Monday, 31 January 2011

Crowning glory

Well, the wedding preparations are in full swing for the happy couple. The hen night venue's been booked (Bar 86 in Kensington, if you're interested), the wedding list has been prepared (donations to charity or a Breville sandwich toaster) and honeymoon locations are being scouted. Apparently, the Scilly Isles are a hot favourite, although not literally - this is England after all. 

So what are the rest of us to do in the run-up to William and Kate's big day? No doubt there'll be hours of breathless news coverage right up to the moment of conjugal penetration - perhaps Jennie Bond can come out of retirement to talk us through that bit - but even 24/7 reportage is unlikely to satiate our hunger for Royal tittle-tattle.

At times like these, faced with the mundanity of our own drab little lives, we should be thankful for the makers of souvenir memorabilia. That quintessentially British habit of marking any momentous occasion with a celebratory piece of cheaply-printed flatware.

But although plate-makers are currently rubbing their hands together at the prospect of the forthcoming nuptials, other canny industries are also looking for a piece of the hot royal action. Between now and the 29th April, we're going to buried under a tsunami of unwanted ephemera, bearing the happy couple's long-faced likenesses. Cups, flags, banners, bunting, T-shirts, hats - you name it, someone's making it.

Perhaps the most surprising addition to the ever-expanding line-up of commemorative tat, is a new range of 'Crown Jewels' condoms. For just £5.00, you can vicariously participate in the Royal deflowering with a "triumvirate of regal prophylactics". You can't eat a sandwich off them, but just think of the stories you could tell the grandkids.

The official website declares that the 'boîte de capotes' combines "the strength of a Prince with the yielding sensitivity of a Princess-to-be" and "includes a collectable portrait of the Royal Couple as they might appear on their wedding day" although, hopefully, not on their wedding night.

Since you can't ever have innovation without outrage, Ingrid Seward, editor of Majesty Magazine, has criticised the condoms as "completely tasteless and rather hurtful". Was she was hoping they'd be ribbed and flavoured for her pleasure?

Before you get too excited, it's worth pointing out the website's disclaimer: "Crown Jewels Royal Wedding Souvenir Condoms are a novelty condom not suitable for contraception or protection against STDs." So they look the part, but are largely useless. On second thoughts, maybe they're an effective reminder of the happy couple after all.

Sunday, 30 January 2011

Recipes for success

In case you hadn't noticed, there's an obesity epidemic that's threatening to wipe out great swathes of the population with one sweep of its giant bingo wing. By 2015, most crematoriums will be out of business - they'll just burn the house down around us, like Gilbert Grape's mother.

But help is at hand, with countless TV experts willing to convince us that a tea-cup of celery broth is just as delicious as a quarter-pounder dipped in Krispy Kreme frosting. Sadly, the road to hell is paved with good intentions, not to mention littered with discarded KFC boxes.

It's going to take more than '101 things to do with watercress' for the world to look good in a pair of jeggings. Healthy eating and a balanced diet takes education, culture change and money.

How else would you explain the inexplicably idiotic Food Network website? An online archive of favourite recipes from America's most popular cooking celebrities, the site boasts some staggeringly idiotic suggestions. 

Fancy a late night snack? How about 'Microwave Bacon' from Rachael Ray, which involves bacon, kitchen towel and a microwave. Or maybe you're looking for a delicious side dish, in which case you can try Paula Deen's complex recipe for English Peas - simply add butter to tinned peas in a pan. I'm not sure how that qualifies as 'English', but then Paula is a law unto herself, having famously found a way to deep fry a cheesecake

The latest addition to the Food Network is 'Dark Chocolate As A Snack'. It's a tricky one, this - eat dark chocolate. As a snack. Demonstrating an artful economy of words, Ellie Krieger's contribution is a recipe, serving suggestion and meal title in just five words. 

At the opposite end of the foodie spectrum is Le Whaf - essentially a high-priced alternative to having Michael Winner belch in your face after a good dinner. Rather than eating the food, you're invited to stick your head over a giant goldfish bowl and inhale the delicious vapours. 

Lemon tart, tomato soup, whisky - according to Professor David Edwards, who invented the concept, pretty much any comestible can be turned into mouth-watering smoke. The way he sees it, we could soon find ourselves enjoying a meal by walking around a restaurant, "Instead of eating food, you’re breathing it in as you walk from room to room, each with a different flavour. Celery in one. Steak in another. Then pate." But how do you disassociate yourself from the process when you pay a visit to the bathroom? 

Given that foods need to be specially prepared and liquidised in order to be whaffable, it's safe to assume that you won't be able to pick up a cartridge in your local Iceland. So the fact that "ten minutes of whaffing produce only 200 calories" is a benefit likely to be lost on the majority of the population. 

The rest of us will be stuck inhaling our chicken nuggets the old-fashioned way. And then wondering why everything we wear has an elasticated waistband. 

Friday, 28 January 2011

That's what friends are for

It's nice to know that, in a world so full of change, there are some things we can always rely on. Toast will always fall butter side down, Katie Price will accuse the 'haters' of creating her negative media persona, and Rupert Everett will always blame Hollywood homophobia for his stalled career.

It doesn't seem to matter, in his mind at least, that his once-handsome face is now so frozen it's only missing a lolly stick. Or that in a world of 'chameleonic' performers, he seems to have a pigmentation disorder.

In a recent interview with the BBC, he was quick to point the finger at the conservative powers-that-be, for his short-lived tenure in tinseltown. But his is something of a revisionist approach to history, since he seems less willing to admit his own failings, particularly in terms of role selection. Anyone willing to work on Inspector Gadget and Dunston Checks In is hardly panning for gold when reading new scripts.

Everett's time in the spotlight came after his breakout role in My Best Friend's Wedding, where he played the 'other' best friend of Julia Roberts. Full of catty put-downs, curt monologues and impromptu karaoke moments, Rupert's performance effectively established the template for a generation of safely sexless gays, that could be dropped into any romantic comedy to show the heroine's impecable taste and grounded sense of perspective.

OK, so at least we've moved on from the sissies of the fifties and sixties, or the psycho-queens of the seventies and eighties. But a stereotype is still a stereotype. And it simply creates a new set of preconceptions that modern gay men have to battle every day.

The gay man is now an indispensable accessory, always on hand to give fashion or dating advice, and dance suggestively whenever their gal-pal's heart gets bruised. We've been relegated to the human equivalent of the Sony AIBO, but with immaculate hair and great shoes.

Thanks to the rom-com GBF, countless gay men have been forced into a kind of indentured servitude - spending their days holding coats outside changing rooms, ordering Flirtinis when they'd rather have a beer, and inventing scandalous stories about their exploits to amuse gaggles of vicarious thrill-seekers.

