,000 who die each year due to inadequate healthcare coverage) were forced into a discussion about 'death panels' and the terrifying notion of the Government getting to decide who lives and dies. And despite the fact that Potter now freely admits that Moore's film was pretty much spot-on, the PR initiative kept repeating the assertion that Michael Moore "played fast and loose with the facts".

Thankfully, Potter has finally seen sense (or at least witnessed the black, shrivelled root where his soul used to be) and written a shocking expose of the industry called 'Deadly Spin' where he attempts to atone for the role he played. Even more noble, is the fact that he faced up to Michael Moore on Keith Olbermann's show and offered the film-maker a full apology.

Moore even managed to be gracious in accepting Potter's words of contrition. Although he couldn't quite resist sticking the scalpel in (and twisting it around) by asking the whistle-blower how he had managed to look his children in the face whilst working for CIGNA.

Maybe it's all too little too late - the healthcare issue has evolved in the three years since Sicko's release. And the documentary is unlikely to enjoy a resurgence of popularity thanks to this belated apology. But there's still a glimmer of hope here. The level of political discourse in the US may be in a pretty sorry state, but at least there are people still attempting to resuscitate it.

Friday, 26 November 2010

Poetic justice?

Who says God doesn't have a sense of humour?  In fact the BBC needs to stop looking for a replacement for Jason Manford on The One Show - they should just rope in Yahweh. Not only is he a comedy genius, he probably won't get caught wanking at people on Skype.

Yesterday, the big guy showed his true colours with an astonishingly perfect piece of comic timing. Just as millions of American turkeys were having their body cavities stuffed full of bread and seasoning, he decided to call home the man who has been terrorising the avian species for almost sixty years.

It was Thanksgiving, which meant that one turkey got the official pardon from President Obama. Meanwhile, over in Norfolk, Britain's most prolific turkey murderer wasn't quite so lucky. The irony couldn't be more delicious if it was rolled in a crispy crumb batter and deep friend until golden brown.

Bernard Matthews was a national institution, responsible for switching the entire nation onto it's new third favourite white meat. In the process he transformed agribusiness, invented the concept of the cheap mid-week roast and proved that it was possible to spearhead an advertising campaign with no media training whatsoever.

Several generations grew up watching him celebrate his 'bootiful' birds on TV, torturing those vowels the same way he did his feathered friends. And who didn't enjoy a delicious roll of turkey meat on a Wednesday evening, marvelling at how half a pound of salt could make even the most bland and flavourless meat seem delicious?

Bernard's contribution to British life can't be underestimated. His company currently employs over 2,000 people in an area which, lets be honest, probably doesn't boast an abundance of career opportunities. And his success enabled him to transform many of the outdated processes involved in large-scale farming.

Tributes have already been paid to the patron saint of poultry farmers, with the CEO of his company stating "He is the man who effectively put turkey on the plates of everyday working families and in so doing became one of the largest employers in rural East Anglia and a major supporter of the local farming community."

Not everyone's sad to see him go though. Andrew Tyrer, of Animal Aid, turned out in his best grave-dancing shoes to say: "Bernard Matthews has left an appalling and brutal legacy of turning turkeys into denatured units of production … It is time to abandon everything he stood for."
And given his long-running campaign to have the Turkey Twizzler (Hmm, maybe kids would enjoy turkey meat if it was stuffed full of MSG and shaped to look like a pig's tail?), I don't suppose Jamie Oliver will be sending flowers to Great Witchingham.

It's just unfortunate that, for all his innovation and industriousness, Bernard is now likely to remembered as the punchline to a joke about the day the turkeys got their revenge. Then again, he always did enjoy a good roast.

Smile, what's the use in crying?

Who doesn't love this new 'age of austerity'? It's got us all tightening our belts so much so that we suddenly know how Dita Von Teese feels every time she gets dressed.

It also means that the politicians have to find new ways of validating their track record, since traditional measures like GDP give a decidedly negative view. That's why it was revealed this week that David Cameron intends to measure the kind of prosperity that's hard to capture in an Excel spreadsheet. Rather than prosperity and wealth, he wants to start collating data on how happy we all are.

The problem is, we're not a nation known for our ebullience. That's why the most common conversational topic is the weather - because nine times out of ten it means we've got something to complain about. Even now, the threat of a couple of inches of snow has people in the north battening down the hatches for a second ice age.

It's the same with our TV shows - our most popular soap opera is EastEnders, the televisual equivalent of Ritalin. And talent shows like X-Factor and Strictly Come Dancing simply enable us to celebrate the least talented performers.

Nonetheless, the Office of National Statistics has been asked to develop a new way of measuring people's sense of well-being, based on the spring in their step, rather than the bulge in their wallet. So now, the British public will be asked questions like: "Overall, how happy did you feel yesterday?" and "How much purpose does your life have?"

If there's one sure-fire way of sending the entire nation plunging into abject depression, it's by getting them to consider the meaning of life. The Pet Shop Boys once sang 'Happiness Is An Option'. That may well be the case, but I think most of us would prefer to abstain.

Wednesday, 24 November 2010

Dry a little tenderness

If you cast your mind back to student life, you'll remember the unpleasant experience of sharing a flat with a bunch of people who had varying levels of commitment to personal hygeine. There's nothing worse than finding your toothbrush lodged in the soapdish, or reaching for a cereal bowl to discover remnants of yesterday's porridge.

But as disgusting as those incidents are, for my money there's nothing worse than slowly realising that someone else has used your bath-towel. It's bad enough that it's damp and smells of someone else's shower-gel. But the really worrying thing is that you're unsure as to which bits of towel touched which random body parts.

That's the underlying psychosis that must have informed the creation of the 'True Clean Towel' - a cleverly designed bath sheet that gives a clear indication of which area of the towel is intended for which area of skin. Drying your face? Then you should be using the section clearly labelled 'top'. And if you're looking to demoisturise your nether regions, then there's an area called 'bottom' with your name on it (not literally).

Weirdly though, this is a towel aimed at single-occupancy households - for people who can't bear to come into contact with their own body parts. And the online ad makes that perfectly clear, with a male model attempting to dry himself with a giant pair of bollocks. 

Try watching this guy teabagging his own face with a massive set of pods - it's like shower time after a rugby match. There's even a particularly authentic moment when he plucks an errant pube from his mouth, as if to demonstrate the real dangers of indiscriminate towel usage. 

At first, the ad is pretty funny, before taking a turn towards the nauseating - like a Little Britain sketch thrown out for being too distasteful. As if that would ever happen.

