Wednesday, August 06, 2003

Goodbye to all that 

As some of you know, for the past few weeks I've been beta-testing TypePad, the new combined blogging and hosting service from the Movable Type people. Well, I liked it so much that I bought the company. Er, no, not really, but I have signed up as a paying customer and I'm ready to unveil the new, pretty, banner-ad-free, comments-always-working version of...


So please come and check me out, and update your links if you feel so moved, because I'm giving this place the arse.

And suddenly I'm feeling wistful...

Tuesday, August 05, 2003

Oh grow up! 

I've never quite understood the appeal of "adulthood" as a selling point. I don't mean "adult entertainment," which of course is frequently delightful if it's the right kind. What I mean is adulthood in its non-euphemistic sense: whenever a movie, book or record is described to me as being "for grown-ups," my first thought is, in that case it's probably not for me. On the other hand, whenever a movie, book or record is derided as being "for teenagers," I'm inclined to at least give it a chance.

No doubt this means I have a big old Peter Pan complex and I'm a hopeless nostalgic, but aesthetically...well, put it this way, we teenagers get Justin Timberlake, you adults get Badly Drawn Boy, you be the judge!


I love this piece by Marcello Carlin--in uncharacteristically lighthearted mode, but still sharp as ever--on what you should be paying for every album in the current (UK) top 40. On the White Stripes' Elephant: "Recommended Price: 19s 11d – if you want it to be 1963, charge 1963 prices!"

Monday, August 04, 2003

Exposed: Redundancy in Text of Undignified McDonalds Promotion 

The new, sexed-up version of the Big Mac Chant bizarrely promises "cheese made with cheddar and milk" as one of the ingredients of a Big Mac. So that would be cheese made with both a type of cheese and the base ingredient of all cheese, would it? Thanks for clearing that up.

Also, those new "5 star burgers" are rubbish. There, I've said it!

(Incidentally, and I'm afraid I'm breaking a promise never to write about her, but my flatmate winningly announced the other day that she actually knew the old version--the "two all-beef patties special sauce lettuce cheese pickles onions on a sesame seed bun" one--off by heart! I had to break it to the poor dear that everybody in our generation knows this off by heart, so much so that it's used with Gen Xers as a standard test for concussion..."who's the Prime Minister? Who won last year's Grand Final? Can you recite that Big Mac jingle thing?")

Sunday, August 03, 2003

Into orbit 

Once the Doctor is exterminated, I shall build a new race of Daleks. They will be even more deadly! And I, Davros, shall be their leader!! This time we shall triumph!!! My Daleks shall once more become THE SUPREME BEING!!!!

Now that I've got that off my chest...

Today at the Film Festival it was Chris Petit's London Orbital, based on the book about the M25 by Iain Sinclair. Like Mark, I'm a bit ambivalent about Sinclair's writing (although I've only read bits of it, mainly in the LRB), but I actually found it worked better on film, its fulgurous succession of metaphors, digressions and tangents counterpointed with what seemed like an endless loop of the almost entirely featureless M25 as seen from a car windscreen--it wasn't really a loop I don't think, it was actually continuous footage, but how could you tell? This footage in turn was often reduced to one side of a split screen, the other showing scenes of one of the M25's real or symbolic tributaries, which in Sinclair's conjuror's mind range from Bram Stoker's Dracula (Dracula's English pied à terre is located close to the present-day motorway) to Ballardian ideas about consumerist landscapes and the "transcendental boredom" they invoke (Ballard himself appears in the film) to conspiracy theories and the omnipresence of camera surveillance on and around the motorway. (The single most compelling sequence of the film for me was some apparently authentic footage from a motion-sensitive surveillance camera which followed two people--perfectly innocent, as far as one could tell--across a car park until it lost them behind a building. It lasted for minutes and was completely chilling.)


"So: is the PoMo ironist seeking to protect himself - from irony?" Yes yes yes yes yes yes yes! (Yes!) That's exactly it.

Still being ironic 

I'm probably exhuming the corpse of a dead discussion here, but what the hell, it's better than getting into the whole "good bad writing vs bad good writing" debate, so just let me say a word or two in defence of our old friend irony.

Because what struck me in the recent mini-discussion on the topic was that nobody popped up to defend the idea of "liking something ironically"; everyone was in furious agreement that it was always and in every way a bad thing, which (a) makes me wonder whether we were attacking a straw man in the first place (I actually don't think so, because you can see the cultural effects of this idea everywhere, it's just that nowadays no-one wants to own up to it); and (b) makes me want to play devil's advocate and defend irony, or at least defend a kind of irony. As I said before, the concept of irony needs to be rescued from its postmodern vicissitudes (so, arguably, does the concept of postmodernism).