Even tougher than all that forced lasciviousness, is the need to be ready with a biting quip or sassy put-down, like the Joan Rivers Greek chorus. The fact is, not all "the best ones are gay". There are bad dancers, tedious bores, and terrible dressers. That's the nature of diversity, uncomfortable though it may be to admit.

This week, stand-up comedian, actor and author Patton Oswalt talked to Conan O'Brien about a recent audition for a Kate Hudson romantic comedy. Incensed by the script's somewhat cliche characterisation, Oswalt offered to portray the "first dumb gay best friend". He didn't get the gig.

Screenwriters may think that they're doing their bit to normalise homosexuality by including these two-dimensional characters in every film. But you're not increasing visibility if all you're creating is a mirage.

Thursday, 27 January 2011

Playing it safe

The other day, flicking through a film magazine, I was reminded of the fact that it's not just Harry Potter who's had his final adventure split into two films. Sensing the opportunity to milk, slaughter and process their cash cow into delicious money burgers, the producers of the Twilight series have decided to make two movies out of Bella and Edward's final bow.

Anyone cringing in dread at the prospect of four hours of Breaking Dawn, can at least take solace in the fact that our perpetually perturbed pair finally get to satisfy their lustful urges. Within the bounds of unholy matrimony of course, but hey, it's a start.

Like countless millions of other viewers, I'm continually perplexed by the enduring popularity of the series, primarily because it neglects the two key components required in all vampire literature and film. Sex and blood.

For a moment, it looked as though Eclipse might finally do something right, when an epic battle took place between the good vampires, evil vampires and Native American werewolves. The trailer hinted at beheadings and limb removal on a scale that would make the battle of Helm's Deep look like a scuffle in BestBuy on Black Friday.

Instead, what we got was a bunch of vampires that shattered like Swarovski crystal animals. And the closest we came to sex was a bit of homoerotic interplay between vampire Edward and lupine Jacob, that came across like an elderly businessman trying to hook up with a plushie.

Thankfully, the producers of TV's Vampire Diaries have a much better grasp on the relevance of sex when it comes to fanged creatures of the night. Try googling 'vampire diaries sex' and you'll see stories about "hot cougar sex", "awkward sex" and "hot cave sex". That's a lot of sex.

Suddenly, the show's new ad campaign makes a little more sense. Along Sunset Boulevard and in Times Square, new billboards have been appearing to publicise the show's mid-season return, encouraging viewers to 'Catch VD'. Perhaps focus groups rejected the more explicit "Our show is so great it'll make your pee sting".

I suppose we could quibble about the appropriateness of encouraging sexually irresponsible behaviour amongst its target audience, but that's not really the issue. The campaign is certainly creating word-of-mouth, but I can't see too many people making a positive association between their favourite teen drama and gonorrhea.

Then again, maybe this is just the final point on a journey that began in the mid-eighties, when vampirism was raised from the story-telling dead and reappropriated as an AIDS analogy. High risk sexual behaviour, a condition transmitted by blood, an ostracised sub-culture - the stories practically wrote themselves.

If that all sounds a little too real world, you can always stick with the Twilight franchise, where the closest Kristen Stewart is going to come to a herpes sore is by chewing her own lip. Alternatively, if you enjoy the mix of sexuality and death, just wait for Lady Gaga's forthcoming fragrance, which promises a heady bouquet of semen and blood. A couple of dabs and you'll smell like Lestat in a bathhouse.

Wednesday, 26 January 2011

He wants your sex, apparently

It's almost the end of January, but sunny days and bright evenings still feel so far away. Every day is like watching an Ingmar Bergman retrospective. In the original Swedish. It's no wonder half the country is wandering around in a fug, complaining of Seasonal Affective Disorder.

Unless, of course, they're George Michael. Having £120 million in the bank means you can afford to follow the summer around the world, so the only clouds you need ever see are the ones that occasionally form in your bong water. 

Rather than terrorising London's photo developing shops, everyone's favourite mishap-prone Greek (besides Prince Philip) is currently living it up in Sydney, where he divides his time between a rented cliff-top apartment and suites at the Park Hyatt Hotel. In the afternoons he likes to pop into The Hunky Dory Social Club for a glass of white wine, and can often be found grabbing a bite to eat at The Manta Ray restaurant. 

Whether it's the sun, the lifestyle or the countless burly truckers, something about Australia seems to agree with George. And the feeling's mutual - George is still very big down-under, as if all that distressed denim he used to wear left us in any doubt. 

I'm sorry, what was that? You don't care where George Michael stopps off for a chilled Chablis? Well somebody must. Otherwise, why else would the Daily Mail choose to run an entire article about his Australian exploits? 

Reading between the lines (few of which seem to actually connect with one another), the poorly-written story isn't really about George's recreational activities. It's just another opportunity to paint gays with a broad brushstroke, as a subspecies of sexually deviant hedonists. 

It starts out accusing a fan of posting a fake George Michael profile on 'Scruff', a networking app for guys into "bears, furred, inked, uniformed, jocks, geeks and more." This, despite the fact that the leader on the paper's homepage incorrectly states that his profile is on the "sordid site Grindr". 

Six paragraphs in, and the story changes. Now, the paper has decided that it's George himself who has created the profile, using the name 'Sydney rocks'. Another three paragraphs later, it's back to an official spokesperson for the singer, who says "We hear about stories like this all the time and they always turn out to be pranks." So is it George, or an overzealous fan? In the Mail's eyes, it doesn't really matter. 

Interestingly, the writer even makes reference to the fact that George was happy to "rub elbows with the hoi polloi" - a disingenuous statement that manages to make him sound like an aloof elitist, even as it acknowledges that that's not the case at all. And anyway, if he is on Scruff or Grindr, it's not their elbows that he's interested in rubbing. 

But who cares about things like facts and narrative, when you've got a lifestyle to disparage? It's far more important to reference George's entourage of "shrieking male pals" or the fact that he's been busy "painting Australia’s largest city pink for the last month." 

This lazily homophobic article comes as no surprise, especially from a paper which recently caricatured two gay men excluded from a Christian-run bed and breakfast as swastika-tattooed Nazis. Or that ran a Melanie Phillips column this week, lamenting the fact that "just about everything in Britain is now run according to the gay agenda." 

If there is such a thing as a gay agenda, it's been developed by mean spirited tabloid hacks to portray the gay community as a bunch of insidious, morally bankrupt "McCarthyites". They're keeping their fingers crossed that, rather than looking for evidence and reason, their readership will be willing to take it on Faith

Tuesday, 25 January 2011

Pump it up

If you've ever suffered from a crippling bout of insomnia, or found yourself stuck on a cable channel when the TV remote batteries failed, you're probably a fan of the infomercial. Half an hour of specially created content, designed to batter you over the head with sales messages until you're punching your credit card details into the phone like a hypnotically activated sleeper agent.