If you're irrationally afraid of your own perianal scent, then you know what to ask Santa for this Christmas. And as long as he's not busy terrorising the villages of Finland, he may well deliver.

Tuesday, 23 November 2010

Heroes and villains

A friend pointed out to me today that, just lately, p0pvulture has taken on a more serious tone. It's nothing intentional, I can assure you. But I guess there are only so many ways you can write about Gillian McKeith having a case of the vapours every time she sees a spider.

And with the X-Factor still a long, painful month away from its depressingly inevitable conclusion, it's important to take a look around and remember everything else that's going on in the world. So if you visit p0pvulture for a daily dose of mindless ephemera, I can only apologise if this all seems a little tub-thumpy.

Sadly, we're in the midst of a culture war, and it's affecting people's lives on both sides of the Atlantic. So today, I thought I'd give the Daily Mail a day off and take a look at what's going on across the pond, to see how the two different sides are aligning themselves now that the post-election dust has settled.

Although immigration and the ongoing economic crisis continue to be politically-charged topics of contention in the States, the most incendiary subject still seems to be gay bullying and its ramifications. Now, I don't expect everyone to agree with my perspective on the issue, and it would be a very dull world if you did (although, if you're a regular reader of this blog my angle will probably come as no surprise). However, I defy anyone not to be equal parts disgusted and inspired by the following two video clips.

In one corner, we have the staunchly right wing lobbying group, the American Family Association. They're up in arms about the gay agenda exercising its political muscle, in order to dictate hospital policy across the U.S. Despite the fact that these bigoted blowhards continually profess to have no ill-will towards gay people themselves ('love the sinner, hate the sin' and all that), it's hard to view their reaction to this change in the law as anything other than reprehensible.

You might not realise this, but currently, gay patients in intensive care can only be visited by next-of-kin. And since the law doesn't recognise same-sex life-partners as NOK, hospital staff are allowed to bar long-term partners from visiting their loved ones. And that's the way the AFA would like it to stay.

It all sounds perfectly Christian to me - demanding that critically ill patients breathe their last breath in an empty hospital room, whilst their grief-stricken significant others sit sobbing in a waiting room. They must know how intollerably heartless that sounds, so they've issued carefully planned talking points to make it clear that this isn't about hate. It's about unnecessary 'dictats' from the Government.

The talking heads in this video claim that they've never been barred from visiting a patient (although they carefully gloss over the restricted access to the ICU). But then, they've never tried to visit their same-sex partner in a religiously-affiliated hospital either. It's much easier to reject the concept of discrimination if you've never experienced it first-hand.  

Thankfully, there's a glimmer of hope out there. And it comes in the form of a preternaturally mature fourteen year-old called Graeme Taylor. This frighteningly articulate child hit the news recently, when he attended a school board hearing to speak out in defence of his teacher. The educator in question had been suspended for removing two students from his class, after an outburst of homophobic abuse.

Despite the widespread bullying and discriminatory rhetoric currently tainting American political discourse, this kid had the courage to not only come out at thirteen, but eloquently defend Jay McDowell and demand that he be reinstated. It's no wonder then that Ellen deGeneres wanted him on her show to tell his side of the story.

Hopefully, this video will be seen by as many people as the ongoing 'It Gets Better' campaign - it certainly can't hurt. This is the best three minutes you'll spend all day...

The battle lines are clearly drawn. And I know which side I'm proud to be on...
Tomorrow - probably some cheap cock jokes and Katie Price. 

Monday, 22 November 2010

You gotta have fai-fai-fai-fai-faith

An unusual alliance seems to have formed between the BBC and the Daily Mail this week, as the former has inadvertently added fuel to the latter’s ongoing fire again the Islamification of Britain. A new Panorama documentary due to screen tonight aims to expose how thousands of Muslim children are being educated in the fundamentals of Sharia law in ‘weekend schools’ across Britain.

All told there are around 40 of these schools, which are currently teaching the Saudi national curriculum. And since they’re part-time, weekend-only institutions, they fall outside of Ofsted’s remit. This means that the kids are free to learn about the sins of sodomy, the severing of thieves’ hands as punishment for theft, and the dangers posed by the Zionist plot to take over the world. Well, I suppose it’s more interesting than studying cross-sections of tundra soil anyway.

Unfortunately, as one might expect, the Mail’s coverage tends to fixate on the ‘otherness’ of the teachings, making clear their distaste for the indoctrination of children into profoundly non-British protocols. In fact, the real danger posed by schools like these, is highlighted in a throw-away quote at the end of the article.

Taken from a report by Conservative think tank ‘Policy Exchange’, the statement reads “The Government’s policy of opening up the education system to new academies and free schools programmes could be exploited unless urgent measures are taken to counter extremist influence.” Notice that this relates to all faith schools, and not just the ones that happen to observe Ramadan.

And given the Mail’s disdain for the Saudi curriculum, let’s take another look at the shocking subject matter being shared with impressionable Muslim youths. The notion of a Zionist plot to take over the world is both offensive and ridiculous. But not so far removed than the Mail’s own preaching about the Islamification of the west. It’s also hard to see how many of the Mail’s “hanging’s too good for ‘em” readers will be particularly upset by the idea of amputating a thief’s work-tools. They’re probably sharpening their electric carving knives even as I write this.

So what about the nasty homophobia that’s being taught in these schools? Or the fact that six year olds are being taught that those who refuse to convert to Islam will burn in “hellfire”? Forgive me if I point out that these are some of the same viewpoints regularly articulated whenever a Christian militant argues that their religious freedoms are being quashed by the PC brigade or the gay agenda.

Furthermore, it’s particularly galling to see Education Secretary Michael Gove wading into the debate to deplore the teaching of homophobia in our schools, when his own political party has such a woeful track record on the subject.

The real issue here is the dangerous precedent set by any ‘faith school’ with an agenda, irrespective of which God it happens to tell children to fear. The Mail may have a problem with Muslim women wanting to pull a veil over their face, but it’s even worse to willingly pull the wool over our eyes.

Sunday, 21 November 2010

The illusion of control

Great news everybody - the Pope has come to his senses and told the world to 'rubber up'. No longer will poverty-stricken people in the third world be condemned to the uncontrolled transmission of disease, or ever-growing broods of kids they're incapable of feeding. It's finally OK to snap on a prophylactic. Well, kind of. 

Everyone's favourite one-time Nazi has participated in the writing of a new book. And excerpts from the forthcoming bestseller have suggested that the Catholic Church is on the verge of softening its hardline stance of contraception. 

