#MichaelJacksonRIP vs #IranElection

Evenin’ all. I wanted to make a quick point about certain global news stories, and the relative amount of news coverage given to each.
Its fashionable, yet incredibly easy to complain that the Michael Jackson death has crowded out news of other more pressing matters. Shawn Micallef sounded an early word of warning about this attitude:

There is no need to compare MJ & Iran – completely dif, just intersect on same medium, not a social/moral lesson to be learned.

Then (again via Twitter, though the link is now lost in the maelstrom) I came across this MJ/Election mash-up, and it occurred to me that coverage (be it on Twitter, blogs or the international MSM) is not a zero-sum game, and that coverage of one piece of news could promote awareness of another.

If you consider Jackson’s output, there are actually loads of other songs that could fit a revolutionary template. Songs like “Heal The World” and “You Are Not Alone” seemed (to me) quite sanctimonious and irritating when they were released. But with the passing of Michael Jackson, the self-congratulatory element to those tracks seems to dissipate. They’re now ripe for the picking as a backing track to some feel-good montages of the peaceful demonstrations in Tehran. “Earth Song”, “Black or White” and (going back a little bit further) “Man in the Mirror” also carry that We-Are-The-World vibe… as does, of course, “We Are The World”! They could all fill the role of unofficial theme-tune to a non-violent protest movement.
Too cheesy? Not one bit of it: The “Yes We Can” generation of political campaigners are unafraid of such accusations. Meanwhile, tracks like “Beat It” could accompany comedic images of Ahmedinejad and Khameni and Keyboard Cat.
I meant to post this last week, so I feel sure I am behind the curve on this one. Yet a quick search through YouTube doesn’t yield further examples. Let us know your favourites, either in the comments, or via the tips form, and maybe we’ll do a round-up or something.
+posted at Liberal Conspiracy. Comment there.


Keen eyes will have noticed the blog has been redesigned again.
In this latest incarnation, I have referenced the torn paper motif which graced versions from 2005-2007, which I have neither the inclination nor the imagination to move away from.  I also include a handwritten name, so beloved of readers long since alienated back in ’07.
However, in reference to my new employers and my current engagement with free expression issues, I’ve included some ink blots. These splats double as a nod to my design for the Liberal Conspiracy site, and to Judith Adams’ site, which Fifty Nine created back in the day.
One thing I’ve not touched is the typography, which remains vanilla Kubrick.  I’ve tried messing with it, but any deviation from the Trebuchet/Lucida Sans combo weakens the communication, I feel.

Britain's Got Talent Potts-Boyler Narrative

If Susan Boyle doesn’t win Britain’s Got Talent 2009 I will eat my hat.  Click the pic for some unfettered joy:
It will have escaped no-one’s notice that the narrative of Susan Boyle is very similar to that of Paul Potts: the undiscovered talent, sitting dormant until middle-age.  Both tell stories of a mundane life, and both defy the judges’ expectations in the most satisfying manner.  Simon Cowell is the wicked-witch and faery Godmother, rolled into one: he is the cynic to be flummoxed, and also the bestower of fame.
Its a double-delight to watch Susan and Paul ‘turn’ the crowd in the process.  Unlike the cool kidz and the prettyboys who expect the mobb’s support (until the proven otherwise), Boyle and Potts have to win over a crushing cynicism.  And it is that sweet, sweet triumph which makes these clips so throatblockingly beautiful.
A third delight is the fact that these performances emerge from a TV format that, elsewhere, depends on precisely the cynical, sing-by-the-numbers yawnery that usually serves to suppress people like Susan and Paul.  This is clearly a feature of the auditioning process, which takes place with a live audience in situ.  Contrast this with the X-Factor, which is auditioned in lonely, acoustic-poor conference rooms.  With just Simon, Louis, Sharon and Dannicherylpaula in attendance, there is little to rein in the instinct to follow the tested formula, and the whole ungodly affair is quickly homogenized.  While token fat and/or middle-agers do get through to the second round, its generally a highly conventional face-voice combination that will win X-Factor.  The opposite seems to be true with BGT, which strikes me as much more interesting and obviously better.
Also, expect to see a Paul Potts/Susan Boyle duet album and co-tour, sometime in 2009/10. They complement each other in appearance and demeanor, and as an added bonus, their surnames could not be better suited.  Their story could be a great little Potts Boyler.  If I was a more cynical I person I might even hint at a Chart Throb/Wag The Dog style conspiracy… but watching that clip of Susan, again, drains me of all such heresy.