This week, the world of informercials lost one of its most prominent celebrities - the seemingly unstoppable (until pneumonia had other ideas) Jack LaLanne. To TV audiences, he'll be most recognisable as the spokesman for the 'Juice Tiger', an aggressively powerful kitchen accessory that could squeeze a delicious glass of vitamins out of a smashed-up rocking chair.

Irrepressibly energetic and passionate about eating healthily, Jack would bound onto the kitchen set of 'Amazing Discoveries' dressed in an unforgiving purple spandex body suit that made him resemble Grimace's anorexic granddad. He'd then proceed to crush and grind pretty much any organic material that came to hand, promising that the resultant mulch would give you more energy and 'lifelong fitness'.

All the while, he'd be ably supported by a co-host in a sweater who would 'oooh' and 'aaaah' as though his airways were constricted. It's no wonder the excitable studio audience was always happy to cheer and wave their carefully fanned handfuls of notes to express their willingness to buy. Who needs The Event or Lost, when you've got this kind of excitement on TV?

So as we reflect back on the life of the man who claimed to have invented the modern gym concept, it's interesting to note that this month also marks the twenty-fifth anniversary of the first ever infomercial. Back in the mid-eighties, it took a single weightlifting machine to transform viewing habits forever.

Spotting a gap in the market (as well as an unsightly dent in the couch cushions), Jerry Lee Wilson was inspired to create the Soloflex - an all-new at-home exercise device that promised to transform gullible punters from flab to fab. And after a few years of running magazine ads that could teach Dolce & Gabanna a few things about objectifying the male body, he took his invention to TV. Ad prices were on the rise, and the recent Cable Communications Policy Act had legalised the broadcast of 'advertorial' content.

Wilson figured that what his product really needed was the TV version of a Hoover at-home demonstration, just one where the salesman covered himself in oil and stripped down to a pair of microshorts. Unlike today's infomercials, which attempt to convince people in trailer parks that they can whip up a rack of cornish game hens in a rotisserie the size of shoe-box, Wilson's original infomercial offered empowerment rather than unattainably aspirational lifestyles.

However, that's not say that the broadcast didn't indulge in its own hyperbole. Scott Madsen, the "genetically perfect" spokesmodel for Soloflex, became more lusted-after than the product itself, even inspiring his own poster book. But at least his fans were guaranteed a work-out on one arm.

These days, it's hard to turn on the TV without seeing some spandex-clad monstrosity inviting the camera to "inspect her buns", whilst shaking, flexing and pumping in the world's largest dining room. And don't forget, these increasingly complex contraptions fold away and can be neatly tucked under the bed. That is, if you don't mind dragging the fucking thing up a flight of stairs after you've used it.

But as long as we have credit cards, self-esteem issues and short attention spans, infomercials will continue to haunt the schedules like ghosts with unfinished business. And they won't stop until every cupboard, closet and crawlspace is crammed full of machinery that's as easy to clean and use, as it is to forget about.

Monday, 24 January 2011

Bad bath and beyond

We all have different ways of unwinding after a stressful day. Some people drink until they sound like Amy Winehouse accepting a Grammy. Others prefer to go clubbing for a class-A kind of night. Me, I like to soak in the bath.

I admit that this might make me sound like my life is about as racy as an omnibus of Larkrise to Candleford, but I don't care. Give me bubbles, a glass of wine and about half an hour, and the pressures of the day float away, like so many dead skin cells.

I can't be alone in this, since supermarket shelves are laden with all kinds of potions, lotions and unctions designed to transform floating around in your own detritus into a blissful spa-like experience. There are even whole stores dedicated to enhancing our bathtime. We've all turned the corner in a shopping mall, only to walk face-first into a wall of overbearing fragrance, billowing out of LUSH like smoke from a burning pile of leaves.

Personally, I've never felt much benefit from the various Radox treatments that I diligently pour into the bathtub. But maybe I've just been doing it wrong all these years.

Instead of tipping bath salts into the running water, I should have been freebasing them. Apparently it's all the rage in the States, even if it does have some alarming side effects. Finding himself less than satiated by more traditional narcotics, such as heroin and crack, Mississippi native Neil Brown got high on bath salts instead - only to suffer a series of terrifying hallucinations that made him take a skinning knife to his face and stomach. The worst I've ever done is try to give myself a bubblebath mohican.

Switching from the medicine cabinet to the bathroom cabinet, resourceful junkies are snorting, injecting and smoking powders with names like Ivory Wave, Red Dove and Vanilla Sky. And since a pack can be picked up for less than $20, they're even bagging a bargain with their burgeoning new habit.

The authorities should have seen it coming, since the bath powders contain legally available stimulants such as mephedrone and methylenedioxypyrovalerone, also found in plant food. But now, with 125 calls to Louisiana's Poison Centre in the last quarter of 2010, the pressure's on to ban the products before it becomes a full-scale epidemic.

Dr Mark Ryan told reporters: "MDPV and mephedrone are made in a lab, and they aren't regulated because they're not marketed for human consumption. The stimulants affect neurotransmitters in the brain. It causes intense cravings for it. They'll binge on it three or four days before they show up in an ER. Even though it's a horrible trip, they want to do it again and again." 

The one upside is that heavy users should at least be easy to spot, with silkily clean hair and pruned finger-tips. And just think how much harder it would have been for Whitney's sister-in-law to sell those pictures of her and Bobby's druggy bathroom, if all they showed were a series of decorative glass bowls. 

Sunday, 23 January 2011

This one's taken

For a while in the late nineties, Ally McBeal managed to perfectly capture the zeitgeist for modern career women. OK, so not everyone fantasised about CGI babies and worked over a bar where Sting and Barry White would drop in for a quick sing-song. But like her UK counterpart Bridget Jones, Ally bravely tackled issues of romance, dating and career progression in a frothy, lighthearted way.

Despite the many moral issues that David E Kelley's scripts addressed during its five-season run, one of the most contentious elements of show was the concept of the unisex bathroom. Used primarily as the set-up for several thousand repeats of the same joke (character speaks out of turn about someone else, followed by whip-zoom to reveal them in the bathroom mirror), the idea of a communal toilet inspired heated debate. Would you be happy 'dropping the kids off at the pool' within earshot of colleagues of both sexes?

Male and female bathrooms used to be a no-brainer, but now the world is starting to recognise some of the inherent complexities in the concept. For instance, when faced with two doors, which one should a transsexual choose?

This is an issue that's long been debated in the US, with advocates on both sides of the political spectrum arguing their respective cases. Conservatives have, somewhat predictably, managed to conflate gender-identity with sexual deviance, and built up a series of dubious arguments that a male-female transsexual using the little girls' room might actually put little girls in danger. But if they can't use the women's room, and it would seem odd for them to wander into the men's room, where on Earth are they supposed to go? Is it better for them to just hitch up their skirt and piss in the street?

