Friday 20 November 2015

What's higher than "top" gear?

I appreciate that this isn't very topical, being, as it is, in the yawning chasm between Jeremy Clarkson's "punchgate" and the launch of both the new, Chris Evans-fronted Top Gear and Clarkson, Hammond and May's Amazon effort, Gear Knobs. But one thing the furore around punchgate has proved is that everyone likes to have an opinion, regardless of whether they like/loathe Clarkson or whether they always/sometimes/never watched Top Gear.

Plus, I like to make graphs.

Wednesday 18 November 2015

(Good) grief

Early last Friday evening, I wrote about the whole "I am considerably more righteous than you" phenomenon that prevails across social media - I called it competitive correctness (© me, 2015). The terrible events of Friday night only reinforced the point. By Saturday morning, a few people on Facebook were overlaying their profile pictures with the Tricolore (that's the correct French spelling - I checked so you don't have to). By lunchtime, half of my contacts had done this, and Facebook was facilitating this with a one-click button that might as well have been labelled "Empathise publicly". By tea-time, people were sharing the story of the attack on a Kenyan university. Mostly sharing without reading, I'd suggest, because by Sunday morning my timeline was full of people criticising those sharing the Kenyan uni story, since that attack had happened in April.

What does all this prove? Nothing, really. People can grieve, and show that grief, however they like, publicly or privately. And grieving about something that is relatable (like a European capital city not unlike our own and that we may have visited often) more than something that is further removed from our life (like a provincial African university) is surely understandable, even if not in alignment with your personal views? Grief isn't a competition, any more than being righteous about things should be.

Me, I prefer grief to be private and personal, but maybe I'm just old-fashioned. In the words of that great sage of our time, Len Goodman, "I'm just a cup of tea man in a skinny latte world."

Friday 13 November 2015

Competitive correctness

I am a bit concerned about the wave of manufactured outrage that has tsunamied its way through the collective mind and spirit of Joe Public (UK).

  • Not wearing a poppy on a TV show broadcast on October 30th (and recorded even earlier)? Disrespectful cow.
  • Not bowing low enough at the Cenotaph? I mean, still bowing, just not bowing low enough to meet some new societal standard? Forget eschewing a VIP reception afterwards and mingling with veterans instead, before catching public transport across town to attend another remembrance service. Just, you know, fuck off.
  • Question the cultural changes inherent in massive net migration? Racist.

Full disclosure: regular readers will know I am a huge fan of Morrissey, but I have no axe to grind about Sienna Miller or Jeremy Corbyn. I'm just tired, tired, tired of this need everyone seems to have to be absolutely, unimpeachably right-on, all the time. And of course, should someone else not equate to that level of right-on-ness, then they are fair game. Capital letters are usually required at this point, it seems. And exclamation marks. To paraphrase:

"I'm more right-on than you! You might think you'll pretty cool and clued up about most things, and know how to behave, but YOU DON'T because I'M MORE RIGHT-ON THAN YOU!! MY DEFINITION OF RIGHT-ON SHOULD BE THE MINIMUM (AND MAXIMUM) STANDARD FOR THE REST OF THE WORLD!!!"

Dave Gorman mines this collective outrage from what he calls "the bottom half of the Internet" (i.e. the comments section) to great comic effect in his Found Poems. And Jon Ronson writes about the new "let's get 'em" attitude that underscores public vilification in his latest book, So You've Been Publicly Shamed. Both are highly recommended.

Me, I just despair. It isn't political correctiveness gone mad (™ Daily Mail), it's worse than that. It's competitive correctness. Fête me for my virtue. Scorn everybody else.

What a time to be alive, eh?

Tuesday 10 November 2015

Bye bye beta...

So, Sony have finally pulled the plug on Betamax tapes. Speaking as someone who had two spells as a brown goods salesman in the early 1990s, this makes me sad. Of course, by the mid-90s, Betamax was already passé. We still sold the cassettes, but even we probably sold no more than five a year. My colleagues and I used to keep an eye open though for any faulty players that came in "for disposal" after a customer had replaced one with a VHS machine. We knew that if a late-80s player could be repaired cheaply enough, there was a profit to be turned. And since we had access to an engineer who did private work at mate's rates... well, it could have been lucrative. But so few ever came back. They seemed so well made, perhaps even over-engineered.

What makes me sadder still is that the predominance achieved by VHS seemed to be a triumph of style over substance - Betamax recording quality was far, far ahead of anything VHS achieved. Even the subsequent introduction of multi-headed players and Super-VHS only brought parity for JVC's format, not superiority. But there you go, style over substance, and the first of many format wars.

To celebrate the end of Betamax, here's a salesman training video from seventeen years before I hung up my salesman boots.

Monday 2 November 2015

Waxing lyrical

I think people fall into one of two camps when it comes to listening to music: those that just like the overall sound of a song, paying no attention to the lyrics, and those for whom the lyrics are important. I fall into the latter category and suspect that you, discerning reader, do too.

I once went out with a girl who had no idea what House Of Fun by Madness was about, because she paid the words no attention. I was also able to convince her that in the chorus of Has My Fire Really Gone Out, Paul Weller later sung "I haven't put enough money in the meter". She bought this because she wasn't bothered by lyrics at all and, I guess, it sounded plausible, since the song was obviously about fires...

Last Friday, I was listening to Simon Mayo's drivetime radio show on my way home from work. A woman had called in to request a song - her family were celebrating, with one daughter about to get married and another daughter having just had a baby. So the matriarch asked if Simon would play Mr Brightside by The Killers because "it's a really good, happy song." Er, no it isn't. Good: yes; happy: no. Not unless burning jealousy makes you happy.

Lyrics are important, is the obvious point I'm trying to make. Good lyrics stay with you. Good lyrics can, and should, infuse your language. That's why, when someone says to me "That's just the way it is", I will invariably reply "Some things will never change." Or, when recounting an unpleasant event or difficult time in my life, I will often add, "I can smile about it now but at the time it was terrible."

Lyrics - listen to them, people. Embrace them. Adopt them. Unless you're submitting to KissThisGuy, in which case do whatever the hell you want.