Our Dear Leader, Justin Bieber

bieber-dictatorImagine how terrifying and exhausting it must be to spend every day in Kim Jong-un’s inner circle. Standing just off camera, as your despotic boss delivers another rousing speech to the nation about the delightful prospect of all-out nuclear war and unseasonably warm, vaporising temperatures, his bellicose rhetoric becomes ever more distant as you become lost in thought as to how you can protect your Supreme Leader from the truth again today.

For instance, he must never know that the ‘microphone’ he’s speaking into is just a sock-covered whisk. Or that the country’s missile silos are completely unmanned because all the operators have cannabalised each other. And everything possible must be done to maintain the ruse that the Angry Birds app is not a game, but a sophisticated trajectory planner and launch system for hurling nuclear warheads at the U.S. mainland.

Suddenly theres an eruption of over-enthusiastic applause and you’re back in the room (the ball pond wing of the Ryongsong Residence, to be precise). The speech has come to an end. And so another day of pandering to a power-crazed and hopelessly deluded egotist begins.

I’m fairly certain that the closest thing we have to Kim Jong-un in the West is Justin Bieber, whose downfall, I am delighted to say, is well under way and delightfully entertaining. But he’s definitely got the whole dictator’ package going on: a love of exotic animals, a general assumption that he’s above the law, a growing ruthless streak, increasingly bizarre behaviour and excessive vanity. And similar to his North Korean counterpart, he’s also surrounded by sycophants who are too afraid to tell him when he’s being a total cockend.


Many of the most notable dictators in history had a soft spot for animals. For instance, Muammar Gaddafi had his own private menagerie in which he kept hundreds of ostriches, rare-breed camels, hybrid cattle and several breeds of sheep and goats, making him the Johnny Morris of North African dictators. Unfortunately, as you might expect from a ruthless despot who brought death and suffering upon his own people, his animals sadly suffered a similar fate, with the vast majority perishing in the sun-baked desert west of Sirte after he fled from power.

Uday Hussein (admittedly a dictator’s son rather than a murderous national figurehead himself) famously fed love rivals to his pet lions. He also used to playfully throw his own friends into the cage of his monkey, Louisa, a violent drunk with a taste for whiskey, who would scratch his friends’ faces as punishment for losing consciousness during heavy drinking sessions.

Similarly, our Dear Leader, Justin Bieber, has a capuchin monkey called Mally (although, I obviously can’t account for its drinking habits and temperament). In typical ‘above the law’ style, Bieber recently flew into Germany with his monkey without a scrap of relevant paperwork, which subsequently incurred the wrath of Munich Airport’s customs officials and led to Mally being seized and quarantined.

Some people have observed that Bieber’s relationship with Mally is eerily reminiscent of Michael Jackson and Bubbles. But it’s his choice of simian that actually sets him apart from Jackson and perhaps indicates that there’s still a fragment of sanity left in his tiny mind. Because instead of opting for a chimp that could potentially rip his pretty face off during a frenzied attack at a red carpet photocall, he sensibly plumped for a Marcel-like monkey partner instead, which makes him more ‘Ross from Friends’ than ‘King of Pop’.


It was recently reported that Justin Bieber’s entourage (a sort of A-List SAVAK) smashed up fans’ mobile phones in an Austrian nightclub, from which he and his chums were swiftly banned. Like any aspiring dictator, his security apparatus is to be feared. In future, any disloyal ‘Beliebers’, cornered ‘haters’ or anyone with the temerity to snap unauthorised photos in his presence will likely end up like Nicky Santoro at the end of Scorcese’s Casino: beaten half to death with baseball bats and then buried alive with only a few shallow breaths remaining in their broken bodies.


Only someone with a messianic level of self-importance would keep 20,000 young fans waiting for two hours at a gig, but that’s exactly what Bieber did only a few weeks ago. Unofficially, the reason for the delayed start of his concert was that he overslept and then decided to play video games in his dressing room. (The official excuse for his lateness was “technical problems”, which I assume meant that ‘Lego Lord of the Rings’ wouldn’t load on his Wii.) If Bieber wanted to really hammer home his complete lack of urgency, he should’ve arranged for the O2 Arena’s giant screens to loop a video of him taking a dump backstage while reading the back of a shampoo bottle. Maybe with the odd yawn thrown in for good measure.