In Brazil, a leading samba dance school has attempted to tackle this thorny topic by creating a third toilet for gay and transgender dancers, and according to media reports, they're not the first to do so. But even though it sounds like the school was well-intentioned in creating a 'safe space', not everybody is happy about the new arrangement.

Claudio Nascimento, who heads up Rio's state council on LGBT rights, referred to the new facilities as 'carnival apartheid' and suggested that they encourage homophobia. However, some of the transgendered dancers are grateful to have a more convenient convenience, as Karina Kara told news reporters: "There are things that we want to do in a men's room, or female, and don't feel comfortable. A gay bathroom will be wonderful, because we will be able to do what we want." Well, re-beading a headdress or bedazzling a thong does require a little extra elbow room.

Unfortunately, in situations like this, there's really no right or wrong answer. When people refer to the 'struggle for equal rights', we should remember that it's not just the oppressed who are struggling. Sometimes, even a well-meaning gesture can be misinterpreted by a thankless community.

So until we're all grown up enough to take a leaf out of Ally McBeal's book ("Living on 400 Calories A Day") and use a communal bathroom, we're going to have to make some tough choices.

Saturday, 22 January 2011

When popstars attack

Back in the 1950, monster B-movies were all the rage. Anxiety over the nuclear threat, combined with the rise of the drive-in, and developments in special effects, meant that pretty much any kind of animal could be transformed into a people-munching monster. The films were awful but audiences didn't seem to mind, as long as there was a woman who could scream, a professor who could deliver paragraphs of exposition whilst chewing on a pipe, and countless extras who knew how to cower in fear at the sight of a giant stop-motion beastie.

These days, audiences claim to be more sophisticated. But although we may profess to love the multi-layered back catalogue of Alejandro González Iñárritu, we secretly hanker after those more innocent times. So I guess we shouldn't be too surprised that SyFy's Saturday night monster movies are proving to be such a guilty pleasure.

The films themselves aren't so much written, as brainstormed in a room full of junior marketing executives. They mix a couple of animal names together, recruit a handful of actors too inauspicious to be asked to take part in 'Celebrity Rehab', and dust off the Etch-A-Sketch to take care of the low-grade effects work. Then sit back and watch as two million stoners with very low expectations tune in. 

Last year, SyFy hit an all-time high with the preposterously engaging 'Sharktopus', which featured a tentacled Great White terrorising the Mexican Riviera. Master of both schlocky horror and understatement, producer Roger Corman said at the time "It's not easy to take a computer-generated shark that can walk on a beach with octopus legs and make it seem believable." And yet, despite his five decades of experience, Corman's informed cynicism was actually misplaced, since TV viewers lapped up the off-the-wall-and-onto-the-beach concept.

This year, SyFy has a different kind of mutant cross-breed in mind to keep its ratings as high as its concepts. Of course there are still gigantic lizards doing battle, but this time people will be tuning in to see what happens when Eighties relics Deborah (Debbie) Gibson and Tiffany go head-to-head.

Mega Python Vs Gatoroid sees the one-time pop stars finally address their long-standing rivalry in a knock-down, hair-pulling, lizard-throwing fight. Their battle for chart supremacy may be a dim and distant memory, but producers are hoping that they still have enough name recognition to intrigue movie fans with a high camp tolerance threshold.

In the late 80s, the two pop tarts took up near permanent residency in America's shopping malls, like McDonalds and Army recruiters. And for a couple of years, their pastel knitwear and disposable music were everywhere. But pop is a ruthless game, and by the early 90s they were as washed up as the remains of a partially digested beach-goer.

A combination of borderline anonymity and cheap surgery has left them both looking curiously artificial, which should work fine for them when sharing the screen with a poorly rendered menagerie of monsters. Apparently, Gibson even "visited a nature preserve to learn how to look natural while handling pythons". She may be fine with the snakes, but acting naturally elsewhere is still going to be something of a stretch, if her performance in Mega Shark vs. Giant Octopus is anything to go by.

Although the film is being marketed with the strapline "Screaming, scratching, biting... and that's just the girls", Debbie and Tiffany are clearly unconcerned with the long-standing, media-created rivalry between them. On the publicity circuit they're being tediously complimentary about one another.

That's not to say that everyone has escaped unscathed from the love-in. When appearing on Bravo's Watch What Happens Live, Tiffany was asked about her relationship with New Kids On The Block singer Jonathan Knight. She told the interviewer, "He's fabulous. But he became gay later... now looking back when we were dating, he was so much fun — we used to do facials together, he was so easy to talk to.”

Jon's sexuality is considered to be a fairly open secret, but he's yet to make any public statement about it. And his fans are not happy about Tiffany's indiscreet comments. Still, it just goes to show, sometimes it's not the giant mutated beasts that you have to watch out for.

Friday, 21 January 2011

Suck on this

They say that the safest form of sex is no sex at all. But that's no fun. So what's a horny, STD-fearing teen to do? Well, they could always take a tip from the US abstinence programmes that try to get around the thorny issue of adolescent libido by encouraging 'over the clothes' interactions.

That means drawing the line at heavy petting - you know, the stuff you're not allowed to do in the pool, like dive-bombing or running around the wet area. As long as the pants and sweaters stay on, it's all good.

But even heavy-petting has its consequences, as anyone who ever attempted to disguise their amorous extra-curricular activities with a turtle-neck or indoor scarf knows only too well. Ordinarily, the worst thing about a love bite, apart from the unpleasant sucking sensation, is the fact that you look like you're in the early stages of leprosy. According to the experts, there's a much bigger risk involved in letting your significant other get all Edward Cullen on your neck area.

A report in the New Zealand Medical Journal has revealed that a 44-year-old woman was left partially paralysed after suffering a stroke. When doctors investigated, they found that the love bite her partner had left on her neck had actually damaged a major artery. This, in turn, had created a blood clot which then travelled to her heart and caused the stroke.

Incidentally, her first clue was the fact that her left arm lost all feeling, which must have also have put an dampener on her boyfriend's ambitions. In the end, she was treated with an anti-coagulent called 'warfarin' (named after George W Bush, I assume) which cleared up the clot within a week. As a result, she probably won't suffer any future strokes, although with the feeling back in her arm, her boyfriend's probably looking forward to one.

Dr Teddy Wu, who treated the anonymous patient expressed some surprise at her dramatic condition, commenting "To my knowledge, it's the first time someone has been hospitalised by a 'hickey'." Had I been in the ER though, I think I'd be expressing my disbelief that a 44-year-old was sporting a love bite in the first place.

Oh, and the moral of the story - something to think about next time things get a little hot and heavy. If it sounds like he's chewing on a piece of ripe watermelon, you should probably ask him to cool his ardor. Or check that you've got a vial of holy water to hand.

Thursday, 20 January 2011

One step at a time...

