Wednesday, 20 November 2013

I HATE Adverts!

I used to hate adverts. Now they’re not aimed at me they’re even worse.

Last year my PC developed a malware infection that proved remarkably hard to shift. No matter what site I clicked on I was being offered diet pills and underwear that I really didn’t think was gender appropriate. After a few frustrated weeks I installed Adblocker.

Around the same time, for entirely unrelated reasons, I pretty much stopped watching live television. Aside from occasionally catching the news almost everything I watch is online, and even then its usually on Netflix or iPlayer. The upshot is that, aside from when I watch the occasional episode of something on 4OD, I just don’t see TV advertising.

This is why it came as such a culture shock to me when I was forced to sit through twenty minutes of adverts at the cinema the other day. By God, it’s worse than I ever remembered! The feeling I experienced was not irritation, or anger, or even boredom. I can only describe my feelings as profound despair.

What an appalling, witless void of banality! What utter contempt for the audience! So much money, and seemingly quite a bit of talent, wasting on this empty worthless crap! What hope is there for humanity if this is what we’re willing to sit through, let alone if people think that the lifestyles and behaviours, the sheep like conformity and self involved bullshit shown in these adverts are anything that anyone would ever aspire to?

I know, I know, I’ve just described everything that advertising has always been. Still there was a difference here, and it wasn’t simply down to my lack of exposure to advertising over the past year. The adverts have changed because the times have changed, and people aren’t really bothering to advertise to me any more. I’m 30 and I’m single, and because I’m a male people aren’t using that fact to try to sell me ice cream or white wine (I know that sounds sexist, but that’s because I’m describing sexist advertising). I don’t have any kids, I don’t have any plans to buy a house soon and have no particular need for the more advanced financial services. I’m not young enough to be wowed any more by incremental advances in technology – the existence of smartphones at all is still a technological marvel to me. I have higher aspirations than recovering from a hangover by sharing Doritos or Nescafe with pre-added whitener (urgh!) with my smug hipster friends. No-one even wants to sell me cool stuff any more because I’m too old to be a good advert for it, and I’m too young to be sold stuff that isn’t cool, or mid life crisis stuff. I know what I want, I have the means to afford it and the only things I desire are achievements, not possessions.

It’s strange. On one level it’s nice, but on another level I feel kinda disconnected from the world around me. Like I’m wrong. Like I don’t have the right aspirations, and ideals. Like I don’t fit in.

This is the hold marketing has on us. This has shown to me the extent to which our society is defined by this bilge that is shoved down our throats. I am delighted to finally have the opportunity to cut myself off from it to this extent. I urge you to do the same!

Thursday, 14 November 2013

Will everyone please shut up about Miley Cyrus?

According to today’s Guardian, “it seems impossible that anyone with the faintest interest in popular culture could have missed either the song [Robin Thicke’s Blurred Lines] or the controversy”. Well, I guess today is the day that I found out I’d finally lost interest in pop culture, because the only reason I was in any way aware of this song (or Mr Thicke) was because of the utterly tiresome Miley Cyrus twerking “controversy”.

Anyway, apparently the song is very controversial, because some people think it promotes rape. Only other people say it doesn’t promote rape, and that the song only sounds as if it’s promoting rape if you assume that the woman Thicke is singing about has not given her consent. In the context of the song consent is apparently ambivalent.

The reason I haven’t tried to get any clarification on the exact details of this situation is that I don’t care. No-one has actually been raped, the song isn’t explicitly about rape, and I can think of at least half a dozen songs that I’ve heard which do explicitly feature rape, and even condone it.

This is just empty meaningless controversy, designed to stir up some shit to sell some records. The media is more than happy to play along as they can fill some column inches or a few minutes of airtime, stir up some manufactured moral outrage, yell “Ban this sick filth!” and get some attention of their own and increase their sales.

