Wednesday, 13 October 2010

Get off the air

The grey skies present when I look out the window in the morning point squarely to one thing: Summer is gone; Autumn is here. Autumn has also brought along some other As with it. 1) Another series of The Apprentice 2) Another chance for Britain to collectively embarrass itself fawning over an old man behaving like a curmudgeonly wank-shot.

Firstly, it would be remiss of me not to acknowledge that Lord Sugar has done a commendable amount of charity work over the years, and his determination to rise above his humble beginnings is admirable. This article is by no means meant to be a character assassination of Alan Sugar, but nevertheless, it is hard to sit back and accept the national obsession with The Apprentice which rolls around every year. The format basically involves Lord Sugar and two sycophants of his choosing setting a task each week for the contestants (15 initially, one is eliminated each week until the final) to perform to the best of their ability, then abusively criticise and humiliate the contestants when they return to explain how they got on. The fact that the contestants are usually such an obnoxious bunch of morons that it is tempting to say this is the least they deserve is still not quite enough to justify the hard-nosed-businessman- pornography that follows.

Each week Lord Sugar displays aggression, bullying, extreme competitiveness, lack of human empathy and just plain rudeness. You know, all of the kinds of unattractive human traits which parents and schools generally discourage. Obviously when a rich man on the television behaves appallingly, the moral implications are swept aside by the giddy thrill of entertainment we all crave.

Consider how you would feel if the boss of your workplace treated you the way Lord Sugar does the contestants on The Apprentice? You would, almost certainly, be angry, upset, or both. And with good reason. Behaviour like Sugar’s on the apprentice should be unacceptable in any civilised society, not held up for adulation by entertainment journalists blushing like schoolgirls at the thought of our straight-talking hero in a sharp suit. Movies and video games (especially video games) are constantly criticised for being too violent, too sexualised, too exciting…etc etc. The defence that they are all fantasy, and strictly censored so as not to fall into the hands of children young enough to be damaged by them, never holds much weight with Britain’s self-appointed mortal arbiters. It is a curious irony then, that a reality tv show can go out at prime time and set a terrible example of how to behave in real life as long as there ain’t a bare nipple or bullet in sight.

Monday, 11 October 2010

Internet dreams and stained jeans

So, a few months behind the curve of vitriolic message board love and hate (mainly hate it seems), I have finally given Uffie's album Sex Dreams and Denim Jeans a proper listen, and actually, its pretty good. I must admit, when the song 'ADD SUV' (the one with Pharell guesting on it) surfaced, I was really disappointed and sort of mentally wrote off the rest of the album without even bothering to listen to it. I remember back in 2005 when I first heard ‘Pop the Glock’, how in-your-face and forward thinking it seemed. I immediately broke my loose-rule for life of only buying music in a physical format as it was only available for download at the time and I simply had to have it ASAP. 'ADD SUV', like most of the other tracks on Sex dreams... is certainly not going to elicit that reaction, but that doesn't mean that it is doesn't have its own merits if you give it a chance.

Although 'ADD SUV' didn't grab me, in truth that wasn't the reason that I then decided point blank the rest of the album was not worth my time, which is a strange decision, given how much I loved the first couple of singles she released. The major factor was, I unwittingly got caught up in a strange phenomenon of modern music consumption; that of internet ownership of a performer.

Music fans have always been some of the most tribal pockets of society in their affections, but the internet has magnified that to a worrying degree. Uffie was one of the first artists to base her whole career around riding a wave of interest on myspace and blogs from the musical underground. Sure, people like Sandi Thom and Lily Allen have done the same in the mainstream, but Uffie was a pioneer of doing it in the realm of the hariy-handed masturbators who become titans when they see internet forums on which to express themselves. So, whether they loved or hated her, those who frequented said forums acted as if she was, in some surreal way, their property to comment on as they saw fit. With the clamour that had built up in the long gap between the first singles Uffie released and her debut album, it would have been practically impossible for her to satisfy everyone with the release; but the fact that she dared to change to a more pop-oriented direction for the album made an avalanche of criticism as inevitable as it was unreasonable.

The internet has opened up the musical landscape in fantastic ways, but it has also dehumanised and commoditised music and the artists who make it. The effect of internet messageboards or anywhere else where people can express themselves without any face-to-face interaction seems to be bringing out the worst in some people; eschewing reasonable argument for personal abuse.
The effects of the internet 'backlash' can be so strong that it can even affect, albeit unconsciously, people like myself who make a real effort not to engage in it. It was with some surprise, and embarrassment then, that when I took the time to listen to Sex Dreams…and actually quite liked it, I realised the trap I had fallen into. If you have made the same mistake and feel the urge to make amends, I suggest you read the excellent two part interview Uffie did for DrownedinSound recently, and watch the video for ‘Difficult’.

UFFIE - Difficult from Uffie on Vimeo.

Friday, 1 October 2010

Budget cut blues

If you look around, something appears to be happening. The financial crisis caused by the banks has been rumbling on for what seems like forever now. The media has almost exhausted itself with tales of horror and financial Armageddon, like a manic disaster fetishist finally wheezing back to sanity after he has came all over your broken spirit. They may however, have shot their load a little early, for the real story of this financial mess may be just about to unfold.

The news yesterday that the Irish government has had to extend its bailout to the major Irish banks marks the start of a new phase in this saga. The country's largest bank, Anglo Irish, apparently needs an extra €7bn of taxpayer money to secure its bad debts and stay solvent. The second largest bank in Ireland, Allied Irish, has now also had to be nationalised. The total amount of money that Ireland has injected into its banking system is now €45bn, and may possibly rise to €50bn. The government says that it has now drawn a line in the sand, and all the bank's debts are now exposed so the country can move forward with plans to pay off its debt over the next ten years. This sounds very neat and tidy, but conveniently ignores the massive social repercussions of this latest cash injection. This bank rescue has increased the Irish budget deficit to 32% of national income. Ireland had already implemented some of the most stringent austerity measures of any European government over the last two years, cutting salaries in the public sector by 10% or more, and some analysts had said this was partly to blame for the country slipping back into recession in the last quarter.

The cuts to public spending will now have to be increased even further, and tax rises are also likely to cover the fact that the budget deficit has more than doubled on the back of the latest bank bailout. Anger in Ireland is running very high; after the bailout announcement was made a man drove a cement mixer plastered with slogans about Anglo Irish Bank into the gates of the Irish Parliament. Elsewhere in Europe too, massive budget cuts to cover the costs of the banking crisis are arousing anger among the population. A protest involving citizens from 12 European countries was made against government austerity measures yesterday. Trade Unions estimate 100,000 people turned up for a sit-down protest in Brussels, although predictably the police have estimated the figure to be almost half that number. Unions also estimated that 70,000 protestors marched in various cities across Portugal.

As budget cuts and unemployment start to bite across Europe, people are becoming angrier and more confused about why they should be the ones picking up the tab for the mistakes of a few very rich individuals at the top of the banking industry. It is not hard to see the situation escalating either. Right now, Europe feels like a tinderbox waiting for someone to strike a match of civil unrest. To calm the situation, governments will have to offer more than hand-wringing platitudes about 'feeling voters’ pain' and 'all being in this together'. They need to explain why the banks are 'too big to fail', and take real action against the men responsible for creating this crisis in the first place. The UK government's bank levy of £4bn is exactly the kind of disingenuous measure that will be swept away by the tide of public anger when the full program of budget cuts is unveiled later this year.

If politicians continue to underestimate the strength of public feeling that austerity measures and bank bailouts are creating, it will not be long before we face the very real possibility of a European government collapsing.