Saturday, 28 June 2008

10 reasons why Glastonbury is actually not any good, from someone who, of course, has never actually been

Rumours abound that this year’s Glastonbury may be the last. About time too. I am sure “Glasto” (as its attendees insist on calling it) was an amazing experience back in the 70s when it cost a quid to get in and the line-up largely comprised of dodgy bands picked up in local pubs, but now it’s a festival that has lost its way. Before you comment that I can’t possibly dismiss the festival because I have never actually gone to it – I inform you that I have not tried eating faeces either, but I am more than confident that the experience would not be an enjoyable one. To put it simply, if Glastonbury was any good I would have gone to it already. So until the organisers rectify all the genuine flaws I have identified below I shan’t be going, and I will be forced to criticise it in the unflinchingly honest and journalistically sound way that this post embodies. Try and untangle that logic.

1. The highlights show on the BBC is presented by a gaggle of complete morons: Zane Lowe, Edith Bowman and Jo Whiley. Edith Bowman is a woman with a face that always begs the question: what on Earth happened there? It looks like a normal face that has melted slightly. Jo Whiley is a woman that should perhaps be applauded for managing to be the most vacuous, empty-headed and downright irritating DJ on Radio 1, an achievement in itself given the competition from her colleagues. Zane Lowe, the Antipodean arse who manages to praise every single band he talks about, without actually ever saying anything of any substance (every comment falls along the lines of, “they’ve really upped the ante on their new album, great stuff!” or “you know I love the album but I wasn’t sure it would work on the main stage, but you know...they really blew me away know”). Any event that gets this triumvirate of human failure out of the house, never mind on national television, should not be continued.

2. The festival is organised by some bearded old posh tit called Michael Eavis, and his weird looking lispy progeny Emily. I don’t really have a criticism of any substance for those two, they just rub me the wrong way.

3. Glastonbury is reportedly full of hippies. I can’t emphasise enough how very tedious hippies are. You simply can’t get through to them can you? No it’s not the 60s anymore. No personal hygiene isn’t a bad thing. Yes, you can get clothes made out of materials other than hemp. I fear there might also be white people with dreadlocks in attendance. They are only slightly below hippies on the list of people that deserve crippling venereal diseases.

4. The supposedly alternative ethos of the festival is completely and indefensibly at odds with just how commercialised Glastonbury has become. The entire thing is a fraud.

5. The line-up this year is jaw-droppingly dull. Really, it’s so poor it’s almost great. Certainly if you like your sub-Strokes, sub-Libertines jangly NME endorsed indie (The Fratellis, The Enemy, We Are Scientists, The Pigeon Detectives etc) you’ll be satisfied, but if your taste in music happens to be broader than a hair’s width you will be bitterly disappointed. The whole Jay-Z headlining debacle was extremely amusing, given that the lack of diversity elsewhere on the line-up meant his appearance should have been lauded. Unlike his fellow headliners, Kings of Leon and to a lesser extent, The Verve, he is actually a massive act, worthy of headliner status at what is meant to be the world’s best festival.

6. They can’t even sell out the tickets, which is especially embarrassing when you take a look at how quickly the tickets for other major festivals like Reading/Leeds and T in the Park were snapped up this year. Get the message Eavis.

7. For some reason Glastonbury-goers (I imagine they call themselves “Glasties”, “Glasto-gos”, “Glassies” or something equally annoying) are rather proud of the fact that they have been to Glastonbury – especially when talking to people that haven’t been. You will find them all over Britain, the wristband to several Glastonburys still around their wrists, spouting nonsense about the “amazing atmosphere” and how “there’s just no other festival that can rival it.” If you encounter one of these smug people try and fight the overwhelming sense of despair that will inevitably engulf you.

8. Each year it rains and on the news non-Glastonbury goers are subject to picture after picture of morons sliding about in the rain or idiots prancing about in their Wellington boots which they’ve daubed “GLASTO 2008” on in a predictably child-like scrawl. Evidently the drainage at the festival site is as bad as at the St Jakob-Park Stadium which played host to the Switzerland-Turkey Euro 2008 game recently. Here’s hoping scores of attendees get trench foot.

