Friday, 20 April 2012

Jeremy Clarkson and the Striking Workers of Doom

Jeremy Clarkson worries me. And I don't mean in the usual sense that he writes for the Sun, or that his hair is a frightening reminder of the worst excesses of 1980s hairdressing; I mean more what the furore in the linked article represents. You see, on the one hand, he is an idiot. He's a big, petrol-loving, masculinist pile of 1970; a walking mid-life crisis. Yes he cheated on his wife. Yes he ignores climate change because he happens to like driving the biggest cause of it. And yes, he has on occasion said one or two genuinely offensive things. But the point is, that is the image that - I suspect - he very carefully cultivates as part of his media persona. But where he really concerns me is his propensity to land himself in vast amounts of trouble with humourless people who seem wilfully determined to misinterpret everything he says. The most recent example (that I just got round to posting) was the furore in the red-tops over striking public sector workers:
OUTSPOKEN Jeremy Clarkson is under investigation by TV watchdog Ofcom after saying striking workers "should be shot". The TV host was forced to apologise after he said all striking public sector workers should be executed in front of their families. He later told furious union bosses that his outburst had been taken out of context — and was simply a joke. Sun columnist Jeremy, 51, sparked more than 21,000 complaints to the BBC and almost 800 to Ofcom. The exchange came with show hosts Matt Baker and Alex Jones amid the walk-out over pension reform. Jeremy said: "I'd have them all shot. I would take them outside and execute them in front of their families.
And that's from the newspaper which hosts his column. Taken out of context, it is a horrible thing to say, made more convincing by the curmudgeonly image he projects. It works in terms of horrifying the readers - they get to believe that Clarkson was so angered by the minor inconvenience to him that he would actually want to see people executed. And if that's the soundbite that was disseminated, it's hardly surprising. But look at the whole quote from the article initially linked at the top:
"I think they have been fantastic. Absolutely. London today has just been empty. Everybody stayed at home, you can whizz about, restaurants are empty." However, he added: "We have to balance this though, because this is the BBC. Frankly, I'd have them all shot. I would take them outside and execute them in front of their families."
So Clarkson ridicules the BBC's rules about balance with a form of reductio ad absurdum (no, it's not a Harry Potter spell), and it gets picked up as a straight desire to see the striking workers massacred. Everything is wrong with this analysis, and the people making this analysis. If anything they should be complaining about the BBC, who at the time were attacking people trying to defend fair working conditions in the name of 'balance.' And it was these attacks that Clarkson was lampooning. But the people complaining didn't see the irony, or the obvious overstatement for comic effect. Either that, or they took the papers at their literal word, which - in the current Murdoch-controlled environment - is equally dangerous. And on the part of the journalists and the public both, it's just lazy - there are enough good stories to be written out there that making up new ones almost seems like journalists not doing their research. Not (as I, and anyone familiar with Clarkson did) looking up the original, full quote in it's desired context. After all, as I've said to friends before, the bible is just as open to wilful misinterpretation if you exclude the context. A lot of the old testament is 'backstory' showing the older, wrong attitudes Christians are trying to work on. Not every quote from a biblical character is intended to be taken as advice. Returning to Harry Potter for a second, if someone quoted a line by Voldemort or Malfoy, it's doubtful Rowling would consider them words to live by. A better example would be Harry's dialogue, depending whether he was making mistakes and panicking at the start of the book, or if he had realised what was going on. Or Snape, depending on whether he was at the time trying to lie to Harry, keep his double-double cross secret, or dying. Context is everything. Which is why the more paranoid among you may have noticed the disclaimer along the bottom of the page: "No part of this page may be paraphrased or reproduced out of context in any media without the prior permission of the author." It's a largely futile gesture I realise, but the idea behind the wording is that if someone wants to quote me they have to approve it with me first. Until they do, I'll be over here cowering under the bedsheets in case I advance far enough in writing for my rampant sarcasm to net me as many problems as the Kevin Keegan headed motormouth this rant addresses.

