Friday, 19 June 2009


If there's one thing I think is daft, it's snobbery.

But the weirdest thing is that snobbery is getting more vulgar than the object of its ire.

I've noticed certain people on the internet have started mocking those of us that shop at LIDLs (scroll down for the 'witty' comments of Corben).
I feel a touch of Schadenfreude at the implosion of snobbery, mixed with fear of how downright stupid and absurdly inadequate many of my compatriots are. 'So then, old boy, I saw this chappie had a crest, obviously fabricated, with aubergine lozenges. I said, 'I say, don't you know that in 1315 there was a law stating that anyone with an aubergine lozenge on their crest was to be fed to starving dogs? And they didn't even see it against yellow wallpaper.gawhawhaw.'
'Ew, that's nothing. I was at the club the other day, and this chappie was talking about the funeral oration of Pericles Prince of Tyre. gwahwahwaw.'
'oh. that's like me. I was on the internet, right. And I said, we could build LIDLs for poor people.'

Thus spake the supermarket Zarathustra. Really, how much of a tool do you have to be to feel an ubermensch for buying your cabbage at Waitrose instead of Asda? I'd leave Britain tomorrow if it weren't for my friends and my work.

Thursday, 18 June 2009

The Semiotic Desert

I'm beginning to wonder if I could sue my compatriots. See I was nostalgic about the beige n nylon 70s and plastic n gritty 80s before anyone else was.

However, I increasingly wonder if they truly are nostalgic: or if they just wished the noughties weren't quite so crap.

Most of us wish there was a leader not quite as mad and devious as Tony Blair. Or somnambulant Gordy who seems to be privatizing Royal Mail with all the consideration and introspection of a Pavlovian dog.

Seeing footage of Maggie defending the indefensible sinking of the Belgrano should have seemed sordid, especially to someone who admires Argentina, but
1) It made me nostalgic for a time when politicians were evidently asked difficult questions.
2) Whilst the sinking of the Belgrano was awful, it was a military vessel. Compare this to the use of white phosphorus against Iraqi civilians. Was Blair asked about this?
3) Maggie's response 'they would have killed our boys' was probably bullshit. But I can't help imagining that if Tony WAS asked difficult questions about the bombing of Fallujah, it would come out like 'they would have killed good Americ- I mean, eh,our soldiers, who aren't quite as worthless as Iraqis, hehe, only joking... of course'.
4) Whilst I loathe violence and think the Falklands war should and could have been avoided, I kind-of understand why the British army was being used to defend a British possession. Now it seems that defending Georgia is to become our priority.

So in all, let's relive the glorious days when we had a liberal sane leader defending an attack on a ship that was leaving a war zone.

As for the pop-culture nostalgia, this is something else. In the whole of 2009, the Guardian published four articles on renationalising the railways, only one of which argued for it, and that with many qualifications. However, this bastion of left wing thought has evidently published more articles on 'Bruno' in the last week.

Whilst Sacha Cohen can be extremely funny, in an offensive and childish way, I suspect that this film will be unmemorable. Yet it makes people feel good about themselves for not laughing at cultural sterotypes, but laughing at post-modern parodies of cultural stereotypes. Compare this to Till Death Us Do Part which seemed a lot more honest about being on the knife edge of laughing with/ at Alf Garnett.

In fact, I'm sure that some nostalgia for the 70s/ 80s is grounded on the fact that Britain once made interesting films.

As with the Railways, this is one of those rare parts of the economy that lets us see how much the world's fifth highest GDP is really worth. In the 'dismal' 70s, Britain made Get Carter, The Wicker Man, Don't Look Now, Sleuth and other intelligent, interesting films.

Incidentally, I don't think anyone has defended these films for being 'post-modern', or for 'encyclopedic references to other films' or any of the other praise terms for being derivative. That's because, in my humble opinion, a good film does not need the 'merit' of being 'post modern', but needs originality, clever writing and interesting characters.

Of course this could be interlinked to another strand of the nostalgia: wishing that our society was less crap. I find it difficult to imagine an interesting film about someone who's enough of a tool to dress up in Emo clothes. Could the screenwriter put intelligent and original thoughts in the mouth of someone who is daft enough to dress eccentrically, just because everyone else does?

Could there be an interesting, intelligent film about someone who buys music by Robbie Williams? Unless they get beaten to death with a coal shovel, I can't imagine I'd enjoy watching it.