But it's probably be going to be some time before the Pope advocates widespread non-procreative fuckery. For the moment, the only people allowed to pick-up something for the weekend are rent-boys.

Responding to a question about the church's condemnation of safe sex practices, the Pontiff said: "In certain cases, where the intention is to reduce the risk of infection, it can nevertheless be a first step on the way to another, more humane sexuality." Admittedly, 'humane' and 'sexuality' aren't words one might automatically associate with the Pope, so perhaps things are changing for the better.

Asked about which 'certain cases' he had in mind, Benedict explained: "There may be a basis in the case of some individuals, as perhaps when a male prostitute uses a condom, where this can be a first step in the direction of a moralization, a first assumption of responsibility." 

I'm sure street-corners around the world are crammed with young men in short-shorts currently gripping their rosaries in relief that they can finally take responsibility for their own sexual health. Unless of course it's a case of too little too late. By the time someone's embraced their homosexuality and decided to charge elderly priests for it, they're probably not holding out for Papal approval. 

As well as this remarkable u-turn on the issue of condoms, it's also nice to see what passes for authorship these days. After the CD, DVDs, tour souvenirs, and now an 'interview-based' book, it's clear that the Pope is out to rival Katie Price for multi-media ubiquity. Let's see if he turns out at our local Waterstones to promote Light of the World: The Pope, the Church and the Signs of the Times in a see-though body stocking and candy pink wig...

Ding Dong Scarily On High

I'm now officially bored of Autumn. Sludgy, decomposing leaves litter the ground, and everyone's grumbling about how dark, damp and cold it is.

Roll on winter, when suddenly people stop caring about the sub-zero temperatures (apart from old people who depend on their fuel allowance) because everything looks prettier. There's no more photogenic season than deep winter, when everything's covered in a blanket of snow, and colourful lights twinkle erratically in the the darkness.

Although I'm not sure the Scandinavians see it in quite such a romanticised way. But that's because they have to endure about five months of it. Once your house is buried up to the chimney-stack in a tsunami of snow, I guess you stop squinting whimsically at winter's majesty, and start thinking about how long your tyre chains will last.

Maybe that's why the current crop of 'seasonal movies' being lined up by our friends in the North are less 'Rudolph The Red Nosed Reindeer' and more 'Silent Night, Deadly Night'. Since their winters are harsh, brutal and unforgiving, films based around Tim Allen in a fatsuit seem somehow insufficient.

Finland's festive treat is a charming little film called 'Rare Exports', which shows what happens when a young boy called Pietari realises that Santa Claus is coming to town, and that his family had better be armed to the teeth. Because this is the Santa of old Finnish myths - an ancient demon that "abducts and tortures bad children".

The bearded man in a red hat doesn't look too disimilar from the Father Christmas we're more familiar with. But the sight of him leering at a young boy from inside a cage tells us that he's unlikely to settle for a mince pie and a schooner of sherry.

Over in Norway, another winter wonderland is being trampled by man-eating monsters, this time the trolls of Scandinavian fairy tales. For a generation of kids who think that trolls are Jedward-quiffed beasties used to having a pencil end jabbed up their fjords, the King Kong-sized behemoths in 'Troll Hunter' will come as quite a shock.

Looking like a curious mash-up of Cloverfield and The Legend of Boggy Creek, André Ovredal’s horror film tells the tale of a group of film students who attempt to capture footage of real-life trolls, when they discover that "their existence has been covered up for years by a government conspiracy."

The trailer is full of night-vision, hand-held camera work and lots of screaming, but also offers a tantalising glimpse of the eponymous beasties, and they pack quite a punch. In one scene, quite literally.

This may be bordering on sacrilege, but this Christmas, I think either one of these umlaut-heavy offerings might be even more fun than yet another screening of 'It's A Wonderful Life'. Who's with me?

Friday, 19 November 2010

Be my baby?

One of the great things about the internet (besides the mind-numbing array of pixelated pornography) is the way it has advanced the democratisation of media. Now, everybody is able to have their say on pretty much anything.

We've seen the exponential growth of the blogging community (great news for me, not so much for Rihanna), the rapid expansion of Facebook and even a resurgence of interest in political debate. All good things, I'm sure you'll agree.

However, that pesky little 'like' button has also inspired the rise of digital voting on issues which don't require mass public engagement. One such example is currently causing a political firestorm in the US, as a married couple of IT technicians are asking the world's web-users whether 30 year-old Alisha Arnold should abort her 17 week-old foetus.

It's hard not to be disgusted by the laissez-faire way in which this life-altering decision has been turned over to the whim of thousands of anonymous mouse clicks. Irrespective of whether or not you condone terminating pregnancies, it's a pretty distasteful use of interactive technology. Making this an even more grim spectacle is the fact that the couple are regularly posting scans of the foetus (provisionally named 'Wiggles' - how cute) to facilitate the decision-making process.

Predictably, the anti-abortion voices have been quick to lend their yells of distaste to the growing cacophony, with Mary Spaulding Balch of organisation National Right to Life commenting "This is shocking. The first thing that came to my mind when I heard of this was the Roman Colosseum when the mob picked who lived and who died."

Whatever the reasons for the Arnold's online poll, it's a shame that the debate they've inspired is so one-sided. What's missing from the discussion is a clear voice condemning the couple for their thoughtless and offensive act. You don't have to be a pro-lifer to argue against what they're doing, nor would it make you a hypocrite if you did.

At its heart, the concept of abortion is about a woman's right to choose. What's best for her body, her life and her family. Furthermore, even the staunchest advocates of abortion stress that it's not a decision to be taken lightly, since it can have psychological repercussions that last a lifetime.

Throwing it open to the public for a mass vote (like asking the Ready Steady Cook audience to choose red tomatoes or green peppers) invalidates the woman's right to decide, and therefore the fundamental logic of the pro-choice movement.

Then again, I have a sneaking suspicion that all is not what it seems with this tawdry and unpleasant story. Alisha claims: "Voting is such an integral part of the American identity. We vote on everything from the best singer on American Idol to who the next leader of the free world will be. Wouldn't it be nice to voice your opinion and have it actually make a difference in the real world? Why not vote on whether to continue or abort an actual pregnancy?"

There's something offensively glib about that rhetorical question, that implies the press are being lazily complicit in running the story without digging a little deeper. The Mail's coverage, for instance, suggests that "some are questioning whether the site has been set up deliberately to upset anti-abortionists." Of course, the couple themselves deny this, with Alisha an avowed fan of borderline psychotic right-wing agitator Glenn Beck, and her husband a George W Bush supporter.