You know, aside from all the hate speech, defamatory remarks and incitement to violence, it's still nice to know that those fundamentalist Christians are looking out for their gay brethren. You see, they don't hate the gays, just the things that those gays do.

And they're not here to judge or condemn - that's just a bonus, like a free-with-purchase gift. Their only goal, so they say, is to encourage us all to join them on the path the righteousness. They're even willing to draw up a handy twelve-step programme to help us on our way.

Taking their cue from Alcoholics Anonymous, the Catholic Diocese of Colorado Springs has created a new programme called 'Twelve Steps Of Courage'. According to Rev. Larry Brennan, “It’s not about therapy and not about activism, it’s about support.” Although, interestingly, he does point out that it's "not for people comfortable with their gay lifestyle". Far better that they target the weaker members of the herd.

The twelve steps themselves are rather predictable, equating homosexuality with insanity and calling for a moral inventory. Which is tough, given that most gays would struggle to keep track of how many pairs of shoes they own.

And why ask God to take care of our shortcomings, when there's a host of effective surgical procedures designed for just that reason? Likewise, there's no point asking him to remove our defects of character, when there are wardrobe malfunctions that are far more pressing. I once owned an electric blue, crushed velvet, Mandarin-collar jacket - it'll take more than a few Hail Marys to shift my guilt over that aberration. 

In the end, the only way any of these programmes can work is if the subject admits that they have a problem. And when put on the spot about their 'problem', I'm happy to speculate that most gays would focus on the five pounds they're struggling to shift, the ex that won't go away, or the 'dubstep' influence on Britney's big comeback. God's love may be deep, but we're perfectly happy wading in the shallows. 

Wednesday, 19 January 2011

One hand in my pocket

Let's face it - no-one's particularly proud of their little moments of self-pollution. The moment a man finds himself with time on his hands, it's not too long before he's got something else in his hands. And then a few moments after that, a sense of shame and disappointment sets in.

Obviously, guilt about the sin of Onan is nothing new. Since the dawn of time, man has been spilling his seed and then berating himself for having such poor impulse control. I might even go so far as to suggest that the reason porn production values are so low, is to ensure that familiar sense of self-loathing after fifteen minutes of exposure. It's been designed to look bad, so there's no chance you'll feel good.

But it turns out that maybe it's not just a knee-jerk reaction to jerking, that leaves us feeling like we're lying in the mental equivalent of a damp patch. Let's not forget, after all, that we live in a world of ADD, SAD and OCD. There's nothing that can't be diagnosed.

So next time you find yourself working from home, before you draw the curtains for a few minutes of contemplation, be aware that you may be suffering from POIS (Post-Orgasmic Illness Syndrome). Seriously, it's a real thing. And it's leaving men feeling deflated and sickly after the event.

Dutch researchers have conducted an in-depth study (in a darkened room with a big pile of DVDs, presumably) into the phenomenon, in an attempt to understand why some men have developed a "mysterious flu-like illness after they have an ejaculation". And before you scoff, we're talking genuine symptoms, not just a clump of sticky tissues - feverishness, runny nose, extreme fatigue and burning eyes have all been noted.

Apparently, POIS has been well documented, and reports date back to 2002. Initially, physicians suggested that it was all psychosomatic, but the Dutch study has come to a more troubling conclusion. Many men are allergic to their own spooge.

Marcel Waldinger, sexual psychopharmacology professor at Utrecht University, led a study of 45 men who'd been diagnosed with POIS. 33 of them were subjected to a skin-prick test (settle down) using a diluted form of their own semen, and 29 of them showed a positive allergic reaction.

This all sounds extremely worrying for any man who occasionally enjoys quality time with himself. But there's a glimmer of hope. Waldinger has also developed a hyposensitization therapy on two of the subjects, finding that gradually increased exposure to their own man-fat significantly reduced their POIS symptoms.

Scientific post-rationalisation aside, only a male doctor could determine that the cure for a masturbation-related illness would be more wanking. But if nothing else, at least you've got a great excuse next time your other half catches you knocking one out. Just tell them "A grapple a day keeps the doctor away".

Tuesday, 18 January 2011

The King's SMS

I think we'd all better prepare ourselves for more "The British are coming..." speeches in the next few weeks, since there's a UK film that seems to stand a genuine chance of bagging all the big gongs during this awards season.

Unlike most British period drama, which are full of starchy characters and showcase more stiff upper lips than Meg Ryan's bathroom mirror, The King's Speech is being championed as a feel-good film that just happens to be set in the past. Of course, some of the genre staples are all present and correct - plummy accents, obsequious footmen and Helena Bonham Carter. But people are going to see it because it's an entertaining and uplifting movie, rather than as a shortcut in their English Literature revision. 

The film couldn't have come at a better time, after the double-whammy of Downton Abbey and Upstairs Downstairs 2.0. The whole nation is currently in the grip of period drama - and before you know it we'll be in a new age of civility. Instead of knocking back a Smirnoff Ice in a bus-stop, girls will be practicing pouring tea whilst delivering pithy bon-mots. 

But let's not forget that we are British, after all. So it's our collective responsibility to start kicking The King's Speech* before it's even completed its ascendence to Oscar and BAFTA glory. Leading the charge (shocked faces all round) is the Daily Mail, which today ran an extraordinary piece of nitpickery by self-proclaimed 'elitist' Philip Norman. 

You have to feel a little sorry for Philip. Whereas audiences around the world have been lapping up Colin Firth's exceptional portrayal of a stuttering monarch, Philip found himself peering through his fingers in disgust, like the Girl Guides' screening of I Spit On Your Grave

Philip claims: "I watched it in a state of agonised suspense unconnected with whether he would succeed in spitting out the next syllable. For like almost every ‘period’ film nowadays, and certainly every British one, it is riddled with preposterous historical distortions, over-simplifications and out-of-period anachronisms." Taking a somewhat hyperbolic approach to film criticism, he compares the Archbishop of Canterbury's involvement in the pre-Coronation rehearsal, to Uma Thurman travelling on a plane armed with an unsheathed samurai sword.

If you're not already falling into a consumptive swoon at the audacity of these fly-by-night film-makers, then consider the fact that Sooty, the world's least interesting hand-puppet, is mentioned a good fifteen years before he was created. Even worse, a stuffy BBC executive refers to a royal broadcast "going out live tonight". With such astounding inaccuracies in place, we should perhaps be thankful that we were spared a scene of the Queen Mother shopping for Manolos

And what of the Queen Mother herself? Well, Philip's not happy with her portrayal either. It took Herculean resolve on his part to "accept Helena Bonham Carter, usually such a sensitive actress, playing Queen Elizabeth as a sharp-tongued snob, crushing ordinary people as the future, lovely Queen Mum would never have dreamed of doing." Perhaps his own subjective sense of history has blinded him to the fact that she would have happily bitten the head off a chambermaid, if only her teeth were up to the job.

