Archive for November, 2005

Gloria


G-L-O-R-I-A. Nothing to do with Patti Smith, theough the late seventies/early eighties Noo Yoik cityscape did make me think of her, particularly the cover of Easter for some reason. Anyway, Cassavetes’ 1980 film finds wife Gena Rowlands, starring as the aforementioned Gloria, former gangsters girl and sole protector of six year old Puerto-Rican, Phillip, the son of her mafia-connected neighbours – who’ve all just been killed by the mob.

Gloria, is a pretty weird film. Most of the acting is bad, (though Rowlands isn’t) and the dialogue is clunky, but I really enjoyed this film – I like badly acted movies anyway, as they seem to capture more of lifes reality than any of the down pat emotional moves of the big blockbusters. Gloria, as a character is also strangely compelling, and reminded me of a harder edged version of Pat Butcher, but transplanted to seventies Manhatten.

Subtextually this film is strangely feminist. The boy Phillip dosen’t really seem to have been written as a character in himself, he exists more as cipher to spew out a range of Freudian power struggles that go on between children and their mothers, and more paricularly mean and women. The film is also interesting in that despite the fact that throughout the film Gloria displays little affection with the boy Phillip she is nevert ‘punished’ for this. Indeed, even the figurative death at the films end where we see Gloria with grey hair is revealed as illusory as Gloria peels off a wig to reveal her usual hair below.

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Harman’s ideas for victim statements in trials…

Something I wrote for Dogma back in October, a bit old now:

Harriet Harman’s recently announced consultation paper to allow victims families more of a say in court is a populist, but ultimately, worrying scheme likely to cause more problems than it solves. Under the proposed scheme a family-member, lawyer, or so-called ‘victims-advocate’ would be able to read out a prepared statement outlining the loss they have suffered. The statement would be read out after the jury has convicted, but before the judge has carried out sentencing.

In England and Wales, as the law currently stands, counsel for the prosecution is able to read out a ‘victim impact statement’ prepared by the family of the deceased in court at the end of the trial, so the only thing likely to be gained by having a family member address the court is an emotive dimension to proceedings. Ideally though a court hearing should remain calm, balanced and as emotion-free as possible from beginning to end; the introduction of emotional testaments, designed to coerce judges into handing out tough sentences is likely to turn the idea of a fair and balanced trial on its head. However, it seems that this is exactly what the government is after, with Harman saying that: “If it means the sentence is higher on manslaughter than it might otherwise have been in the first instance without hearing from the victim’s relatives, I think that would be a good thing and that would be right.”

The new proposals may, of course, make no difference to the sentences handed-out by judges, and a victim’s family is unlikely to feel empowered by the system if, despite their best and most histrionic efforts, they still see the accused walking off with a minimum sentence. By tinkering with murder and manslaughter cases this way the government may just be making the process more painful and miserable for all concerned.

Chrome Panthers by Ex Models (feat. Kid Millions)


Originally written for Dogma Oct Issue.

Given that all the uber-hip kids have now gone off the whole post-punk thing and are now into mid-eighties noise bands like Swans and Whitehouse, the fact that Ex Models third album, Chrome Panthers, is an industrial record kind of makes sense.

Whereas on Zoo Psychology, the group’s last album, the onus was on fragmentary one-and-a-half minutes shards of noise, in contrast Chrome Panthers is positively droney. That said this is still a highly discordant and unsettling record. The guitars scrape and knaw in a way reminiscent of the soundtrack to The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, and while the guitar parts may be repetitive their overall effect is to aggressively wear down the listener.

This is difficult music in the best sense of the word but there are more accessible moments here, notably on Buy American (formerly a split 7″ with Holy Molar) and Headlines, the latter making use of simple lyrical motifs to hold together the more wayward underlying blasts of metallic guitar.

Digital Hegemony


Originally posted in the October 205 edition of Dogma.

It’s no secret that Rupert Murdoch hates the BBC. He views the public sector broadcaster as anti-competitive and monopolistic and will do anything in his power to destroy it, leaving the airways open for NewsCorp channels like Fox and Sky. So it came as no surprise when Murdoch let slip Tony Blair’s comment on the Beeb’s reporting of Hurricane Katrina. With the BBC’s charter up for renewal in 2006 this was always going to be a goodtime for Murdoch to get the boot in, but what marks this out from previous chapters in the Murdoch/BBC war is the role likely to be played by the internet.