But there's more to those details than a simple defence against the accusations that they're out to upset the pro-lifers. Quite the opposite in fact. Far more likely is that this is actually a well-planned, and deeply underhanded way of attacking the pro-choice movement, by debasing the decision an expectant mother faces through those throwaway associations with TV audience votes.

And what better way to throw the media off the scent, than by setting up the pro-life lobby (of which this couple are no doubt a part) as the real victims of this cruel and heartless stunt? With votes currently standing at 53.73 percent in favour of the termination, it'll be interesting to see whether the Arnold's honour the public's decision. Given their right-wing heritage, I'm willing to put money on the fact that they won't.

Thursday, 18 November 2010

All white on the night

The sky is falling. The end of the world is nigh. Our cosy, ordered, same-as-it-always-was existence is threatened. And people of colour are to blame.

That's the gist of the various articles appearing in the tabloids today, based on the findings of David Coleman, Professor of Demography at Oxford University. According to the highly respected boffin, "WHITE British people will be in a MINORITY in their own country by 2066." Note that the upper case emphases come courtesy of The Sun, so that their readers know what the story is about without having to read it.

Apparently, the soaring immigrant birthrates mean that white Brits are gradually being outnumbered by their non-white neighbours. Obviously, this kind of story is a tabloid editor's dream, so the emphasis is on "record breaking levels of immigration" rather than the "thousands of Brits" who leave these shores "for a better life abroad."

We're entitled to seek our fortune overseas, it's practically our birthright. But God forbid anyone attempts to come to UK for similar reasons. Once again, the inconsistent logic applied to issues around immigration raises its ugly head. The Sun's article references Home Secretary Theresa May's plans to cap the influx of migrant workers, despite the fact that the tabloids are constantly portraying immigrants as workshy-benefits seekers. 

The report also doesn't explain how the significant number immigrants from white Eastern European countries are going to reduce the amount of Caucasian faces in school playgrounds. Nonetheless, the warning is clear - white British people can expect to be the minority by around 2066.

If that hasn't scared you, then consider the fact that "The US, by comparison, is now about 65 per cent white (non-Hispanic) and that group is projected to fall to 50 per cent by 2045." Shocking isn't it? Except, well, the U.S. is a nation of immigrants, and its indigenous (non-white) population have been rendered a minority pretty much since we first washed up on their shores. But that doesn't really support our argument so let's move on before anyone questions the lapses in our logic.

Without breaking the space-time continuum, it's hard to know how Professor Coleman can speak so categorically about the next fifty years of international people movement, birthrates and life expectancy. There are so many variables at play that such long-term projections are borderline nonsensical. That's the basic paradox at the heart of all time-travel stories - as Sarah Connor famously said "The future is not set, there is no fate but what we make for ourselves." But as one of the founders of MigrationWatch, perhaps he's less concerned with the facts than he is with drumming up reactionary scare stories. 

And anyway, surely the uninformed masses should be celebrating. After all, come 2066, they'll finally have the statistics to prove what they've been bleating about for years. Since, in their minds, the needs of minorities always come before anyone else's, they'll be back at the front of the queue in no time. 

Wednesday, 17 November 2010

Men are from Mars, women are from Argos

Sod the recession - Christmas is coming, so it's time to whip out that credit card and spend like there's no (VAT increase) tomorrow. But how to be sure that you're buying your significant other what they really want?

I'll be the first to admit, I'm a difficult person to buy for. If there's something I want, chances are I've either bought it or pre-ordered it to be dispatched the moment it's released. As a consequence, Christmas morning usually becomes an exercise in voucher collation.

But despite the average person being much less avaricious and materialistic than yours truly, it seems that many people still struggle to pick out a gift in those fevered weeks running up to the holidays. Worry not, the Daily Mail is here to help you to figure out those painfully cryptic clues, ensuring that Boxing Day won't be spent sleeping on the sofa in disgrace or queing for hours in the 'returns' queue at Debenhams.

When it comes to understanding modern female psychology, there's really no finer source than the Mail, which has its french-tipped finger on the pulse of contemporary womanhood. Its editorial team know exactly what drives the female mind, and exploits these incredible insights at every turn to make sure that women feel guilty for having childrennot having childrenbeing feminists, being bimbos, gossiping, working, studying, socialising, dieting, putting on weight, shopping and being frugal. If you have ovaries and you don't already hate yourself, a couple of week's of Britain's best-selling paper will soon have you plunging into a spiral of self-loathing despair.

With the female psyche a heaving maelstrom of hang-ups, it's a good job that the Mail is on hand to guide clueless menfolk through the perils and pitfalls of present picking, with an exclusive guide to interpreting their better half's hints. Hold onto your hats folks - here comes the scientific bit.

Perhaps you're married to a 'pepper hinter'. She constantly seeds her conversation with "mentions of preferred gifts". Presumably, that means statements like "I really want one of those for Christmas." See? Now, you're starting to understand the labyrinthine complexities of the female mind.

But as we all know, many of the messages we receive are non-verbal. In fact, according to John Borg, "human communication consists of 93 percent body language and paralinguistic cues". That's an awful lot of arm waving.

So the next time you're standing outside Ratners and your beloved starts gesticulating wildly at a sparkly necklace, she may well be indicating that she'd like to be wrestling it from the dog's eager jaws on Christmas morning. She's what the "experts" call a 'present pointer' - cleverly using hand gestures to draw your attention to those objects of desire. And you thought she'd just developed a violent twitch.

Still with me? Then down the rabbit hole we continue. The 'Chinese Whisperer' tells friends and family what she wants for Christmas, so that they can relay the message to her clueless spouse. These oh-so-subtle clues might come in the form of the following exchange: "Do you know what she wants for Christmas?" "Yes, she said she wants a Gucci purse." If only there was some way to decode this cryptic messaging. 

Finally, there's the 'Careless Lister', who cleverly leaves a Christmas List (usually entitled 'List of Things I Want For Christmas') lying around the house. If you see such an item artfully arranged on the breakfast bar or coffee table, it's possible the lady in your life could be trying to tell you something. Like the fact that she wants a fucking iPhone.