As you might expect, the entire article is just another in a long line of stories designed to convince Mail readers that IQs are dropping around them. A couple of weeks ago, the Mail ran a story claiming that Downton Abbey had lost 25% of its running time for airing in the States, due to concerns that "American TV executives fear its intricate plot will baffle U.S. viewers". So, the country that gave us Mad Men, The Sopranos and The Wire, is somehow too stupid to grasp concepts like inheritance and advanced bonnet-wearing.

As it happens, the whole story was as fictional as the plot of Downton itself. One of the show's producers wrote a scathing critique of the article, pointing out that he had repeatedly explained to journalist Chris Hastings how the show's running time would be different on a channel with no ad breaks. None of these details made it into the final story since Hastings "clearly had an agenda of its own". 

Call it a classic case of misdirection. The more stories that the Mail runs about 'dumbing down', the less likely it is that its readership will notice that its preferred paper has a world-view that amounts to little more than 'us' and 'them'. Now put that in your period-appropriate prop pipe and smoke it. 

*Oh, and good luck to Iain Canning, who produced the film.

Sunday, 16 January 2011

Kirstie's weighing in

It must be great to be Charlie Sheen. A famous family to make the career break easier, tons of cash for some of the least demanding performances in cinematic history, and an insatiable appetite for sex with women whose names invariable end in 'i'. Simply sprinkle with snortable powder and leave to soak in a bottle of Krug.

While other celebrities get the third degree for writing Tweets in upper case, Charlie could murder a hooker and travel the world as a drugs mule, and people would simply roll their eyes and say "That's Charlie!" It's become part of his schtick, like Meryl Streep's accents or Jennifer Aniston's hair.

Or, at least, that used to be the case. It seems as though even Hollywood is starting to tire of Charlie's consequence-free living. Given her own long-term struggles with her own lifestyle choices, it's hardly surprising that Kirstie Alley has fired the first shot.

When news broke that Charlie was holed up in Hugh Hefner's Sky Villa inside the Fantasy Tower at the Palms Casino Resort, few people exressed much surprise. The $40,000 a night suite can hold up to 250 people, and it sounds as though the headcount comprised of 249 porn stars and Charlie.

As well as a selection of Playboy artwork, selected by Heff himself, the accomodation includes an outdoor terrace with cantilevered Jacuzzi tub, personal massage room, dry sauna and an eight-foot, round, rotating bed with mirrored ceiling. Las Vegas is clearly where taste and subtlety take their holidays.

For some reasons, Charlie's constant cavorting has upset Kirstie enough for her to publicly decry his debasing instincts on Twitter. The ever-increasing actress took to the site to tell Sheen "you have two beautiful girls… PERHAPS for the sake of these children you can decide to QUIT hanging with PORN STARS & HOS".

Kirstie's own battles with over-eating and weight gain have been well documented - she even created a new sitcom called Fat Actress to showcase her titanic range. And ass. So it's a little odd that she would take to a public forum to criticise someone else for showing poor impulse control. OK, Charlie has a thing for starlets and ho's - Kirstie prefers Ho Hos. Not to mention Ding Dongs, Twinkies and Suzy Q's

Kirstie's original tweet was, perhaps unsurprisingly, championed by Charlie's not-entirely-over-it ex-wife Denise Richards, who replied saying "that would be a good start." Buoyed by the note of approval from her one-time screen daughter, brave Kirstie added "I got your babies backs...", but presumably hit 'tweet' before adding the word 'ribs'. 

Until Charlie's ready to admit that he's got a problem, there's not really very much that anyone can do. His bosses may be concerned that his lifestyle could be harming his health, but until it impacts on his work, they're unlikely to stage an intervention. In the meantime, Kirstie should probably keep her nose out of other people's business, and her fork out of their cheesecake. 

Saturday, 15 January 2011

Showing his true colours

VAT increases. Fuel costs on the up. Bankruptcies and defaulted mortgages everywhere. This recession is really pinching, and it has more than an inch in its icy cold grip.

And it doesn't seem to matter what your socio-economic status is - everyone's feeling the pain. Perhaps this is what the world needs in order to start redressing the gulf between the haves and the have-nots.

With that in mind, I propose that we have a whip-round for those less fortunate than ourselves. Because no matter how bad we think we've got it, someone else is in a much sorrier state.

I'm going to register with, so that people can pledge some money to help out Ted Turner, who seems to have fallen on the hardest of times. Despite a net worth of $1.9bn, Ted is now "at the edge of poverty". And since there are still classic black and white movies in desperate need of a garish splash of inappropriate colorisation, Ted needs our support.

Ted's packed an awful lot into his 72 years, including three marriages, coming up the superstation cable TV concept, and creating legendary '80s cartoon Captain Planet and the Planeteers. He also owns the world's largest bison herd, and donated $1bn to the United Nations.

Unfortunately though, all of that abundant spending has come back to haunt him, and he's now shuffling his executive loafers towards the poorhouse. Speaking on last Wednesday's edition of Morning Joe, the media mogul announced to the world that his generosity has cost him dearly. Well, you didn't think Jane Fonda got her face stretched at WalMart, did you?

Tugging at the nation's heartstrings, the selfless silver one told the show's hosts "I'm one of the few examples of a very wealthy person that's given himself to the edge of poverty." He even managed a smile beneath his albino caterpillar moustache.

Thankfully, he's not had to start stockpiling the cardboard boxes just yet, but he is down to his last few millions. Ever the pragmatist, he's mostly concerned with the legacy he leaves behind: "I don't want to leave my family with an unpaid funeral bill. I'm trying to save a little bit of money to at least cover my expenses."

Maybe he just needs to think about a plywood coffin with a teak finish. Or maybe he could ask Bill Gates, Steve Jobs and Michael Eisner to each bring a pie to the wake, in order to spread the costs. Vol au vents and crustless sandwiches don't come cheap, after all.

Glibness aside, it's disappointing that someone who has genuinely given so much to other people throughout his life, could be so clueless about what constitutes genuine poverty. It would be a shame if the legacy he leaves behind is not the lives that he managed to impact, but the noses he put out of joint with a couple of throwaway remarks about subjective destitution. I know he was never a fan of black and white, but those are the facts.

Friday, 14 January 2011

Freedom of speech in Dire Straits

It looks like those humourless censors are at it again - spoiling everyone else's fun for the sake of a few over-sensitive minorities. Who cares that the world has moved on, and we're trying to create a more tolerant society, when great art is at stake?

A couple of weeks ago, there was a big kerfuffle in the States when it was revealed that a publisher had excised the 'n' word in a reprint of Mark Twain's  'Huckleberry Finn'. Although many teachers have argued  that the word's 219 appearances make it an uncomfortable title to teach, many literary critics have opined that the contentious noun still has relevance in the context of one of the definitive anti-slavery novels.