Having lost many an hour’s sleep playing Linerider, I can only imagine the hours that went into this delightful piece of Heath Robinson:

In the past, a person who created this in his flat would have been branded an obsessive nutter. In the Internet Age, however, he’s an entertainer. His dedication is only validated by his audience. Is that a good thing?

Cyber-realism in Filmmaking

James Harkin’s essay in The Observer Film Quarterly, adapted from his new book Cyburbia, highlights non-linear storytelling in film-making, and asks what these techniques say about the state of our culture.  When Kubrick made The Killing in this fashion, the film was considered to confusing for the audience, and the project was shelved.  A generation later, such films were making millions, with Pulp Fiction probably taking credit as the ‘breakthrough’ film.  Pictures like Crash, Syriana and Amores Perros weave disparate narratives and characters together, by way of a key event (usually dislocating and disturbing).  Others, such as Memento, withhold key events until the end of the film to keep us guessing.
Harkin is right to say that non-linear techniques have become mainstream.  I would go further, and suggest that they are in danger of becoming cliché.  Any film in need of an extra layer of depth can play about with the timeline in the sure knowledge that a fairly standard plot turn can be transformed into a ‘twist’ if you delay its arrival.  Even the one-trick pony that is He’s Just Not That In To You makes claims at complexity, by opting for an interlinked ‘ensemble cast’ of characters who are all one coincidence away from each other.
Its clear that our interpretation of film has been profoundly influenced by the slew of modern, non-linear story-telling.  Visual cues and clues that were not in common use a few years ago, are commonplace now.  Our visual language, the grammar of film and TV, has evolved, and in a short space of time, too.  This was illustrated to me last week, via a second viewing of David Lynch’s Mullholland Drive.  I had first seen the film soon after its arrival on DVD, and I remember how confused I found its structure, and lack of revelatory moments.  However, watching it again recently, the same scenes are not nearly so confusing.  After four years of Lost on our screens every week, the transition between the first and second ‘worlds’ that Naomi Watts’ character inhabits is easy to spot.  One might argue that I think this only because I’ve seen it twice, and that someone who saw the film for the first time would be  confused, but I don’t think so.  The clues in shot and edit which reveal the riddle are easy to pick up on.  There is no big revelatory moment, where we are told which of the two worlds is ‘real’ (for Watts’ character) and which is imaginary… but that doesn’t matter.  It is enough to discover that the two worlds are a Through the Looking Glass mirror image of one-another.  It is merely this interplay between the first and second acts that is the solution to the riddle.  Once we’ve worked out what is happening, it doesn’t actually matter that the characters themselves never get that far.  (By contrast, The Matrix is told in a completely linear way, despite the fact that the characters have to fundamentally rethink their entire world).

Laura Harring in Mulholland Drive (2001)
Laura Harring in Mulholland Drive (2001)

My point here is not to provide spoilers, or even make a boast that I’ve finally managed to work out what Mullholland Drive is about.  Its not even to show how the very essence of the film is contained within its structure.  Its simply that, to my eye, a film that does this now looks normal and mainstream, in a way that it did not when it was released eight years ago: In 2001, when the internet and digital culture was still vainly struggling to conform to the linear, walled structures that other media had forced upon it.
I think that this is just one example of what James Harkin has put his finger on: that our new digital tools are altering the way we think.  We are now comfortable making hyperlinks between our own thoughts and others.  As well as thinking bigger and smaller, its normal to think meta as well…
Harkin’s essay is a personal joy, because we used to talk about this stuff all the time at Fifty Nine, and I’ve seen every single one of the films he references, for precisely the reasons he cites them in the first place.  I would love to think that Sweet Fanny Adams in Hyperspace Eden, our sprawling internet film by Judith Adams, could be added to that canon of films.  While in Mullholland Drive, you can only sit back and watch as the visual refrains (blue keys, cowboys, name badges for waitresses) flow by, in Sweet Fanny Adams… we built actual hyperlinks between them.  Four years ago there was no YouTube.  Bandwidths were small, delivering video online was a niche activity, and embedding hyperlinks into those movies was a right royal pain in the arse.  Now its easy, as the Interactive Jacuzzi Girl demonstrates.