It’s the same with Miley Cyrus. I’m of an age where I was, until very recently, more aware of her dad than I was of Miley. Now, everywhere I turn she’s shoving her bits in my face. I’m actually fed up with it. I know you’re all grown up now, and having tits and being able to show them off is a new thing for you, but seriously, they’ve been around since the stone age and literally billions of people have them. Get over it.

It’s not “empowering”, it’s not “post-feminism”, it’s the same old tired, cynical exploitation of a woman’s body in order to sell shit. I really don’t think the fact that Miley Cyrus herself is complicit and consenting in the exploitation changes much. She's not the person being exploited (whatever Sinead O'Connor thinks), it's everyone who pays any attention to it. It’s not that I find it particularly offensive even, so much as it’s just tiresome. Are we really, in this day and age, going to dance to this tune again? It’s not like she’s even the first Disney star in the past decade to go wild once she came of age.

Now apparently Lily Allen’s new video has been accused of racism. Cue more manufactured outrage. STOP IT!!!! Stop legitimising this nonsense. The more people talk about these songs or videos the more exposure they get, the more people listen to their music and watch their videos and the more money the makers receive. It’s not rocket science.

There is a time and a place to make a stand. The BNP, the EDL, blackshirts, homophobes; people who are making a serious intervention in British public life. Not Miley Cyrus and Lily Allen.

These people aren’t politicians. They aren’t trying to reshape the society they’re in, through their art. They’re pop stars and they’re trying to make money by selling sub-standard music to the masses. When they cross a line the best course of action is to simply personally boycott them. Don’t start a campaign to boycott them. Don’t write letters of complaint. Just don’t give them your money. If we don’t allow a controversy to grow there’s no benefit in shock tactics, and the lost sales will outweigh the sales gained through free media attention.

In short, all this tiresome, offensive crap might end.

Gravity – Movie Review

Gravity opens with the most jaw-dropping special effects shot since Sam Neill saw his first Brachiosaurus in Jurassic Park. Planet Earth stretches out before you, whole, three dimensional, real. In one long, unbroken shot we are introduced to our lead characters as they float through the void, above the audience, in an utterly convincing depiction of modern space flight. Instantly the film makes the best use of 3D seen in the modern age – this film needs to be seen in the cinema.

Our lead characters, Dr Ryan Stone (Sandra Bullock) and Matt Kowalski (George Clooney), are doing routine repairs on the Hubble space telescope, when they get word that a cloud of debris from a damaged satellite is heading their way. As the previously routine mission spins out of control the visual virtuosity continues. Director Alfonso Cuaron throws every trick in the book at the audience – space debris flies towards the screen, the camera flows seamlessly through an astronaut’s visor and into a POV shot, and floating water bubbles land on the camera lens. Gravity is an aggressively stylish film that rivals the work of Fincher and Scorsese for flair and audacity.

Praise is also due to stars Bullock and Clooney, as the jittery rookie and smooth old-hander respectively. Clooney, playing to his strengths, slides back into the easy charm shtick that has served him so well since ER, and reminds you what a likeable screen presence he can be. Bullock, meanwhile, is a revelation, in the more challenging of the two roles, and gives a performance which a) finally puts the ghost of Miss Congeniality to bed and b) must now be considered the hot favourite for Best Actress come awards season. (Special mention must go to the scene where she finally breaks down under stress, which had hardened cynics all around – including myself – pretending they had something in their eye.)

Sadly the script, and the science, can’t quite live up to the quality shown elsewhere. There is an inherent tension in the core premise between scientific realism and disaster movie thrills, and the film expends so much energy trying to create a sense of scientific verisimilitude that it’s especially disappointing when it doesn’t live up to its own exacting standards. As the film moves into its third act, implausibility becomes an increasing problem, and it’s sad that a film which impresses so much with its credibility at the beginning, has you crying “Bullshit!” at the last moment.

There are also moments where sentimentality, cheesiness and cod profundity threaten to overwhelm the good that has gone before. One particular moment, where Clooney is forced to spell out a message that really should have been implicit, is awkward and jarring.