By now your jaw is probably agape, and you're scratching your head at how on Earth you're supposed to decipher such complex messaging. After all, as ex-Big Brother body-language expert Geoff Beattie explains, "Women know what they want and are increasingly turning to “adventising” in order to get it – using clues to advertise to men what they want for Christmas. However, their covert suggestions can at times fall on deaf ears and men are missing out on a massive two thirds of crucial hints dropped by the ladies in their life."
If it wasn't for Boots kindly stumping up the cash for this hard-hitting and revelatory research, men might still be in the dark about how to placate their passive-aggressive partners. Unless this is all just a cynical exercise in PR designed to sell more fragranced soap and toilet bags at 4.30 on Christmas Eve.

Surely, no-one's that credulous, are they? Or do I have to give you a clue...

Tuesday, 16 November 2010

A right mouthful

Hurrah, it's back to save us from the tedium of cold winter weekdays. I'm A Celebrity Get Me Out Of Here is now in its tenth series, having found another bunch of willing spotlight-seekers keen to secure another fifteen minutes of fame, even if they're spent trying to masticate a partially desiccated kangaroo penis.

The ITV casting team is running like a well-oiled machine by now, so the contestants have been selected to fall into rather predictable categories. There's a politician, an athlete, a singer, a reality show contestant, a past-her-prime glamour-puss, posh actor and then an assortment of people picked solely to inspire lots of "I'm sorry, I don't know who you are" conversations.

Although the show is only a few installments into its latest run, it already feels like it's never been away. Kind of like slipping on a pair of comfortable slippers, that just happen to be filled with cockroaches and eel slime.

Stacey Solomon has already established herself as a firm favourite, thanks to her unaffected persona and the fact that she could be outwitted by most of the jungle's indigenous flora.

Less appealing is Gillian McKeith, who has spent her entire career chastising people for the things they put in their mouth. If ever there was a woman crying out to be force-fed a blender full of pulverised bugs, it's Gillian. She believes 'you are what you eat', so presumably she's going to munching on a hand-full of freeze-dried stick insects.

But if you're bored of watching other people spending time in the world's most most unwelcoming fat camp, you can always try it at home. Those clever brand extension people have created a delicious range of 'witchetty grub' treats so that you can replicate the Bushtucker Trial experience at home.

Don't worry, they're not real insects. If you want actual grubs you're going to have to dig out that bottle of tequila.

These are chocolate grubs, just designed to look like the slimy critters. However, only seven of them have a delicious toffee filling. The other three... well, the manufacturers describe them as offering "a nasty surprise".

In fact, they're tripe flavour, and are sure to liven up the petit fours of any dinner party. But don't worry, if you don't want to spend £6.99 on the chocolate equivalent of russian roulette. You could always just use a bag of Revels.

Monday, 15 November 2010

With a song in my heart

When I first wrote about Glee on this blog about a year ago, none of us had any idea what a multi-media behemoth Ryan Murphy's little show would become. A 'dramedy' (no-one does word-merge like Hollywood) about a midwestern school choir didn't exactly sound like a surefire mainstream smash.

Maybe it was the fact that there was nothing like it in the schedules (repeats of High School Musical don't count), but something about this unapologetically cheesy show captured the zeitgeist in a way that no-one could have predicted. In just over twelve months, those scrappy showtune-loving misfits have managed to usurp no lesser act than the Beatles, by scoring a record 75 chart appearances in the Billboard Hot 100. Just for the record, it took Liverpool's finest 32 years to notch up 71 placings.

Perhaps the secret of Glee's appeal lies in the fact that, contrary to popular belief, it offers something for everyone. The cast are largely attractive (and cater to a wider variety of tastes), the music is well selected and slickly produced, and there's a biting seam of humour that counteracts some of the schmalz - which can sometimes leaving you feeling as though you've just munched your way through a jar of Splenda.

With America's viewers comfortably nestled in the palm of his hand (and still humming Don't Stop Believin'), Murphy is taking some bold steps to use his show as a platform for addressing a subject he feels strongly about.

Given the way that the gay bullying epidemic has dominated headlines in the US, it's reasonable to expect that many popular shows will make a timely reference to the issue, taking care to neatly resolve its characters conflicts before the end credits run (Next week - alcoholism and dog-snatching). However, Murphy has other ideas, and is planning to extend the current 'gay bullying' plotline as an arc for the whole season - with repercussions for all the characters, not just Kurt Hummel.

In last week's show, lonely young gay Kurt was taken under the benevolent and immaculately tailored wing of new mentor Blaine, as he attempted to spy on the prep school's own glee club. Given that his infiltration skills are about as subtle as James Bond in a bright red clown wig (see Octopussy for more information), he's quickly uncovered.

But the boys of  Dalton Academy see the longing in the young gayling's eyes and treat him to the most homoerotic display since Jake and Heath checked each other for ticks. The song they perform is Katy Perry's recent chart-topper 'Teenage Dream', given a nice acapella all-boys-together makeover. It's clear from the look on Kurt's face that this is one dream that's likely to cost him a fortune in laundered bed-linen.

And yet, despite the fact that this is possibly the three gayest minutes in the history of network TV, mainstream audiences have embraced it with open trousers arms. The audio version of the track is already set to become Glee's best selling song to date, shifting 200, 000 downloads in its first week on release.

As Murphy pointed out: "That’s our biggest-selling single ever in the history of the show and the fact that it’s one boy singing to another boy on a network television show and it’s a No. 1 song... is a very profound thing that I’m personally very proud of. It just shows to me that people are hungry for that."

Bold TV producers have spent years attempting to raise acceptance of homosexuality through boundary-pushing, taboo breaking depictions of the gay experience. Turns out, all they needed was a troupe of close-harmony vocalists and the Katy Perry songbook. Who knew?

PS. It wouldn't be a gay anthem without a hands-in-the-air remix, so here it is...

Glee Cast - Teenage Dream (DJ MichaelAngelo's Sing Mix)(DJ DigiMark Remix Video) from DJ DigiMark on Vimeo.

Sunday, 14 November 2010

A-list for effort

If you switched on the news last week you'd have been forgiven for thinking that the end of the world was nigh. On Wednesday, a bunch of students threw down their rolling papers in disgust and stormed the Conservative headquarters to protest the government's decision to increase tuition fees. Fire extinguishers were thrown, placards were waved and hair went unwashed.

Those arguing in favour of tuition fees are quick to point out the abuses and indulgences of academia as reason enough for people to fund their own studies. And based on an 'exclusive' feature in today's Mail On Sunday, I have to concede that they have a point.

Plugging her new book Starstruck, Elizabeth Currid-Halkett has written about her "major research project at the University of Southern California" to "understand the mechanics behind celebrity".