9. You cannot see the stage for all the flags and stuffed animals on sticks that some members of the crowd insist on holding up. I am not sure of their motivation for this, maybe it’s so they can see where they are on the television highlights, or perhaps it is to make profound, powerful statements to the crowd and beyond that, the world. Watching the highlights earlier I noticed a flag with a picture of a toaster on it is obviously some kind of radical political statement. And the one I saw with “I love portaloos” on it is actually a biting piece of political satire critiquing the Labour government’s systematic erosion of civil liberties. Or alternatively, people who spend over a hundred pounds for a festival ticket and then stand about in a field holding a flag up all day are mentally deficient cretins.

10. Camp fire singalongs.


Monday, 23 June 2008

R.I.P George Carlin

This obituary from the New York Times says it better than I can.

When it comes to popular culture, list-making is as pointless as analysing the same lists to death....and that is rather pointless

American magazine Entertainment Weekly (for those unaquainted with it wikipedia refers to it as "a magazine...whose primary concentration is on entertainment media and critical reviews", that "unlike Variety and The Hollywood Reporter, which are aimed at industry insiders, targets a more general audience" - make of that what you will) has published an all-too predictably ridiculous series of lists that attempts to celebrate "the new classics: the 1000 best movies, TV shows, albums, books, and more of the past 25 years."

If you can put aside the "New classics" concept for a moment (one that is simultaneously moronic and oxymoronic), the actual make-up of the television list is particularly irksome:

1. The Simpsons, Fox, 1989-present
2 The Sopranos, HBO (1999-2007)
3 Seinfeld, NBC (1989-98)
4 The X-Files, Fox (1993-2002)
5 Sex and the City, HBO (1998-2004)
6 Survivor, CBS (2000-present)
7 The Cosby Show, NBC (1984-92)
8 Lost, ABC (2004-present)
9 Friends, NBC (1994-2004)
10 Buffy the Vampire Slayer, The WB (1997-2001); UPN (2001-03)
11 The Wire, HBO (2002-08)
12 South Park, Comedy Central (1997-present)
13 Freaks and Geeks, NBC (1999-2000)
14 The Daily Show, Comedy Central (1996-present)
15 The Oprah Winfrey Show, Syndicated (1986-present)
16 Arrested Development, Fox (2003-06)
17 The Office (U.K. version), BBC2 (2001-03)
18 American Idol, Fox (2002-present)
19 ER, NBC (1994-present)
20 Beverly Hills, 90210, Fox (1990-2000)
21 Roseanne, ABC (1988-97)
22 The Real World, MTV (1992-present)
23 The West Wing, NBC (1999-2006)
24 Star Trek: The Next Generation, Syndication (1987-94)
25 Miami Vice, NBC (1984-89)
26 Chappelle's Show, Comedy Central (2003-06)
27 Law & Order, NBC (1990-present)
28 The Larry Sanders Show, HBO (1992-98)
29 The Shield, FX (2002-present)
30 Late Show With David Letterman, CBS (1993-present)
31 The Civil War, PBS (1990)
32 Gilmore Girls, The WB (2000-06), The CW (2006-07)
33 My So-Called Life, ABC (1994-95)
34 24, Fox (2001-present)
35 CSI, CBS (2000-present)
36 thirtysomething, ABC (1987-91)
38 Beavis and Butt-head, MTV (1993-97)
39 Six Feet Under, HBO (2001-05)
40 Mr. Show, (HBO, 1995-98)
41 Frasier, NBC (1993-2004)
42 L.A. Law, NBC (1986-94)
43 Late Night With Conan O'Brien, NBC (1993-present)
44 Jeopardy!, Syndicated (1984-present)
45 Curb Your Enthusiasm, HBO (2000-present)
46 Homicide: Life on the Street, NBC (1993-99)
47 30 Rock, NBC (2006-present)
48 Ally McBeal, Fox (1997-2002)
49 Twin Peaks, ABC (1990-91)
50 Baywatch, NBC (1989-90), Syndicated (1991-2001)
51. Melrose Place, Fox (1992-99)
52. Felicity, The WB (1998-2002)
53. Will & Grace, NBC (1998-2006)
54. Moonlighting, ABC (1985-89)
55. Pee-wee's Playhouse, CBS (1986-90)
56. Desperate Housewives, ABC (2004-present)
57. The Amazing Race, CBS (2001-present)
58. The Tonight Show With Jay Leno, NBC (1992-present)
59. Battlestar Galactica, Sci Fi (2003-2008)
60. Xena: Warrior Princess, Syndicated (1995-2001)
61. The Office (U.S.), NBC (2005-present)
62. House, Fox (2004-present)
63. Mystery Science Theater 3000, Comedy Central (1989-96), Sci Fi (1997-99)
64. The Osbournes, MTV (2002-05)
65. Family Guy, Fox (1999-2002, 2005-present)
66. Grey’s Anatomy, ABC (2005-present)
67. Planet Earth, Discovery Channel (2007)
68. Jackass, MTV (2000-02)
69. The Colbert Report, Comedy Central (2005-present)
70. Everybody Loves Raymond, CBS (1996-2005)
71. Friday Night Lights, NBC (2006-present)
72. NewsRadio, NBC (1995-99)
73. Oz, HBO (1997-2003)
74. Wiseguy, CBS (1987-90)
75. Project Runway, Bravo (2004-present)
76. In Living Color, Fox (1990-94)
77. The Golden Girls, NBC (1985-92)
78. I'll Fly Away, NBC (1991-93)
79. The Comeback, HBO (2005)
80. King of the Hill, Fox (1997-present)
81. Murphy Brown, CBS (1988-98)
82. The Hills, MTV (2006-present)
83. Absolutely Fabulous, BBC2 (1992), BBC1 (1994-2004)
84. Northern Exposure, CBS (1990-95)
85. The Kids in the Hall, HBO (1989-92), CBS (1992-95)
86. Prime Suspect, ITV (1991-2006)
87. Deadwood, HBO (2004-06)
88. Malcolm in the Middle, Fox (2000-06)
89. SpongeBob SquarePants, Nickelodeon (1999-present)
90. Dawson's Creek, The WB (1998-2003)
91. Mad Men, AMC (2007-present)
92. The Ben Stiller Show, Fox (1992-93)
93. Queer Eye for the Straight Guy, Bravo (2003-07)
94. Married...With Children, Fox (1987-97)
95. Designing Women, CBS (1986-93)
96. The Arsenio Hall Show, Syndicated (1989-94)
97. Party of Five, Fox (1994-2000)
98. MacGyver, ABC (1985-92)
99. The Bachelor, ABC (2002-present)
100. Saved by the Bell, NBC (1989-93)