NewsCorp was slow to get to grips with the internet in the late nineties, but has now developed a sudden infatuation with the world-wide-web. There are a number of factors underlying this, firstly the online advertising market is ballooning, and is set to reach £105 billion ($189bn) by the end of the decade, and secondly traditional print media is losing readers to the net. This is more than enough to get Murdoch interested in NewsCorp’s online presence and he’s far from happy that in the UK both the BBC and Guardian are ahead of the game, especially as they’re not just competitors but ideologically opposed competitors. It therefore makes sense for Murdoch to step up his campaign against the BBC that bit more, especially at this crucial time, because if he can undermine the BBC and get rid of the licence fee, he’ll be rid of a major competitor on two fronts.

Murdoch’s interest in the net goes way beyond the on-going feud with the BBC though, and it looks like if Murdoch gets his way NewsCorp could soon be competing with major internet players in all sectors.

The first rumblings that Murdoch wanted dominance over the internet came in April this year, when in a speech to The American Society of Newspaper Owners, he described the challenges facing traditional forms of media (not to mention the idea of objective reportage). Saying: “What is happening is, in short, a revolution in the way young people are accessing news. They don’t want to rely on the morning paper for their up-to-date information. They don’t want to rely on a god-like figure from above to tell them what’s important. And to carry the religion analogy a bit further, they certainly don’t want news presented as gospel.”

Since then NewsCorp has been looking out for suitable online investments to buy up. In July it set up a new subsidiary, Fox Interactive Media, headed by Ross Levinsohn, former head of interactive business of Fox Sports. A few days later Fox announced its plans to buy Intermix Media for £315 million ($580m), which runs over 30 websites, including MySpace.com, the fifth most visited website on the net.

A few weeks later Fox paid out another £361 million ($650m) on IGN Entertainment which runs websites such as Gamespy.com, a games site, and RottenTomatoes.com, a film reviews site. Before moving on to gobble up Scout.com which owns around two hundred niche sporting titles, covering College, NFL, MLB, High School and other professional team sports. While it was also rumoured that Fox bid in the region of £52 million ($93m) for Australian property network Realestate.com.au and looked into trying to acquire Skype, an online telephony company for £1.7 billion ($3bn).

Now reports are circulating that Murdoch is looking to snap up a search engine, though it seems that the most popular frontrunner Blinkx is now out of the picture, having made it clear to Fox Interactive that it’s not up for sale.Murdoch’s eventual goal is to compete, not just with other news-based services like the BBC, but also with portals, such as Yahoo, and search engines too. Sites like Google are as much the competitors as The Guardian and CNN, because in many ways Murdoch is after a digital hegemony. Customers will network and post blogs through NewsCorp owned sites full of advertisements that direct them to other News Corp sites. They’ll use search engines that direct them to News Corp owned sites, and all content on these sites will be NewsCorp-owned, with all the political bias that, that entails.

As Murdoch said in his April address, he wants to be more than a competitor: “Our internet site will have to do still more to be competitive. For some, it may have to become the place for conversation. The digital native doesn’t send a letter to the editor anymore. She goes online, and starts a blog. We need to be the destination for those bloggers. We need to encourage readers to think of the web as the place to go to engage our reporters and editors in more extended discussions about the way a particular story was reported or researched or presented.”

If Murdoch gets his way, and Fox Interactive has more money behind, even at this early stage than both Yahoo and Google, then the way we consume media online could be set for a massive shake-up. Where once the web was a place where portals, content, online communities, blogs and search engines were all separate individual entities, in some cases, they could all simply become small parts in a vast panoptic digital empire run by Fox Interactive.

Happy Birthday… to me


Well today is the last day I’ll ever be 26, and I suppose the last day of my mid-twenties. That’s another mile on the clock then.

It is true as you get older you get more miserable, though I’ve yet to pin down what exactly this is caused by: the accumulation of debt and history; the fact that your whole life is no longer before you… And you start to wonder, blimey if its this bad at 27 what will 37 be like?