Sounds promising - even more intellectually robust than a degree in Lady Gaga studies. So what alarming insights has Currid-Halkett uncovered in the process of unravelling the mystery of modern celebrity?

Erm... well, apparently famous people have their pictures taken in London, Los Angeles and New York. She knows this because she and her colleague Gilad Ravid waded through 600,000 shots on Getty Images. As Elizabeth explains: "stars need to show up in key locations". I can smell the Pulitzer from here.

But there's more. Celebs also go to places like Sundance Film Festival, even if, like Paris Hilton, they don't actually have a film in competition.

Paris gets special mention, since she represents the kind of person who is "all celebrity - their fame driven by the ink spilled about them in gossip columns". But Paris and her ilk also understand the importance of keeping the company of A-listers, which helps to keep their profile high, because "celebrity networks produce a very different outcome" than meeting a few friends for dinner.

Liz's final silver bullet is the previously undiscovered gem that "celebrities cultivate a collective obsession with their personas which requires making themselves available." Astounding stuff, I'm sure you'll agree.

So, what have we learned here? Celebrities have their pictures taken, mix with other famous people and live their lives in the public eye. That was a year well-spent.

This bewilderingly pointless article ends with the following paragraph: "One thing has become abundantly clear: with the billions of pounds backing it, the millions of jobs created and society's seemingly unyielding desire for more, celebrity is a social and economic phenomenon worth taking seriously." Sadly, the same can't be said for the burgeoning phenomenon of celebrity studies. Please see me after class.

Friday, 12 November 2010

Smoking guns

As the X-Factor reaches the mid-point, it's clear who's tipped to win. Better head down to your local William Hill and place your bets now. I'll put a tenner on Simon Cowell - he's got this one in the bag.

Not with his hopeless attempt at resurrecting the age of the manufactured boyband - One Direction have all the charisma and vocal skills of nursery school pantomime. With slightly less body hair.

Simon's laughing all the way to the bank because once again, those timely 'leaks' from 'unnamed sources' have ensured that the X-Factor has dominated every tabloid front page for the last six weeks. In fact, I don't know why Syco even bothered launching 'The Official X-Factor Magazine' when the Sun or Daily Mail could have just redesigned their masthead and fitted the bill perfectly.

Sadly, the majority of the viewing public accept every bulletin, exclusive and revelation as though it's the gospel truth, and willingly subject themselves to the constant press maniupulation. This week it reached its nadir as Cheryl Cole refused to send one of her acts home, leaving the show's producers to go to a majority vote.

Unfortuantely, a brief interview with the Sun about how the show is put together, led tabloid hacks to proclaim that the show's host Dermot O'Leary had given them the smoking gun with which they could prove that the entire show is rigged.

The Daily Mail claimed: "One of the most controversial X Factor shows ever was last night exposed as nothing more than a charade. Presenter Dermot O’Leary revealed that Cheryl Cole’s decision not to vote when two of her acts were up against each other to escape the axe had been planned all along."

Except that's not really what happened at all. As Dermot explained (and then re-explained on Twitter for the hard-of-thinking audience), producers had briefly conferred about how to proceed if Cheryl refused to participate. Rather than casting a vote to take the decision to deadlock (which then reveals the lowest audience vote), Cheryl abstained completely. This way, the producers had a pre-prepared contingency to add a little more drama to the proceedings - in effect punishing Cheryl for non-participation.

Hardly a conspiracy to rival '9-11 was an inside job'. Assuming for a second that these mindless journalists actually believe any of the trash they print, how do they think a live show gets made? Does Dermot make it up as he goes along, with someone waving at the back of the studio to let him know when the time's up? Perhaps next week they'll uncover the name of the show's Stage Manager and use that as evidence that the show is planned ahead of time. 

The press want us to believe that Simon Cowell wants Katie to win, when nothing could be further from the truth. At best, she's good value to the X-Factor because the press are obsessed with her. On the rare occasion where they and the public are aligned in their distate for someone, it legitimises their love of bullying and gives them carte blanche to proceed without caution. 

The fact is, Katie can shout "sod it", drop to her knees and beg people to vote for her, like she did in last week's sing-off. But the audience have made it quite clear that she's a taste which none of us have acquired.  She, like Wagner, is only in the show for one reason. And winning isn't it. 

If audiences are genuinely furious about being manipulated, maybe they need to stop mooing long enough to question the bullshit they consume everyday, and remember that ultimately, it's a singing contest. The moment you make it any more than the sum of its parts, people start getting hurt. But you can bet that Simon Cowell won't be one of them. 

Thursday, 11 November 2010

Another childhood memory ruined

We can all thank Hollywood for introducing the word 'reimagining' into the cultural lexicon. This horrible term manages to distance film makers from the admission that they've run out of fresh ideas, whilst at the same time allowing them to declare that they can improve on a classic story.

But the 'reimagining' phenomenon isn't exclusive to movies - it's also starting to make itself felt in other media, such as children's stories. The latest example, currently being held up as an example of 'what happens when liberals get hold of much-loved stories' - is the tale of three little pigs.

You know how it goes - three pigs, three different building materials, and a lupine Jehovah's Witness that's determined to his paw in the door. There's more huffing and puffing than an Ann Widdecombe/John Sergeant dance-off, and it ends with the third pig congratulating himself for choosing a brick domicile as he cooks the wolf for supper. 

Times change, and so too do the cultural references we all recognise. So someone obviously thought it was a good idea to give the porcine triplets a 21st century update. In the new version of the story, piggy number three is clearly an architecture student, and erects a fancy adobe-style residence. 

His two siblings aren't just gormless straw and twig-dwellers either. They diagnose the wolf's laboured breathing as signs of myocardial infarction, and offer to do the counting as their brother administers CPR. Once he's recovered, the wolf tells his saviours that he had no intention of 'eating them up' (he's a vegetarian of course), and was simply looking for flatmates. 

In the fairy tale books of my childhood, the pigs would have cut open the wolf, filled his belly with rocks and tipped him down a well before he had a chance to offer to whip up a caramelised onion quiche. Instead, these prickly porkers "throw up their hooves in exasperation" and berate the wolf for his failure to communicate clearly. Having forced him to say his line again, the pigs decide to let their new pal move in and even "remodel the adobe house so that there was room for all of them". In fact, all that's missing from this thoroughly modern update is Kevin McCloud on hand to film the building work. 

All of the values introduced in this new version of the story are worthwhile - co-operation, communication, understanding, even the gentrification of neighbourhoods. The problem is, it spoils the simplicity of the message and confuses kids as to the intention of the story. "I'll huff and I'll puff and I'll build you a nice new wet-room" just doesn't have the same ring to it. 