I would love to have the thought process behind placing the execrable reality-show Survivor at number six on the list explained to me. Survivor, a format that lasted just two series in the UK is basically Channel 4's Shipwrecked but with some old and unattractive people. The only thing remarkable about it is just how unremarkable it is. In fact, to put it at number six in the list is a decision so ridiculous I almost admire it. But then again this is a list that places Lost above The Wire, so such nonsense is to be expected. Just to make it clear - Lost is a serial drama that is as random and arbitrary as Deal or No Deal, but half as entertaining. More importantly, Deal or No Deal has spawned an aleatory game tantamount to genius, in its wallet-sapping itbox incarnation that graces public houses across Britain. The only thing Lost has given birth to is rabid fanboys, and the term "pseudo pseudo-intellectualism" (it is a show so thick and unnecessarily pretentious it can only aspire to be pseudo-intellectual, and is therefore pseudo pseudo-intellectual). The Wire on the other hand is by far the finest television drama of the last 25 years, if not ever. This is not hyperbole, in fact it's a pretty common belief amongst anyone that has bothered to watch it, rather than trite, inane nonsense such as Lost, Prison Break and Desperate Housewives.

This Entertainment Weekly project to find these supposed "new classics" is obviously futile. I suppose the real intention is to provoke debate amongst their readers - but unfortunately for us such debate can only, and will only engender further futile list-making. This is exactly the reaction they have got out of me. I feel a great urge to re-write and revise this flawed list. Perhaps I will. I have taken the bait - which on reflection is basically the moral equivalent of caving some bloke's head in because he lightly mocked your shoes. I could spend hours picking apart lists such as these, stripping what little meat clings to its brittle bones - as I imagine could you. But then we would be as bad them wouldn't we?


