Off Black Magazine launches today: fashion, arts and culture.
WE ARE DRAWN TO THE EXPERIMENTAL, STRONG, EQUAL AND FUN. WE PROMOTE FREEDOM OF EXPRESSION FOR ALL.
Me too. I was delighted to be asked to write for the launch issue (which takes ‘The Body’ as its theme) on the censorship of art and culture. My article takes in erotica, Google algorithms, 3D models of vaginas, Instagram’s terms & conditions, and Rupert Bear’s penis.
Vladimir Putin has this week signed into a law some measures to ban swearing in films, books and music. Films with obscene content will not be granted a distribution certificate and exisiting books and music with foul language will have to be sold in special wrapping.
I spoke to Alison Flood of the Guardian about the new law, and what it says about the state of Russian politics:
Writers’ group English PEN has already condemned the move. Robert Sharp, its head of campaigns, says: “Swear words exist in every language and are part of everyday speech. Russian artists will no longer be able reflect genuine, everyday speech. Instead, they will have to sacrifice authenticity in order to please a committee of censors. This new law sends the signal that law-makers want to sanitise and silence the voice of ordinary Russians.”
In recent years, Sharp adds, we have witnessed Russia’s slow slide into authoritarianism, with impunity for the killers of Anna Politkovskaya, the prosecution of Pussy Riot, and the ban on discussing homosexuality. “These things have all squeezed the space for free speech in Russia. The government claims it is ‘protecting and developing culture’, but the effect will be to ensure that culture becomes staid, uniform and boring.”
How to describe the particular type of nausea induced by last might’s Brit Awards? It was not so much the music itself – bands like Bastille and Rudimental are producing catchy, modern pop, and I loved the choreography in Bruno Mars’ performance of ‘Treasure’. Rather, it was everything else about the event itself: The arrogant, cursory acceptance speech by Arctic Monkeys’ Alex Turner; Harry Styles’ joke “what did we win” when he arrived late on stage to collect an award; and presenter James Corden’s constant references to people taking cocaine in the loos. The entire programme seemed to be channelling a drug bore, who thinks he is being the life of the party when in fact he is rambling and obnoxious.
Last week The Bookseller reported on a furore in the world of e-Book publishing. Erotic self-published novels appeared next to children’s literature in the WH Smith online store, which is powered by Kobo.
This looks to me like a technical mistake, but the occurence provoked outrage. The store was taken offline for a while and many books were removed from sale. I spoke to The Bookseller about the controversy: Continue reading
The headteacher at the Harris Academy in London has banned the pupils from using slang. This is not a new thing: Earlier this year, a school in Sheffield did the same thing, the Manchester Academy in Moss Side introduced a similar policy in 2008… and its exam results increased the following year.
UCB Radio asked me on the the Paul Hammond show to discuss the issue. You can listen to my contribution by following this link, or via the SoundCloud player below. Continue reading
I’m glad that Malala Yousafzai did not win the Nobel Peace Prize.
This is not because I do not applaud her bravery and support her fantastic campaigning work. Rather, I worry about the effect of thrusting the prize onto someone so young.
Previous Nobel Laureates have reported that winning the prize is incredibly disruptive to their career. Peter Higgs, who was awarded the Chemistry prize last week, tried to escape media inquiries. But they tracked him down eventually,
Our media is full of stories of child prodigies pressurised into excellence and unhappiness. Child actors regularly seem to end up in rehab units, and the career trajectory of child pop-stars like Britney Spears and Miley Cyrus makes everyone uneasy. We angst over the plight of Royal babies, born into incredible wealth but no privacy. Continue reading
A battered side street in the old part of Buenos Aires. The tarmac seems pockmarked. Parts of the curb are missing, and the serrated edge of the paving slabs are exposed, like the diseased gums of an old Gaucho.
A modest cafe. It seems rooted to the sidewalk, like the weeds. Other shops have long since shuttered, and their proprietors have escaped to the suburbs. But this establishment persists.
I scrape back one of the metal chairs.
“Un cafe, por favor?” The young waiter rolls his eyes. Is he annoyed that I have not ordered more, or is he casting judgement on my formal, European Spanish? Whatever: He clearly understands, and he slopes inside.
To my left, a croak. “English?”
I turn my head. A man sits alone, his mouth drawn down on one side. A stroke, perhaps?
“Yes,” I reply. “London.”
“Where else!” he replies. And now a smile. So no, not a stroke, just a crooked face. But he does not look straight at me. He cannot see very well. Continue reading
A little while back, the Independent ran a feature on ‘the selfie’, that genre of modern self-portrait taken with a smart phone. Hilary and Chelsea Clinton had published a selfie, which signalled the form’s crossover from youth culture to the mainstream.
When we discuss social media, the usual insight is that it allows people (whether they are public figures like Hilary Clinton or Rhianna, or just ordinary members of the public) to communicate without having to go through the established media corporations. But I think the great significance of social media is that the traditional media outlets have completely co-opted it into their coverage. The mainstream media’s tracking of Edward Snowden’s escape from Hong Kong to Russia was powered by Twitter. Sports reporters quote Tweets from players and managers to gain insights into their state of mind or the state of their transfer deal.
And selfies are now routinely used by the newspapers to illustrate tragic young deaths. Whether it is a car accident, a drug overdose, a gang murder, or a bullying related suicide, the photo editors turn to the victim’s Facebook page or Twitter stream to harvest images. The latest example of this is Hannah Smith, who committed suicide last week. I noted a couple of years ago how they were used to report the overdose of Issy Jones-Rielly. And the reporting on the joint-suicide of Charleigh Disbrey and Mert Karaoglan in June was heavy with ‘selfies’. Continue reading
Here’s a euphemism laden sentence from a Daily Telegraph editorial:
[The research] shows a continuing pattern of “white flight” from areas where indigenous Britons find themselves surrounded by new minority communities.
Where they say ‘indigenous’ they mean ‘white’, and when they say ‘minority communities’ they mean not-white (Aisha Phoenix called this out in The LIP Magazine, a decaded ago). The posh language dresses a racial issue as a cultural one.
And the research in question is questionable. I found the Telegraph editorial via a blog post by Jonanthan Portes of the National Institute of Economic and Social Research. Portes was taking on the grand claims for “white flight” by David Goodhart in his book The British Dream. If people in the ‘White British’ group are leaving London, they are doing so in relatively small numbers.
The release today of The Reluctant Fundamentalist, based on Mohsin Hamed’s brilliant novel, reminded me to post this article I wrote for InPrint, the magazine of the Society of Young Publishers. It was published last month, in the issue timed to co-incide with the London Book Fair.
Who drives our culture? Conventional wisdom says it is Hollywood. After all, it is the ﬁlm industry that produces the most highly paid artistes and the most visible ‘A listers’. Film is a visual medium and it churns out icons at a steady, lucrative rate. The four-hour Oscars telecast is beamed live around the world.
By contrast, the announcement of the Man Booker Prize does not even get its own TV slot in schedules. The announcement is allowed to interrupt the news broadcasts, but the analysis and reactions are made to wait until a scheduled bulletin and it’s never the lead story.
Film claims global relevance, whereas publishing is parochial. Film claims to be popular, whereas publishing is elitist. Continue reading