Another aspect of Bieber’s increasingly odd behaviour is that he seems to constantly exhibit the signs of paradoxical undressing. He recently flew into Lodz Airport in Poland in temperatures of -10C, yet wandered through security completely shirtless with his trousers at ankle height and a thick layer of frost forming on his anus. When the cold gets too much for him, I expect we’ll see him wandering aloofly through chilly European airport lounges wearing a screaming coat of live capuchin monkeys.

The final aspect of Bieber’s increasingly erratic behaviour is how aggressive he’s become. He’s currently under investigation for allegedly hurling threats and spittle in the direction of one of his neighbours, a mere mortal who had the audacity to complain to Bieber’s face about his reckless driving around the neighbourhood in his Ferrari at 8am (at 100mph). Like any good dictator, he clearly believed that his anti-social behaviour was beyond reproach and was obviously incensed that anyone should dare criticise him. A perfect way of dealing with this arrogance – if you’re listening, L.A. Country Sheriff’s Department – would be to crush Bieber’s Ferrari and chrome Fisker Karma into microwaved-sized blocks of scrap metal, then at least he can push them around in a shopping trolley when his career is over and he’s living under a motorway intersection (only three years away, according to veteran music manager Peter Mensch).


According to “a source” quoted in a recent article, Justin Bieber constantly relives his 2011 appearance as host on Saturday Night Live by replaying the tape – along with his own music videos – to his entourage on the tour bus. This is frighteningly similar to how Osama Bin Laden wiled away the hours inside his Abbottabad compound during his final years, watching endless news coverage of himself on a battered 14″ television. When you imagine Bieber’s entourage nervously forcing themselves to laugh at the same SNL episode night after night – as he scans the room closely for anyone displaying a severe lack of enthusiasm – it’s certainly vanity worthy of a dictator. But one who perhaps knows that his days are numbered and that his grip on power is weakening.

Still, who knows what the future holds? Maybe Justin Bieber will eventually flee the limelight and spend the rest of his days holed up in a North Korean nuclear bunker playing Angry Birds with Dennis Rodman and Kim Jong-un.

After all…when dictators fall, they fall hard.


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The one where I can’t think of a title for this rant about television

Anderson shelterAs a 10-year-old child, the most exciting thing to happen to me was my parents buying a house with an Anderson shelter in the back garden. Our very own corrugated iron holiday home, and the perfect subterranean getaway should hordes of irradiated cannibals overrun the obliterated, smoldering remains of our cities during the nuclear winter that was almost certainly on the horizon.

Unfortunately the shelter was out of commission when we moved in in 1985 because it had been infilled with pieces of wood and debris by the previous owners. And even after I’d spent many long, hot summer days excavating the interior, it was only ever really deep enough to offer me light protection from a loosely secured Catherine wheel or larger than average bee. Still, it was better than nothing.

It was my sneaky (and ill-advised) late-night viewing of Threads a year earlier that had turned me into a budding survivalist loon. I wanted to survive the impending nuclear conflagration. I was too young to die. Also, I really wanted to see Rocky IV.

However, 27 years on, as the world prepared for the Mayan apocalypse on December 21st, I remained surprisingly calm. It probably helped that I didn’t actually believe that the world would end on that particular day. But the truth is: I was sort of ready to embrace the end if it did come.

I once had a friend who said that if the three-minute warning ever sounded, he’d simply climb up onto his roof and light a cigarette. After all, surviving the apocalypse in an overcrowded bunker environment would be a truly miserable experience.  You’d probably spend the first few weeks repeatedly contracting norovirus, feverishly shitting your way through valuable rations and deliriously sprinkling lime powder into a dry toilet like a Masterchef contestant dusting a chocolatey dessert.