The fact is, Twain chose his words carefully, even the objectionable ones. As Peter Messent argued in The Guardian last week, " tamper with the author's words because of the sensibilities of present-day readers is unacceptable. The minute you do this, the minute this stops being the book that Twain wrote."

This week, a new censorship controversy erupted, this time north of the border. Another classic work of art has found itself falling outside the realms of acceptability, due to some similarly incendiary nomenclature. The Canadian Broadcasts Standards Council has effectively banned Dire Straits' Money For Nothing because of its objectionable language. 

To be quite honest, I never even noticed the troubling epithet. Probably because I never get any further than Mark Knopfler's opening riff. That, and the fact that the offending verse is often dropped from airplay to suit radio's preference for tracks that are under 4 minutes long - as any Mondeo-driving sales rep worth his salt knows, the album version runs to 8:30.

The lyrics of the second verse include the lines "The little faggot with the earring and the makeup. Yeah, buddy, that’s his own hair. That little faggot's got his own jet airplane. That little faggot he’s a millionaire". Following complaints from listeners that the song was offensive to LGBT audiences, the CBSC ruled that radio stations can only play the edited version of the song. You'd think that people would be happy to win back 30 precious seconds of their lives.

Even Knopfler himself acknowledged that maybe the song wasn't such a good idea, a view shared by most people who ever endured a long car journey with their parents during the heyday of 'Brothers In Arms'. He told Rolling Stone back in 1985, "I'm still in two minds as to whether it's a good idea to write songs that aren't in the first person, to take on other characters. The singer in 'Money for Nothing' is a real ignoramus, hard hat mentality - somebody who sees everything in financial terms."

As the CBSC stated when they made their ruling, "The societal values at issue a quarter century later have shifted and the broadcast of the song in 2010 must reflect those values, rather than those of 1985." Unless, of course, someone wants to write extensive study notes to guide listeners through the linguistic complexities of Dire Straits' ouvre. 

While they're at it, they could explore the socio-political context of installed microwave ovens and custom kitchen deliveries. Or debate the gender ramifications of claiming one's "chicks for free". This is art people - it demands to be understood. 

Thursday, 13 January 2011

Sign of the times

Who doesn't love a good biopic? For audiences, there's the catharsis of a good old rags-to-riches tale. For screenwriters it's a script that practically writes itself. And for the actors, it's pretty much the easiest way of securing an Oscar nomination, short of playing a mentally-challenged Holocaust survivor.

In fact, the only problem with the genre is that it's so formulaic. Whether it's a film about a sporting legend or a country & western singer, there are certain bases that always need to be covered.

It all starts with abject poverty and despair, as our forlorn hero struggles to make ends meet. Hidden away from the world's prying eyes, they secretly indulge in whatever their latent talent happens to involve, from playing the double bass to hanging out at the driving range.

And then comes the turning point, as a kind-hearted would-be sponsor notices their innate ability and encourages them to pursue their dreams. But the path to celebrity is fraught with peril, as out naive fish-out-of-water struggles to adapt to their luxurious new surroundings. Drugs, alcohol, slutty ne'er-do-wells - there's temptation everywhere. And our heroic figure can only say 'no' so many times.

After the rise, comes the inevitable fall. Contracts are torn up, money is frittered away, and suddenly everything is in jeopardy. It looks like our hero is heading back to the overpopulated shack or under-waterproofed cardboard box where they started out. Thankfully, there's always the third-act redemption to drag them back from the brink and set them back on the right course. Then there's just the reprise of the theme song and the "It's an honour just to be nominated" speech to worry about.

So the challenge for movie producers, is how to put a fresh spin on such an established format. But it seems as though Ted Williams may have the answer.

Less than two weeks ago, Ted was just another homeless man, begging for money at the side of the road. When local videographer Doral Chenoweth spotted Ted's sign advertising his 'voice-over skills', she interviewed him and uploaded the film to YouTube.

Quicker than you can say "Copy of the Big Issue?", Ted was a worldwide internet phenomenon. Because when he said he had voice-over skills, he wasn't kidding. The man has the kind of smooth, soothing baritone that makes Barry White sound like Fran Drescher.

Within a week of his discovery, Ted was recording TV ads for Kraft Foods, plugging their macaroni and cheese mix, and being interviewed by every news anchor in America. He was even reunited with his long-lost mother in a live broadcast.

A few days later, as the ink was still drying on his lucrative contract with the Cleveland Cavaliers, Ted was picked up by the police for a run-in with his daughter at a hotel in Los Angeles. Forty-eight hours later, and Ted has made an appearance on Dr. Phil's talk-show to address his alcohol and drug-dependency issues. Today it was announced that he's heading for rehab. It's enough to make Andy Warhol's wig spin.

The upside of all this, is that we may have finally figured out a way to refresh the stale predictability of the conventional biopic. When 24 ended last year, it left a gap in the market for a drama with a ticking clock in the corner of the screen. Given the speed at which Ted was discovered, celebrated, arrested, diagnosed and packed off to rehab, it's possible that his story could be told in real-time. Throw in a couple of Arabian terrorists, and some torture with a set of bulldog clips, and everyone's happy.

Wednesday, 12 January 2011

Wii Fit for purpose

Whilst most of us are still struggling to get back up to speed after a couple of weeks off over Christmas, some people have returned to work with the kind of renewed vigour that manages to make the rest of us look like feckless, work-shy losers. Chief amongst them is the diligent PR account manager for Nintendo

Maybe they've slashed their advertising budget thanks to the new 'age of austerity', or perhaps Xbox Kinetic has taken a big bite out of their motion-controlled market share. Either way, they're clearly ramping up their PR efforts in an attempt to boost their profile more cost-effectively. 

Journalists are always happy to receive a press release with a human interest angle. They can just top-and-tail it, throw in a couple of stock shot library images, and they're another article closer to hitting their daily quota. 

Most newspaper readers are oblivious to these tactics, largely because the publishers in question are smart enough to cover their tracks and hide the evidence of 'churnalism'. It doesn't look good for a paper's objectivity if it's found to be sourcing half its stories from a marketing department. 

That's why Paul Dacre, editor of the Daily Mail, prefers to point the finger at his paper's competitors when accused of relying on PR puff-pieces for content. However, there are bound to be some embarrassed faces on Fleet Street tomorrow, when someone points out that his esteemed rag managed to run two separate stories on the same day that presumably came from the same source. Possibly even the same press release. 

Don't get me wrong - the Wii is a fantastic piece of kit that has transformed gaming for millions of people. As well as changing the way people engage with interactive software, its innovative motion-based controller has seen Nintendo consoles popping up in care homes and rehabilitation wards all over the world. 

But to hear the Daily Mail tell it, we could pretty much do away with the NHS by just giving every family a small, white games console. 41 year-old Jean Hinton is proudly showing off her new slimline figure, in a lovely 'leggings and PVC boots' ensemble, thanks to half-an-hour every day on her Wii Fit. 