Of course I think it’s likely that a lot of this is the result of the fetishisation of youth in the commercial media. Whether its the ‘edgy’ advertising of high-end consumables by 17 year old models (nevermind that the only 17 year old who could afford this stuff would have to have a trust fund the size of Antartica), or the histrionic chorus that rises up from glossy mags to cleanse, tone and moisturise; and if that fails get botox.

Even information on health seems to add to this fetishisation of youth as an idealised state. Don’t smoke; or your’ll age 500 years in a decade and then die of a blood clot/heart attack/cancer. Don’t drink, because you’ll die of liver failure. While there is some truth to these proclamations at the same time they have the effect of producing a despondent, end of the road hysteria in wider culture. What in actual fact all these messges are saying is don’t live. They say that your time as an active participant in the world is ending and that you should settle down, breed, consume and give up.

Meanwhile, angst is something that is romanticised and deemed reltively acceptable in teenagers, not so in people much past there early twenties though. Maybe it’s just that people past a certain age aren’t cute enough, but whatever the reason nihilism is fetishised in youth in a way that would be dismissed as self-indulgent in the adult world. I understand why teenagers feel angst-ridden but I hardly think that their pain is greater, or more ‘beautiful’ (sic), than anyone elses. Again and again studies show that despite everything, that people get happier and happier till the ages of 18-21 and after that get more miserable year in, year out. Perhaps the reason teenage angst is permitted in western society is because its the safest kind of ‘deppression’ that can be handled in this consumerist wonderland, with its ridiculous swallowing of that part of the American Dream that goes “work hard and you’ll be rewarded’ (like that ever happens – its more like work hard and watch some chancer race past you into the sunset, or alternately: work hard 12 hours a day on the minimum wage and watch as you drown in the rising waters of New Orleans, while you fat cat boss who does fuck all gets out before the first drop of rain falls, while you get stuck in this hell hole that looks like some out-take from Dawn of The Dead because of the inherent rascism/classism that exists within the society you’re propping up).

Existensial angst and ennui is good at selling us product though. I think this is because it taps into the myth of individualism which has been post-war consumerisms main driving force. Everyone wants to think that they are special and the unspecified misey of teenage boredom, depression and alienation validates our own belief in our own superiority, specialness, intelligence and worth. The mundame miseries of putting food on the table, paying bills and scrimping and saving just aren’t sexy (unless we’re staring in a low budget art-house flick perhaps). Many moons ago I remeber a Manics fan writing to Melody Maker saying that she didn’t want “to fade into tv dinner oblivion” – I get what she meant now, more so than I did at the time. I don’t believe though that this is the route we all have to take, becoming old crumpled and miserable. It’s a difficult state of affairs to avoid, especially with a capitalist system which always teaches us to be afraid so that we but more stuff, but I believe it can be achieved through creation, individual artisitic endeavour and engagement with the world. You can’t get this stuff through the market – you’ll end up with an Ikea kitchen instead. And as for youth, I think I’d rather be me than some little 18 year old nine years my junior, wrinkles and all, because to believe otherwise would be to miss the whole point of life in the first place.

Suburbia


Not to be confused with the Richard Linklater film of the same name, Penelope Spheeris’ film focuses on a band of punks squatting in disused housing in eighties L.A.

The acting is pretty bad (the main actors were all pulled off the street to star in the film) but the film does have a certain charm and insight that lifts it above the rudimentary acting skills of its central players.

You would expect a healthy dose of nihilism in something like this and you certainly get it. The central characters – “T.R” or “The Rejected” as they call themselves – rant against the emptiness of the suburbs, their parents and pretty much else lauded as positive in American society. When asked why she previously attempted suicide, one of the characters is reported as saying as “Pick a reason”. This is “morning in America” alright, but a morning where you wake to find that someone’s puked on your lawn in the middle of the night.

The film is also interesting in the way it touches upon some of the inherent racism and sexism within the early eighties hardcore scene, and dosen’t flinch from portraying some its central protaganists in a less than idealised light.

Ultimately this is an interesting period piece that manages to mantain an air of menance and dread throughout, right up to the rather bleak finale. Throughout it deals with a lot of the social, cultural and political issues that were going on at the time both in mainstream society and underground.