But as prepared as I was for the unlikely end of the world, I knew in my heart that there was something far more terrible in store for humanity – a cultural apocalypse. Instead of a nuclear warhead or ‘extinction level’ asteroid snuffing us out in a billion degrees of vaporising heat, our demise is going to be slow and excruciating. We’re going to have the life sucked out of us by television until we’re dumbed down to the point where our brains are only marginally bigger than a hamster’s heart. On the upside we’ll eventually be so stupid that no one will be able to operate the array of computer consoles in missile silos and military command centres across the world, making it impossible to destroy ourselves. But on the downside…fuck me, what are we watching?

fake-reaction-itv2Aside from the televisual atrocity that was Channel 4’s Kookyville (which we can only hope died a hideous death at the pilot stage), ITV2 recently launched a panel show called Fake Reaction in which celebrities try to maintain a poker face and earn points for their team while secretly enduring a variety of challenges. For instance, in the opening episode we got to see Joe Swash eat a samosa made of cat food, which made him retch like a man trying to swallow a knitted a scarf. And if you’ve ever scrolled through your television’s EPG and decried that there simply aren’t enough programmes featuring Fazer from N-Dubz staring at a Scotsman’s bare balls – it had that too. And yet, in spite of all that, the programme’s nadir was probably the moment when the studio audience appeared to applaud TOWIE’s Gemma Collins for not knowing what a mammal is. “A woolly mammal? Like in Ice Age?” she said, which led to further excitable mooing from those present at the dumbest start to a New Year in living memory.

Saturday night’s prime-time television bilge came in the form of Splash!, ITV1’s onomatopoeic offering to the Olympic legacy gods. If you missed it, just imagine what the BBC’s Olympic diving coverage would have looked like if Clare Balding had been replaced with Vernon Kay, the Aquatics Centre had the ambience of a Yates’s Wine Lodge, and every competitor had to make their way to the diving board to the sound of a Rihanna track pounding through their skulls. Then picture yourself weeping inconsolably.

tom-daley-splashI mention this programme because of the involvement of bronze medal Olympian Tom Daley. You see, the cultural apocalypse isn’t just about dumbing down, it’s also about television and the media devaluing our Olympic heroes so that we no longer have anything to believe in and aspire to. Seeing Tom Daley featuring prominently in Splash! generated the same feelings of disappointment that a child must feel when an overweight forty-something man dresses up in an ill-fitting Spider Man costume for a children’s party, before slipping on some jelly and exposing his cavernous bum crack to a roomful of tearful faces. Their superhero is forever tainted by that one memory. He’s not a hero after all, he’s just a man.

Not too long after the Olympics, there were apparently frantic efforts by producers on I’m a Celebrity… Get Me Out of Here! to sign up an Olympian or two for the forthcoming series of the show. Because let’s face it, Team GB’s colossal athletic achievements at London 2012 couldn’t possibly mean anything to us as a nation unless we could later watch an Olympian gnawing through the tough rim of a kangaroo’s anus in a head-to-head Bushtucker Trial against some beefy, orange twat from Geordie Shore. Fortunately, the series went ahead without any Olympians degrading themselves on national television. (Speaking of which, with a heavy heart, I forgot to mention that Olympic gold medal-winning long jumper Greg Rutherford will be appearing in episode two of the aforementioned Fake Reaction.)

The 2013 cultural apocalypse has also seen the return of Celebrity Big Brother on Channel 5, with this year’s big draw being the involvement of The Hills’ Spencer Pratt and Heidi Montag (or “Speidi” for those “funts” who are now too far gone to summon the energy required to verbalise two separate names). I won’t be watching, obviously. I could spend an hour staring at a kettle and come away from the viewing experience feeling equally as fulfilled. But enough people will watch and discuss CBB to create the illusion that it actually means something.

kardashian-idiot-glassesThis year, we will also have to endure near constant media coverage of Kim Kardashian’s pregnancy. And as no woman has ever given birth before, every agonising second will be incorporated into the multiple reality series that document the minutiae of her family’s cursed existence. Behind her saucer-sized sunglasses there’s probably just a looped cartoon of two anthropomorphic handbags on a seesaw. Convincing the world to watch even one of her long-since elapsed 15 minutes of fame was an impressive trick, but I pray it all ends soon.