Sunday, 22 June 2008

I will watch children's television until I go blue in the face

It is a well known fact that students are the scourge of society. We are anti-social parasites, ripe with body odour, and worst of all, we have a strange predilection for trashy daytime television – normally the preserve of the elderly, unemployed and infirm. Personally I can’t stand to watch the distasteful working-class baiting on The Jeremy Kyle Show, and Neighbours, now with an advertisement break in the middle and the “five” logo in the corner just doesn’t feel right anymore. Instead I prefer to reg
ress back to my childhood, and watch children’s television. After all, it does start conveniently at around 3.30pm, which is the obscene hour at which I tend to emerge from my bedroom each day.

I am no idiot, I don’t waste my time watching the children’s television on itv, everyone knows that CBBC is far superior to it’s rival CiTV (bar the unadulterated escapism of Fun House CiTV had little offer in my youth). So opting for CBBC, first up is a show named Space Pirates. I imagine this one was a bit of a no brainer for the commissioners. Someone, somewhere, walked into a production meeting and said, “right, the show I want to make is about is two things; space, and errrrr.....piracy.” And with that, a potentially great piece of high concept television was born.

From what I can gather the show is basically about a flamboyantly dressed captain who scours space for songs to sing to young children, who regularly berate him via satellite link-up to entertain them. He is aided in the pursuit of these musical gifts by two children of indecipherable gender, named Honk and Tonk, who are also dressed rather strangely, in clothes that appear to be made entirely of rubber. It being children’s television the piracy element doesn’t really involve slaughtering people to steal their treasure, getting drunk on rum, or contracting scurvy. In the world of Space Pirates it seems to mostly consist of finding musical notes in the far reaches of space. These musical notes somehow become songs, which are subsequently sung, wholly out of tune, by three anthropomorphic rat puppets that are inexplicably aboard the space ship with the human characters. This appears to induce fits of ecstasy in the children who requested the songs in the first place.

So the title Space Pirates is a bit of a misnomer, while there’s plenty of space, there’s minimal piracy. It’s all rather colourful and bizarre - the spaceship’s Jolly Roger, which commentates on the progress of the song-searching seems to have split personality disorder – on one side of the flag it’s arrogant and gruff, on the other it’s an effeminate tease. So to summarise, it’s basically a surreal mess of a show, that is about as subtle as a brick to the face. My guess is that it makes perfect sense to 8 year olds, off their face on Sunny Delight.

Next is Young Dracula. Luckily it’s not a spin-off of the largely forgotten kid’s film The Little Vampire which had that annoying bespectacled lispy kid from Jerry Maguire in it. The central character is the reluctant son of Count Dracula who aged 14, is a year away from becoming a fully-fledged vampire. He wants nothing more than to be normal like his peers at school and awaits his transformation to vampiric status with great trepidation. It’s an obvious metaphor for the anxieties that come with entering into adolescence, which I think is rather clever for kid’s television.

However, again the show too readily dumbs down the very aspects that could make it challenging kid’s television. The central character’s dad is Count Dracula, he of bloodsucking infamy. Yet there are no neck drainings for the viewer to enjoy. Instead he is depicted as a perpetually befuddled and bemused idiot, forced to inhabit a human world (for some reason, in Wales) that he doesn’t understand. The comedy comes from his regular interactions with the human characters. The count is convinced that the locals want to drive him out of town, when in fact they simply want to befriend him. This leads to much confusion. In one scene he mistakes a local plumber’s plunger for a stake and throws him into a cess pit. Which is actually kind of funny. Scatological humour is quite rightly central to a lot of shows aimed at children, so its presence in Young Dracula should be welcomed.

However during all of this, amongst the teen angst and slapstick humour, you can’t help but wish that the show had some of the sheer terror that made shows from my youth like The Demon Headmaster and Are You Afraid of the Dark? memorable. In a similar way to Dr. Who today those shows had a flagrant disregard for their young audiences, as if their sole aim was to give them horrific nightmares. In light of that comparison, you can’t help but feel that for a show about vampires Young Dracula is a bit toothless.

Remember for a moment, these two shows had ‘Pirates’ and ‘Dracula’ in the title. I imagine if you turn on CBBC on another day you will be welcomed by shows with names like Underwater Stabbing and Obscure Sexual Fetishes with Konnie Huq, but the former would have very little stabbing, and the latter no obscure sexual fetishes.


Previously published in a heavily edited state in the Epigram issue 203, Monday 21st April