It will be interesting to see how posterity treats Gravity. My instinct is that, on the small screen, and in 2D, its flaws will become glaringly obvious. Don’t let that happen to you. Gravity doesn’t reach the heights scaled by 2001, and never really properly makes its mind up as to whether it wants to be a philosophical science drama or an action thriller. It is, however, a towering visual achievement, an overwhelming spectacle, a rip-roaring action movie, and the best fun I’ve had in a cinema in at least six years.


Friday, 8 November 2013

Who Owns Art?

Who Owns Art?

The recovery of a veritable treasure trove of art, confiscated by the Nazis and thought lost for seventy years, raises profound moral, legal and philosophical questions about the ownership of works of art, and the rights and responsibilities of such ownership.

Munich police have recently announced that, in Spring 2011, during a  raid on the flat of one Rolf Nikolaus Cornelius Gurlitt for suspected tax evasion, they discovered a hoard of modernist art confiscated by the Nazis during World War 2 This collection has been estimated at a value of up to €1bn. Since the discovery the police have begun the mammoth task of not just cataloguing and evaluating the lost works – which include pieces by Picasso, Matisse and Munch – but also of ascertaining whom the rightful owners of these pieces are.

Simply in legal terms the appropriate course of action is not crystal clear. International law states only that there is a “moral obligation” to return works of looted art to their original owners. However, this is non binding, primarily because such works may have subsequently been sold on legitimately, and the morality of removing ownership of an artwork from one person who may have bought it completely legitimately in order to return it to another, previous, legitimate owner is somewhat fuzzy.

In moral and philosophical terms the issues are even more vexed. Certainly someone who has been stolen from, under normal circumstances, deserves to have their property returned if the opportunity becomes available. However, I am less certain that the same applies to the descendants of the owners, especially when the property was stolen under such circumstances. Many people lost everything under Nazi rule and during the second world war, and most of them did not start out wealthy enough to own expensive artworks. These were crimes committed – essentially – in the pre-modern era, and the theft of art (or the destruction of art which occurred during Allied bombing raids on Germany) pales, as a criminal act, in comparison with the horrors visited on many people during that period. Very few people were justly recompensed for their suffering in that time. If our goal is to right the injustices of that period I wouldn't start with stolen paintings.

Against the original owners' right to recompense must be weighed the public interest. Many of the lost works which have been discovered are lost masterpieces by some of the most important artists of the 19th and 20th centuries. These haven't been seen for at least 70 years. Is it really right that these paintings should be returned to private collectors? Doesn't everyone have the right to see these (perhaps with the descendants of the original owners paid a compensatory sum by museums or other public institutions which would display the works)?

Paintings and sculptures are unique as art forms in that they are permanent yet non reproducible. Some art is ephemeral, like a play or live music performance. Reproducible art – books, sound recordings, audiovisual mediums – have a limited copyright (usually between 50-70 years from publication or from an artist's death, depending on country) before they enter the public domain, and I would suggest that a similar rule should be introduced for paintings and sculptures. The reason for copyright is to make sure that artists and companies are properly remunerated for their work and investment. Copyright does not exist as a permanent cash cow to be exploited for generations to come. It recognises that art is part of our history and our culture and that all of society has a right to access it, once proper payment has been made to its creator.

The point of art is to provoke, to inspire. To explore what it means to be human. Art is how we have a discussion about who we are, as individuals and as a species and a society. It exists to be studied, and examined, and discussed. Though many artists may want to create unique experiences for each individual member of their audience, there are very few artists who would only want an audience of one. That to me is the saddest part of this story.

Imagine being Cornelius Gurlitt. Living in a flat piled high with great works of art, year after year, hiding them from the world. Completely unable to show anyone or to discuss with anyone the beauty and brilliance of these pieces. The art itself, stacked in piles, surrounded by 20 year old tins of beans, was apparently only seen by only one man in 55 years. What is the point of beauty that you can't share? I don't understand why anyone would want that. I'd want to show the world and to hell with the money.

This week the world regained a bit of its heritage that was thought lost forever. I hope we get to see it.

Written by Andy Croucher