Tuesday, 17 April 2012

Regardless, the Government Will Win

I don't know what's worse; the fact that the government keeps allowing things like gas fracking and hoping that the public will just forget about it in a few weeks, or the fact that we do keep forgetting about it in a few weeks. Maybe it's because of the entertainment that's available - people are too distracted by the bright shiny lights to notice the people crawling in the gutter. Maybe it's because on an individual scale, life is pretty comfortable for a large enough majority of us; and after all it's hardly likely to be us who gets hit by the earthquakes, or the welfare cuts, or the healthcare problems. Maybe it's because we've been shoved through so much, we've reached a kind of emotional burn out, and we're all sitting disinterestedly waiting to see what the government fuck up next. And it's not just the British government. SOPA, ACTA, PIPA... I know two of those are American regulations, but they affect the internet, and like it or not the majority of the net's control points reside in US territory. They're just going to keep pushing it through because they know that eventually the papers will get sick of reporting it, the majority will get sick of protesting and signing petitions, and it will go through in some form. Maybe not in it's current drafted form, but in stealth additions and redrafts, over time they'll get there, and there'll be nothing we can do about it because nobody's listening. We live in a country that went to war for democracy, and we accept that our government is just doing whatever it wants. We didn't give a public mandate for these actions. The idea behind the voting system is that the parties set out what they'll do if they get in power, we vote for them, and then they do those things. Whereas we've seen both parties go back on their election promises and core values: The Lib dems on tuition fees, the Tories on the NHS, and that's not to mention the idea of a liberal government allowing the demolition of the welfare state. We did not vote for this. The saddening thing though is that the Coalition pretty much do have a green light to do what they like, because they have the perfect excuse. They will always be able to look back on this last budget and the austerity drive as a resounding success for one simple reason. The Olympics. We are about to get a massive influx of cash into the coffers, and in terms of pure statistics, it means that the government will be able to say they were right. In it's simplest terms (which let's face it is all the red-tops can understand), the government say we need to save money, they enact measures to save money, and we get a lot of money just after they enact them. They'll have the statistics that - if spun right - will mean that the austerity drive, the fire-sale on the NHS, the plunder of the welfare state: everything will be justified. So here's to the future. Comfortable enough, as long as we relinquish control. Control over the right to free information, control over our own safety and control over our money. It'd be enough to make me sick if I could afford the treatment.

Thursday, 12 April 2012

Insidious Review

I can't help but think that with Insidious, if the trailer had been honest it might have been better received. Going back to the John Carter rant, it used to be that studios could just lie and refuse to give refunds. That way the advertising would trick people into going, which inflated sales. Under the old system it didn't matter if the film sucked harder than Debbie Does Dallas (in all the wrong ways) - studios just say that 'The numbers speak for themselves.' A cinema full of disappointed people is still a full cinema, once the money is in the bank. Now however, those pissed off people are walking out and spreading the word about how bad films are, or in the case of Insidious, how unlike Paranormal Activity they are - but more on Insidious in a second. There seems to be a heartening move away from the old success of mis-advertising, so it looks like the studios need a 'new trick.' I'd like to suggest maybe stop tricking people - just advertise the film honestly? Regardless, I can't help but feel that this was the problem with Insidious. The trailer does make it seem like it's rolling off the success of Paranormal Activity, and it kind of is, at least in the first half. But once the mediums appear in the middle of the film, it's like a different story; like the writer died halfway through and they had to patch the rest of the story up with bits of The Exorcist, Ghostbusters and Poltergeist. In a way, I wish they'd just skipped straight to that weird switch point. Normally the reason you sit through the boring first part is to establish the character's belief in an unbelievable situation - you're sharing the growing sense of unease as it builds up to 'OK, now they have to do something.' With Insidious however, the real moment of realisation doesn't come until the main character's mother calls in the medium. Note that it's not the couple that makes this choice, it's the mother - a decision she could have reached at any point during the film, or the missing three months near the start. It takes a moment of fridge logic to realise it, but she would have had to have spent that entire three months watching her grandson in a coma without once linking it to her son (his father)'s astral projection. In other words, there's little reason for the first half of the film to be there. They could have skipped straight to the switch point and had a completely different film. It's nice, and the scare moments are built up quite well, but it could have done with a lot more editing down. Not to say the second half is perfect of course. It creeps along nicely and pulls up some genuinely interesting frights, although the two investigators do feel slightly out of place in an otherwise straight-faced horror. The demon itself is a disappointing example of Nothing is Scarier and Monster Delay though. When the creepy dancing child is seen bursting from a cupboard, it takes a little freeze frame or attentiveness, but you can see if you look closely that something is wrong with it's face, almost as if it had Progeria, the premature ageing condition. It puts you off balance subtly, just as it does with the victorian dress. As Hitchcock was reputed to have said, "something something will never be able to show an audience anything scarier than their own imagination." (No I can't be bothered to look the real quote up). But in contrast, the demon itself that forms the focus of the film is shown near the end completely clear and out in the open, and it ruins the suspense almost as much as the credits listing it as 'Lipstick Face Demon.' Everyone watching with me laughed when it started to stomp across the room on hooves, because by that point most of us were thinking of Tenacious D. Contrast that with the first time you see it's face, half-seen hissing behind Josh's head, and it's a pretty good scare. Admittedly though, by that point there's so much happening you kind of forgive it, since it's far from their biggest problem. It just seems as though Insidious could have been a great film if it had stuck to it's guns and held thematically with the second half, instead of trying to make another Paranormal Activity. It's worth watching though. Gave me the willies something rotten.