This is why I think of the decade as a semiotic desert. Everything is self-reverential, nothing has sincerity. And it cannot be reflected in the cinematic mirror.

My one consolation is that no-one, and I mean no-one, will want to bring back the decade. Not even for post-modern nostalgia.

Tuesday, 16 June 2009

Am I Big Brother's Custodian?

Tories 'will end Big Brother state' Yahoo news very objectively put it. Or from the horses mouth:

'The individual is the rightful owner of personal information and the state is merely possessor and should behave as a responsible custodian.

"We need to roll back the advance of Big Brother and restore this fundamental right of our citizens. Restoring privacy must mean a clear statement on the part of those who have custody of personal information of their purpose in retaining it and of their commitment to its proper management."

Doubleplusgood for them. Hypocritical creeps.

Thursday, 11 June 2009


Just finished reading Pelagia and the White Bulldog.

Despite stealing a plot twist from Rear Window, and having 'Sherlock Holmes syndrome' (by which evidence known by the sleuth is instrumental, rather than logic) it is a superbly written book with many interesting ideas.

Most interestingly it takes a (very vaguely) Platonic perspective on the Eastern Orthodox Church. The clergy should ideally be the 'philosopher class'; they should emphatically avoid any role in sectarianism and forced conversion.

I entirely agreed with this, and hope that this reflects a new trend in Russia. Post-Soviet they have adopted the same 'philosophers' as we have: journalists and politicians. At least Russian newspapers offer the odd laugh (in their reports about 'hairy females' stalking Caucasian men and the ongoing alien abduction problem in Vladivostock) but their editorials are even worse (if such a thing is remotely possible) than our own.

In the talk of the class system there is very little talk of whether we need a philosopher class (Martin Amis regards himself as being of 'the intelligentsia', which speaks for itself). However, clericalism did indeed offer a philosopher class which was considerably more intelligent and ethical than our 'political' class.

However, what impressed me most was that the nostalgia was somehow vibrant rather than dead and stilted. Akunin obviously expects his readers to be familiar with Gogol and Dostoevsky (Dead Souls and Demons are significant articles of reference). Sadly, as far as British reviewers are concerned, he was obviously asking far too much.

For some reason, there is nothing like a murder mystery to evoke nostalgia. one of my favourite films (1972 Sleuth) offers a very clever take on the ironic juxtaposition of the morbid and the nostalgic in the genre. Ken Adams' set design is genius, and if the acting/ plot is occasionally OTT, it is all good fun. The Tudor manor and assorted kitsch evokes the way that Olivier's character (Andrew Wykes, writer of detective novels) lives in a past that never existed. There is an interesting scene where Wykes and Tindle rummage through a dressing up basket and try on clothes apparently at random. The mystery writer dresses up as a Medieval monk and 17th Century Dandy. The randomness is misleading.

According to all accounts the remake of Sleuth was dismal. It could have been a 'period piece' set in the 1970s, but instead it was set in the glaring, plastic noughties.

Even the Poirot films that we keep making (despite good scripts and the superb acting of Suchet) are archetypally of our time, with the pretty, wooden actors and grey sets.

Whilst Agatha Christie's books are interesting in being set at the hinge of a historical transition, GK Chesterton is now largely forgotten. Whilst his novels were almost unreadable in their repetitive paradox, poor plot and unconvincing characters, his Fr Brown tales were gems of poetical writing. Whilst Chesterton evidently felt affection for the Britain of his time, he also implies a shadow world of the Stuart succession, where rationality and Christianity were not in conflict.

Perhaps it is not surprising that he is no longer read. I was brought up in the East of Scotland, which is very similar to East Anglia (the epicentre of British crime novels). Perhaps we repressed Brits are unable to express the beauty of our meadowlands without reference to people knifing/ poisoning/ bludgeoning each other, but nostalgia and love for our landscape seem inseparable from the detective genre.

Whilst Akunin's novels seem to want to pretend the ravages of neo-liberalism never happened, Britain seems more comfortable with this. That people like Boris Johnson and David Cameron can come across as anything but neo-liberal fanatics is a sign of just how out of touch the British are with their heritage. Whilst the British detective novel was seated in the 'Sleuth' idea of the private investigator sorting out the stupid plodder, the Tories have followed Labour in supporting CCTV (even expanding it in Boris Johnson's place) and other alarmingly statist policies.

Ironically enough, I intend to vote SNP. It is probable that we will preserve British identity and individualism better than the United Kingdom. Our parties are like the heads of Kerebrus; different faces same body.