Devastated by being called 'fatty bum bum nana' by one of her grandchildren, the 'glamorous grandmother' took to the computerised wobble-board because she couldn't afford a gym membership. Singing the praises of her Wii, Jean says: "Now, my confidence is back and I have so much more energy. It's helped my social life and I was even able to stop taking anti-depressants as I had so many more natural endorphins from the exercise." See - who needs a GP when you've got a copy of Wii Sports and some reinforced floorboards? Jean's even set up an online support group "in order to spread the word about the wonders of Wii Fit." 

She should probably have a word with 54 year-old Julie Wilks, who discovered she had Parkinson's disease by playing on her own Wii. Brave Julie "found out she had the degenerative disorder after noticing that she was leaning heavily to one side when she was standing on a Balance Board while playing the popular Wii Fit computer game." 

Talking about her shocking discovery, Julie says, "I'm so grateful that I was playing the game that day and that it ended in my diagnosis. What an amazing piece of technology." In fact, it's so amazing that she can't shut up about it: "The Wii fit makes it much easier to exercise. I can take it as easy as I need to and sometimes part of the problem is getting where you need to be to exercise, this way I can just set myself up at home." 

Clearly, this is no ordinary games console - it's Lourdes with a scart cable. Coincidentally, the news story also mentions that the selfless ex-lab technician has also set up a website to offer "help and advice to other sufferers".  Such as links to Amazon, Argos and Game, I imagine. 

Maybe it's the conspiracy theorist in me, but the fact that these two remarkably similar stories were published just 80 minutes apart (and are both attributed to the anonymous 'Daily Mail Journalist') seems too much of a coincidence. Dacre and his team may argue that they represent the highest standards of journalistic integrity, but in this instance I think Wii know better. 

Tuesday, 11 January 2011

The thrill of the chaste

The other day I wrote a post about a dubious article in the Mail attempting to convince women that they don't really want equality in the workplace, because all they're really interested in is 'marrying up'. Depressingly, the paper followed up that story with another piece that gave its female readership 12 reasons to distrust their menfolk.

Rather than take a positive approach, and advise people on how to strengthen their relationship, the Mail chose to set off a series of psychological distress flares. Earn more than your husband? He'll go off and fuck the au pair. Is he working long hours? He's probably doing his secretary in the stationery cupboard. And if he's been married before, well, you might as well give the ex-wife keys to your house, because that bitch is already rumpling your bed linen. And she hates your curtains.

But have no fear, because help is at hand, courtesy of those ingenious folks at CB-6000. They're the self-proclaimed 'world leaders in male chastity', and offer a number of innovative solutions to keep your fella's fella under lock and key.

Taking their inspiration from the clunky medieval contraptions designed to keep women's virtue intact, these snug devices encase the right honourable member in plastic. Suddenly, man's real best friend is out of bounds until you say so.

Obviously, there are issues of emasculation to consider here. So the thoughtful designers have created a range of finishes to ensure that your man still feels all man, even if he can't actually feel his old man.

There's a beautiful carved model that gives new meaning to the term "getting wood". And if hubby's a military man, you might want to invest $160 in the special camouflage edition. Now that the US government has finally repealed DADT, countless soldiers will want to protect their privates from other privates' prying eyes. Plus, it even matches their workwear - everyone's happy.

According to the company's website, the devices aren't just for keeping wayward husbands on the slightly-crooked and narrow - they can also be used to spice things up in the bedroom: "In reality the majority of customers purchasing a male chastity device fall into two main groups: either fetish devotees or couples interested in expanding their sexual experiences with chastity play."

It all sounds like a great idea. But surely, couples interested in "chastity play" could save themselves a bunch of money by just taking it in turns to claim to have a headache and sleeping in the spare room.

Monday, 10 January 2011

Reality bites, sucks

Isn't it a shame that real life isn't more like porn? As a homeowner, I've had to call out all kinds of tradesmen, but the only tools any of them have ever whipped out is a socket wrench. Although a friend of mine did once have a bed delivered by a well-built van driver who offered to help break it in, but that's a story for another blog.

Anyway, the point is, pornography and mundane reality are like two divergent axes (see fig.1 below). The sexier the situation is, the less likely it is that a road tax application or a Tesco bag-for-life will be involved.

But all that's about to change, thanks to the Playboy channel, which has unveiled bold plans to create a pair of sexy new reality TV shows, with hijinks high on the agenda. Channel bigwigs presented their concepts to the Television Critics Association last week, in a move that shows God (like a porn casting director) loves a trier.

Aimed at loved-up couples, rather than onanistic singles with a 12-minute attention span, Swing will follow pairs of contestants as they visit a swinger compound - think Windsor Safari Park with more water-based lubricant. They'll "establish the ground rules" with the resident sex and relationship expert, explore the group, and meet with a therapist to discuss their feelings.

As Playboy TV Senior VP and GM Gary Rosenson explains, “No elimination stuff, no tribal councils, no craziness. Just really people hanging out, having fun, goofing off and eventually it gets hot because that’s what they’re there to do.” Well, that and the fact that this is going out on the Playboy channel after all.

The second show being prepped for the 2011 season is A Brooklyn Kind of Love, which follows the ins-and-outs-and-ins of coupledom in the New York borough. But unlike other relationship shows, this one will follow its subjects into the bedroom.

Speaking about the show's explicit action, co-producer Joe Gantz claims that “...a lot of reality shows and TV shows in general are about sex but they dance around sexuality in such a way that it’s all innuendo and there’s no authenticity.  So it was nice to be able to do a show where you didn’t have to worry about things being too real, too authentic.”

Admittedly, authenticity isn't something that automatically springs to mind when you think of the Playboy channel, especially in its depiction of lesbianism. But 'Brooklyn' comes with real-life lesbians Bek Allen and Erin Williams; a genuine couple who agreed to go naked "with no hesitation".

And they're hoping to tackle some serious social issues, when they're not squirting aerosol cream somewhere unhygienic, with Williams stating “Our decision to do this show was primarily to show that gay couples go through the same stuff as straight couples go through and that we’re not all that different from anybody else.” Allen chipped in, adding that the show was “...a once in a lifetime opportunity to kind of be a spokesperson for homosexual couples..." Let's just hope these spokespeople manage to articulate a little more than "Oh, yeah, that's hot" and "Do me again".

According to Gantz, the shows are about more than titilation: “As we were interviewing couples, we felt that sexuality is a spectrum and I don’t want any hard distinctions. It’s a continuum and it’s a lot of overlapping... It’s on every aspect of their relationship but when it’s about the sex, it’s just right out there. You don’t have to worry about pulling it back for Playboy."

All this talk of 'overlapping', 'hard distinctions' and 'pulling it back for Playboy'. I'm turned on already and the shows haven't even aired yet.