Wednesday, 25 November 2015

…Not just for Christmas

I don’t like adverts, as you may know. But I don’t like adverts being banned either, which is what’s happened to a cinema ad produced by the Church of England. It’s called “Just Pray” and some big distributors for cinema adverts have decided it’s not suitable.

Some people might take this as a cue for saying Christians are being persecuted in this country: I won’t. It’s not the case, and I’m not that sort of person.

Other than being a Methodist, I’m a pretty typical Anglican: my faith is small but real; my worldview is liberal; I don’t like to talk about it much. I wouldn’t dream of telling anyone else what to believe.

Partly it’s embarrassment. Most people I know wouldn’t get it. They think they’re countercultural; that's not how they see the church. (I’d argue, though, that the best parts of the church are countercultural: these, these and these, for example.)

I have a lot of arty/lefty friends (not to mention, “friends”) and you’re more likely to find among this subculture someone who’s out as gay than someone who’s out as a Christian.  One of my best friends is an atheist: we respect each other’s position. Because of where I used to live, a lot of my “friends” are ex-Catholic, which means they are nearly as anti-religion as Richard Dawkins.

One of them decided to have a rant against religion in a Facebook comment after I’d posted a link to the “Just Pray” video on YouTube. I thought it was a bit unfriendly, rude even. I don’t try to convert people, so I don’t know why he was trying to convert me.

As for the video, it’s by the Church of England, so it’s going to be a bit wishy-washy and nondescript, isn’t it? That’s what I thought while I was watching it, all the way through. Until it got to the end and I found I had a lump in my throat, and couldn’t tell why.

The people that banned the advert say it might offend people. But that's true of any ad: every advert presents its own world view and most, by their nature, are consumerist propaganda. I’ve spent a month trying to avoid TV adverts that tell me Christmas is about snowmen, happy family get-togethers, and eating a lot. It would be nice if, for a change, we were allowed to see something small, subtle, and suggesting there might be more to life than this.

Monday, 2 November 2015

Book review: A History of Television in 100 Programmes

You know those lists you get of TV programmes, in (really annoying) TV programmes? This isn’t that sort of list.

It’s a list of TV programmes in a book and it’s much better. First there are no talking heads and secondly this is someone who really knows their stuff. And author Phil Norman is so good at describing the programmes that you almost don’t need to see any clips. (Although it did make me want to see Heimat and Boys from the Blackstuff and Our Friends in the North again. Not to mention Tiswas.)

There’s an introduction, and then three pages each on the 100 programmes he has chosen (and lots of footnotes). The programmes are partly there because they’re memorable, and partly because they have something to say about how television has evolved.

I learnt that the first celebrity chef – complete with merchandise – set the tone for all the others when he appeared on British televisions in 1946. That Was The Week That Was began the “smutty path of least resistance” that has tarnished topical comedy ever since.  And the concept of the “story arc” pre-dates Doctor Who.

It’s both erudite and enthusiastic and, for such a long book, admirably economical. You can get a lot into three pages when you write this well: context, description, wit and a very nice turn of phrase. “Pavlovian faff” (audience participation comedy), “pious ennui” (Sundays).

And this description of Jonathan Meades, my favourite line in the book because it says so much in so little space about what’s wrong with documentaries: “the boy least likely to ‘go on a journey’ or be filmed studying archive footage on an iPad”.

There’s loads more good stuff I’d love to quote, but why don’t you just read it yourself? You’ll like it.

Music television is represented, as you might expect, by Six-Five Special and The Tube and, as you might not, by Kingsley Amis Goes Pop.

There’s also Supersonic, The Oxford Road Show, The Tube and The Max Headroom Show – all very much of their time, as their chapters remind us.  And who can forget Antoine de Caunes in Rapido: “a Max Headroom routine as retold by an espresso-fuelled Jacques Derrida”.  The X Factor gets a mention in passing (“treating a random MOR singing contest as if it were a war crimes tribunal”).

You can read this on a nostalgia level (I was delighted to find out I hadn’t hallucinated The Adventures of Twizzle), but you can also read it to get an education. I found out a lot. There’s even something about “retro punditry”. Turns out it’s not a symptom of 21st century dumbing down at all: it started in 1969.

Disclaimer: I was sent a review copy of this book.

Tuesday, 22 September 2015

Provincial punk: Why I love Grayson Perry

The Provincial Punk exhibition.

You’ve got to love someone who made an artwork called “Football stands for everything I hate”. (Well, I’ve got to anyway, because it does.) You’ve also got to love an artist who has a retrospective exhibition called Provincial Punk.

You’ve got to go and see it, too (well, I had to anyway because I identify as Provincial Punk), so I went off to Margate to have a look. It’s the first time I’ve seen any of Grayson Perry’s work outside of the telly or a magazine, and I loved it.

Sunday, 20 September 2015

Should I go to my school reunion?

I always said I would never go to a reunion, and I’ve gone to two in less than two years. A punk rock reunion last year and a school reunion last week.

I asked Twitter: Should I go to my school reunion? Twitter said no, so I went anyway.

Sunday, 13 September 2015

Margate and me

Things I have in common with Tracey Emin:
  • We’re nearly the same age.
  • We spent our formative years in Margate.
  • Er, that’s it.
Tracey Emin is rich and famous and I’m not, but she’s got an artwork up on Margate harbourside that says “I never stopped loving you”. Me neither.