Wednesday, 10 November 2010

Dressed to distress

I miss Points Of View. I know it's still on, buried somewhere in the Sunday afternoon schedule, but there was a time when it was real must-see TV. 

For those of you too young to remember its heyday, the show gave BBC viewers the chance to write in and vent their spleens about the channels' output. Although Esther Rantzen, Barry Took and Anne Robinson are no longer sitting patiently whilst paid-by-the-hour actors read out a series of irate missives from 'disgusted of Tunbridge Wells', the spirit of the show is alive and well.

But if current presenter Jeremy Vine isn't your cup of tea, you can thank heavens for the Daily Mail, which gives those solitary voices of discontent an alternative forum for sharing their outdated, flat-Earth views of Auntie's programming. The newest controversy to "cause a storm" on the network comes in the form of an inappropriate outfit during BBC One's Countryfile.

But rather than a pair of crotchless knickers on BBC Breakfast, or a low-cut party dress on Songs of Praise, the offending ensemble was a relatively inoffensive sweater and a pair of jeans. On the not entirely unappealing form of Tomasz Schafernaker.

Admittedly, Countryfile is a show aimed at the elderly, infirm and terminally rural. Even so, it's remarkable to think that anyone could be "upset" by the idea of a casually dressed weatherman.

However, viewer Stephen Jones, 35, disagrees. He told reporters (on a slow news day, presumably) "I thought I had tuned into Newsround or Blue Peter for a minute when I saw the main presenter wearing jeans and a jumper. I've heard of having dress-down days before but I didn't think the BBC went in for that. When you are presenting to the nation, especially on the BBC, surely you should look as professional as possible, not like someone who's just come in from off the street."

It's hard to understand how anyone could be offended by a V-neck sweater. He was even wearing a poppy, for Christ's sake. But since we're talking about the Daily Mail here, I'm willing to put my disbelief on hold. 

They love any opportunity to bash the BBC, and run through all of Tomasz's previous run-ins with the powers that be. He accidentally forecast "muddy shite" for Glastonbury, and in 2007 referred to the Outer Hebrides as "nowheresville". Maybe he should be sacked for being accurate - that's not what we expect from our weather forecasters. 

To be fair, weather presenters are notorious for showcasing less personality than an unbranded muesli bar. As his recent 'obscene gesture' showcased, at least Schafernaker has a playful sense of humour. Not to mention a rack that you could dry your dishes on. 

If anyone wants to complain about the BBC, perhaps they should be writing letters of protest about the decision to switch the telegenic Schafernaker to radio. 

Tuesday, 9 November 2010

Protesting too much?

Oh Nadine!

It should have all been so easy. She's got the voice, the swishy hair, and legs like a pubescent giraffe. Her solo career should have been a no-brainer.

Unfortunately for the Chupa-Chup chanteuse, she's the no-brainer in question. Why else would she have decided to sign an exclusive deal with Tesco for her debut album? I can picture the scene now: "I'm just popping to the supermarket to pick up some Toilet Duck, Mini-Kievs and the new Nadine Coyle CD."

Now, to hear Nadine tell it (in an accent that could warp a copper kettle), it's all about the music. In looking for a home for her solo career, she claims that she turned down all the major labels, in favour of the one with 'value' on it.

Describing the bidding war that sprung up when Nadine announced plans to branch out on her own, her manager claims "It wasn't just waving cheque books at her. Tesco has a massive marketing campaign, which is innovative. It uses every aspect of Teco's canopy of services: the entertainment section, the cosmetics... Tesco card holders...Nadine is putting the launch of the rest of her life in the hands of a company that she trusts. And we will get their undivided attention." As long as there's not a recall on frozen sausage rolls.

He has a point. Whilst her bandmate had to settle for a full-scale production in front of 15 million TV viewers, lucky old Nadine was invited to perform to a bunch of Tesco executives at their annual management conference. Score!

Last Sunday it was revealed that Nadine's debut single Insatiable had limped to number 26 in the charts, as Cheryl's second CD entered the album charts at number one. But Nadine's not bitter, her lips are just naturally pursed.

She told Star magazine "To be honest, I'm happier doing what I'm doing now, no matter what the sales are like. I'd rather be singing in pubs for 50 quid a night and be happy than doing something that I wasn't really interested in or passionate about. For me, it's not about money or fame or getting on big television shows - it's about being happy with myself."

I'm not sure exactly which 'big television show' she's talking about. It must be yet another passive-aggressive dig at the Nation's Sweetheart. Because she couldn't possibly be referring the Irish edition of Popstars which she lied about her age to take part in. Or Popstars: The Rivals, which saw her win a place in Girls Aloud. That would be like biting the hand that feeds her (then sticks its finger down her throat).

But it's hard to know what Nadine means. She's not exactly consistent when it comes to talking about her life or career. She can claim that it's all about being happy, and yet in the next breath she says that she's "absolutely gutted" that she only just scraped into the top 30.

Cheryl might have "the power of The X Factor and Simon Cowell behind her", but she also has the goodwill of the nation. And that's worth more than the other two put together. Nadine may have the better voice, but she's also got a massive chip on her shoulder. Not that she'd ever dream of eating it.

Monday, 8 November 2010

Voices from beyond the grave

Despite the persistent rumours that he was in dire financial straits, the revelation that Michael Jackson was almost half a billon in debt when he died, shocked everyone. $400 million? How many giant Egyptian vases did he buy?

But like all those dodgy husbands in Ashley Judd thrillers, Michael's management knew he was worth more dead than alive. So it's hardly surprising that in the first 12 months since he died, his estate earned over $275 million. This was one cloud with a gold-plated lining. And if he'd still been alive, Michael would probably have bought six of them.

So now the albums have been repackaged, the movie has been released, and the souvenir plates have been printed and shipped. What's left to sell?

Well, how about all those discarded demos and unreleased snippets - the sweepings from the studio floor.  Don't worry, those canny record label execs are one step ahead of you, and have managed to cobble together an entire album of 'previously unheard' material.

The output of this exercise in cynical grave-robbing keeping Michael's memory alive will be released on December 14. In the meantime, you can head over to and hear 'Breaking News', the lead single from the album.

The King of Pop may be but a distant memory, but the new track sounds just as derivative and repetitive as if he was still here with us - burying a lack of ideas and well-ground axe in a soup of over-produced rhythms. The song opens with a series of melodramatic audio samples from (fictionalised) news reports about Jackson himself. By the time the main part of the song kicks in, you'd be forgiven for thinking you were listening to second-rate mid-nineties album track 'Tabloid Junkie'.