Wednesday, 11 April 2012

Reorganisation & Phone Wars

As you may have noticed, I have finally caved and given in to the evils of using a premade theme, because sadly the internet has evolved to the point where design and content production are two different specialisations. I will admit, I do miss being able to tweak every last aspect of the layout, margins and colours. When I first got Quake II all those many moons ago it took me a month of playing every evening to get past the second level, because I spent all my time fiddling with the 3D settings. Mostly because it coincided with us getting our first 3D card, but I digress. The point is, I find myself fannying about less and less these days. It's not my focus any more. If I want this to be a site that people actually read, I have to concentrate on the content, not the looks. Not to say I won't be heavily editing the theme mind you - I will, as it currently looks lazy as hell, and the list of categories beneath the header has gone missing for reasons I have yet to adequately explain. Wait, no, it's just white against a white background. Ass. But this always happens to me when editing by hand. For years I've been banging on to people about the benefits of clean code, and why programs like Dreamweaver overburden your site with a mound of shite, and why Blogger was so overautomated it was nearly impossible to use. Premade never caters to your precise needs, and it's always ever so slightly wrong in a way that sits there nagging at you, like a child actor in a Steven Sommers film. Which brings up a worrying post I read yesterday, and more worryingly agreed with. An error with my phone led me to a blog post by Joel McLauglin, who has made me realise there may be something in the armies of people who get iPhones because they 'just work.' And I realised how much I do forgive my little droid. I forgive it the fact that it takes twice as long for the Facebook app to load my feed as the mobile feed takes. I forgive it the fact that it is hopeless at white balancing photos and everything ends up magenta tinted (yes it's an HTC). I even forgive using a bizarre hybrid of Android 2.1 and 2.2, which I only discovered the other day when I had to do a factory reset. The phone crashed halfway through downloading 2.2 and some of the features didn't update. But I forgive all this because it's the first touchscreen I ever had. And looking at the things that matter - battery life, paying less and freedom of usage - the Legend still outshines the more modern iterations of the iPhone. To me, anyway. I don't care if the phone talks to you now, I've always said: with the iPhone, you pay extra for fewer features. And yet... the user experience on Android is getting really shabby. Google effectively don't even bother patching a lot of Android issues - they'll work correctly in the next release, but if your phone won't support that release, you're stuck. And with UK users forced into 24 month contracts, you can guarantee by the end of the first year Google will have written your handset out of the list of droids compatible with their newest version, so you never get the promised bug fix. There are too many different phones with too many different hardware and software versions, and apps simply can't remain compatible with all of them. Apps drop out or freeze up all the time. All of your friends will be using an app your phone doesn't support. The battery life is only better if you turn everything off, and then you're not getting the extra features you're boasting about over the iPhone. So it occurs to me that sometimes you get what you pay for. And if you're willing to accept all these glitches, then that's the tradeoff. I used to be able to, but I'll admit it is starting to grate on my nerves. But some people aren't willing - they'd rather pay to have someone professional sort things out, i.e. someone they can sue or shout at if it goes wrong. So yeah. I finally understand why people buy iPhones. I'm not sure if I'm happy about that or not.