So anyway, first of all, let's not get too precious about the purity of our aesthetic preferences and their motivations; I'm sure we're all capable at times of liking things even though we also think they're not actually all that good, and there are lots of quite legitimate (as well as a host of illegitimate) reasons for doing this--the whole madeleine thing being one of them; you can be fond of something just because it takes you back to some point in your past, without necessarily thinking it's particularly great in its own right, or at least without wanting to defend it as objectively great, and that's perfectly fine. The problems start when liking things because they're "bad" becomes an aesthetic gesture in its own right, because (as people have pointed out) this is invariably a form of bet-hedging and plausible deniability, it's a way of defending yourself against the tastes of other people by making only equivocal investments in your own tastes. And that's daft.

But irony doesn't only operate along the axis of value. If we give up the idea of "liking things ironically"--as we surely should--that doesn't mean our aesthetics are suddenly irony-free. (To claim this would be as silly as all those pundits saying that irony was dead post-9/11.) Because irony can also refer to other kinds of incongruity, can't it? Like for instance incongruities of reception, the fact that you like a track for certain reasons which are quite different from what its makers "intended," you like something that in some sense isn't really for you. (Yeah, I know, intentional fallacy, but I think that's pretty unavoidable in music, pop at least.) Take for instance an adult who really, honestly likes the music of The Wiggles...there's a certain irony there, isn't there? Or imagine if the St Matthew Passion was Richard Dawkins's favourite piece of music (plausible enough--scientists go for Bach); a militant atheist loving a work written to glorify God, that sounds pretty ironic to me. Or think again of the fact that everybody nowadays loves The Carpenters, but we almost inevitably listen to them through the prism of Karen's illness and death, thus reading all these cheerful songs as melancholy and masochistic and self-abnegating "underneath." (Not that that stuff isn't actually there, but was it ever meant to be heard so explicitly?)

An acknowledgement of these kinds of ironies--if "irony" is even the right word, but I can't think of a better one--saves us from a position which is even less defensible than "liking things ironically", that is, the false universalism that says "it's all just music." The trouble with this latter position is that it is really a kind of solipsism, it involves seeing yourself as the ideal audience of all music, erasing the ways in which it functions differently for different people. And of course the "ironies" I'm talking about aren't in any way negative; on the contrary, many of the most interesting things about music revolve around them, from Dizzee Rascal bigging up Kurt Cobain to the notorious "30-year old white music critics" bigging up Dizzee Rascal.

So, kids, go ahead and be ironic if you want to! The backlash to the backlash starts here!

Saturday, August 02, 2003

Transgender robots 

In the near future, everyone in San Francisco will be carried by transgender robots across the busy intersections for maximum safety.
Ah, Choire Sicha...he's even funnier when he's all bitter and broken-hearted. Not that that's a good thing, mind.

(Incidentally, did you know that someone got to this page via a Google search for "Mormon Tabernacle Choire"?)

Despatch from the black skivvy trenches 

Two more movies today! I swear this Film Festival business is exhausting...

First was A Cold Summer, which I saw mainly because I felt morally obliged to see at least one Australian film, and this looked like the most appetising of a fairly dull bunch. (There was also one with Ben Lee, which looked OK if one could stomach Ben Lee, which unfortunately one can't.) This was patchy but overall quite rewarding, a love triangle film with lots of dialogue that sounded improvised, giving at times the impression of a third-year impro class at NIDA, and also at times going the typical indie cinema route of using confrontation, shouting and general nastiness as an attempted short-cut to emotional authenticity, but the characters and their stories were quite interesting and unusual, the performances were good--especially from the actor who played "Phaedra" (!)--and I particularly liked the score by Claire Jordan, a Bartok-y/Janacek-y string quartet thing that worked very well.

Then a quick dash from the Capitol to the glorious Forum to catch The Sea, which I think I can safely say is the only Icelandic film I've ever seen, a family melodrama about a Lear-like patriarch calling his children home to decide the future of the family firm (a fish processing plant). At times quite overwrought--Icelandic people being passionate, fancy that!--this was very watchable and (shallowness alert!) the scenery was pretty. Best of all I ran into a very close friend who I haven't seen for a couple of years, which is the kind of thing you're always expecting to happen at the festival but in fact it rarely does.


Very good new-ish blog at It's All In Your Mind. In the couple of days since I first visited, though, the title seems to have been changed; it was a quote from Ulysses. What's wrong, Peter? I don't think "Ineluctable Modality of the Visible" was a pretentious title at all!...

(PS Peter: it would be nice to have permalinks on individual posts, and also where's your e-mail address? Don't you want people to write to you and tell you how great you are?)

[Update: also, Peter, apparently the underscore in your blog URL is an "illegal character" and prevents some people from loading the page...see the comments to this post.]

Friday, August 01, 2003


Tonight's Film Festival session was the Korean noir sci-fi thriller Yesterday, which I saw with some friends, and I must admit we all left the cinema scratching our heads. Some very nice Blade Runner-ish design, but the plot was completely indecipherable, something to do with genetic manipulation, cloning, secret government projects and paternity, but...er, yeah. It didn't help my concentration that I realised about half an hour into the film that I'd forgotten to set the video to tape the Angel season finale, either.

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