However, when Michael starts singing you know you're in all-new territory. Largely because it doesn't really sound like Michael Jackson. Dig past the "propulsive, robotic... thumping, skittering beat" (I've got a headache just writing about it) and the "lively strings", and you'll be hard pressed to identify who's singing.

All his stylistic ticks, whoops and hiccups are present and correct, but it all just sounds a little too synthesized. Perhaps that's why Jackson's own family have questioned the song's legitimacy - alleging that the vocals were performed by an impersonator. Michael's nephew TJ claimed on Twitter "Sampled breaths after sampled breaths mixed in with fake vocals to try to fool u They said this is 100% my Uncle. Not 70, 80 or 90 but a 100%. Every line, every word. My Uncle's legacy didn't deserve this!"

Sony were quick to defend themselves against the accusations, stating "complete confidence in the results of our extensive research as well as the accounts of those who were in the studio with Michael that the vocals on the new album are his own."

But does it really matter? After all, maybe all the fans want is the illusion. During his lifetime Michael Jackson became a caricature of himself - from the dancing and vocals to the image and styling. So it wouldn't be too hard to keep generating MJ-style output to keep the hungry fans satiated. A little like the publishing empire that built up around the legacy of author V.C. Andrews after she died.

As Michael himself once promised: "I can thrill you more than any ghost would ever dare try..."

Sunday, 7 November 2010

Shut up and sing?

Ever since the golden age of disco, female singers have been intermittently churning out gay-friendly anthems to encourage and support their sparkliest fans. The songs themselves haven't always been explicitly pro-gay, but they tend to have a message that can be easily applied to the trials and tribulations of post-closet life.

These days, however, the divas are getting much more active when it comes to voicing their support for the gay community, beyond the occasional PA in a clothing-optional nightspot. Katy Perry, Lady Gaga and Ke$ha have all become outspoken advocates of homosexuality, consigning Gloria Gaynor and Diana Ross to the bargain bin of homo-activism.

Despite still being months away from an official release, Gaga's 'Born This Way' is already being talked up by no less than Elton John as the ultimate gay rights anthem. So far, all anyone's heard is a short acappella snippet that Gaga performed whilst accepting her MTV Music Video Award. But that was enough to inspire a bunch of DJs to turn the sample into a stomping anthem that's been doing the rounds in every club from Christopher Street to the Castro.

Katy Perry's new single Firework is also being talked up as the official soundtrack of the 'It Gets Better' movement. Having pledged her support for the anti-bullying YouTube campaign, Katy managed to tear herself away from her epic nuptials long enough to tweet that "Everyone has the spark to be a firework.”

The video for the song features two boys snogging each other's faces off as a series of spectacular pyrotechnics burst from Katy's dynamic décolletage. This is starting to become something of a trend for the new Mrs Brand, since the film clip for her previous single 'California Girls' featured cans of whipped cream exploding from her bikini top. At this rate, by the time her third album is released, she'll have lactated the entire periodic table.

But the real surprise is Ke$ha - a girl with less depth than her own calendar. She's managed to cobble together a timely answer to the outbreak of suicides in the form of a new song called 'We R Who We R'. Presumably she was in such a rush to record it that she didn't have time to sort out the punctuation.
It turns out that when she's not brushing her teeth with bourbon and clambering out a skip, Ke$ha spends her time thinking about people “who haven’t felt accepted because of their sexuality.” 
Her new song is a rallying cry (autotuned, natch) for "people [to be] themselves unapologetically". Although it sounds like a rehashed megamix of all her other singles, Ke$ha believes that she's struck solid glitter this time - "I never could have imagined how much impact my music could have on people. I realized that through pop music, I have the opportunity to stand up for something I believe in.” Even if standing is something that she has trouble doing unaided. 
No doubt the critics will carp that it's all a cynical exercise in selling records and aligning themselves with all the right social issues. And at the end of the day, what difference can a bunch of pampered pop-stars really make? A lot, according to activist and sex columnist Dan Savage. He told the New York Times: “These songs are countering a hateful message that a peer, family member, politician or a bully might be saying. I get frustrated with gay politicos who discount or undermine the importance of pop stars. They’re a huge part of this fight.”
OK, it might be cause for concern that vapid pop tarts like Katy Perry and Ke$ha are the only hope for the world's disaffected gay teens. But given the amount of support they can expect to receive from this niche audience once they find the nerve to throw open the closet door, it's the least they can do.

Thursday, 4 November 2010

Next stop, D-list

Channel 4's hit show Coach Trip has always been a rather downmarket affair. Everything, from the casting to the itinerary, seems designed to make viewers feel as though all that's missing is Reg Varney.

So forgive me for feeling a little cynical about the recently announced 'Celebrity Coach Trip'. We're all fully aware of just how debased the word 'celebrity' has become, so it stands to reason that the new edition of the travel/game show isn't likely to be attracting too many A-listers.

Not that anyone seems to have told host Brendan Sheerin. In an interview with Digital Spy, the camp coach commandant talks viewers through the illustrious roll-call of names we can expect to see queuing to use the chemical toilet on board.

After several years of playing peace-keeper to a bunch of argumentative chavs and horny teenagers, it's clear that Brendan is delighted to have a bus full of stars to raise the tone of the show. He says "There's great excitement about it. My first feeling was, 'well what celebrities will we have?' If there are a lot of egos, it might be a problem. But they weren't like that at all. They just do extraordinary jobs, you know."

Extraordinary jobs? Really? Given that the most famous people taking part in the new series are the Chuckle Brothers, it's safe to assume that Brendan is a less than reliable witness.

Imogen Thomas and Bianca Gascoigne? Carol Harrison and Ingrid Tarrant? Raef and Ben from The Apprentice? They don't even have jobs, never mind extraordinary ones.

Funnily enough, despite Brendan's glee at playing host to this glittering array of stars, it's clear that he's already got his eye on making the leap from audience member to participant. Asked if he'd be willing to appear on a celebrity reality show, he answers "I'm too busy doing Coach Trip really, but I would, I would. I'd be up for anything, within reason. I think it would be a lot of fun actually."

At this rate, we'll soon have celebrity editions of some of our best loved shows featuring anyone who's been seen jamming a screwdriver into an ATM on CCTV. Or anyone who's had a letter printed in their local weekly free paper. 

Join me in the race to the bottom - we're almost there...