Anyway, the conclusion to this exhausting rant is unsurprising and glaringly obvious: television is awful and our lives are filled with meaningless bullshit. Welcome to the cultural apocalypse, enjoy your slow death – or “sleath” if that makes things easier for you.


Filed under Celebrity Culture, Rant, Television

Kookyville: the day television died

There’s a wonderful film called Wings of Fame in which famous dead people are depicted as guests at a grand old hotel. The more enduring a person’s fame on earth, the bigger and more luxurious their room. While those with dwindling fame, perhaps fading in the memory and no longer considered relevant, are constantly downgraded to smaller, pokier rooms until only the “mists of oblivion” await. “More of us are afraid of oblivion than of death,” explains one resident.

When I think about that beautiful hotel, filled with the likes of Einstein and Hemingway, and even Baader-Meinhof terrorists, still caught up in the romanticism of violent revolution, the mental image is gatecrashed by a group of Z-List ‘scripted reality’ idiots charging through the marble-floored lobby, dragging leopard print luggage behind them.

To some extent, the fantasy is a comforting one: they’re all dead. Furthermore, they would probably make a beeline for ‘oblivion’, keen to be seen at what they assume is the afterlife’s premier club night. On the downside, however, the commotion in the lobby has left Marilyn Monroe’s William Travilla dress with an unsightly orange smear of fake tan. I fucking hate these people. The TOWIE people, that is. (The living and the imaginary dead ones.)

Unfortunately, the TOWIE phenomenon appears to have been the inspiration for possibly the most appalling, detestable piece of television I have ever seen: Channel 4’s Kookyville – “a comedy sketch show with a difference”. The most obvious difference being the complete absence of any comedy.

Scheduled straight after Peep Show (following a triumphant return for its eighth series), Kookyville felt like something of an ambush. Where did it come from? Why did it happen? Who made it possible? I had so many questions.

Before the programme began, we were reminded that Fosters sponsors original comedy on 4. Kookyville then opened with a Little Britain-style title sequence, before introducing the David Brent character, the Catherine Tate ‘Nan’ character and the Del Boy and Rodney characters (which also had a vague whiff of Smith and Jones in their ‘head-to-head’ sketches), which was all catastrophically packaged in a TOWIE scripted reality format.

The ‘sketches’ themselves (featuring people who “are not actors or comedians, and there’s no script. They’re just real funny people”) were just a series of inane and very obviously scripted conversations, which makes the dialogue in TOWIE sound like it’s penned by Aaron Sorkin.

So what were the highlights of Kookyville? Well, there weren’t any. But here are some of the most inexcusably awful and offensive bits:

Remember the Catherine Tate ‘Nan’ character I mentioned? Well, the real life version they’ve found – for the purposes of making Kookyville just that little bit more unwatchable – is a woman called Ronnie.

In her first ‘sketch’, Ronnie is sat on a bench chatting to her German friend. “You taught me everything I know. All the good English,” says her mild-mannered companion. “Yeah! Fuck, cunt, wanker and bastard,” replies Ronnie, as she delivers the achingly predictable punchline from the depths of her tar-ravaged lungs.

Ronnie also pops up in the second part of the programme. There’s this brilliant bit, yeah, where she’s driving along a pavement in a motorised cart, then she suddenly stops and aggressively tells an imaginary person off-camera to fuck off. But that’s just a bit of filler! That’s not even the main joke! The main Ronnie ‘sketch’ in the second part of the programme sees her visiting a Chinese restaurant with her two twentysomething grandchildren. She then embarks on a gut-wrenchingly descriptive tale about how some prawn balls once gave her the shits.

Just think about all the great comedy that Channel 4 has commissioned and broadcast over the years. No, go on, just think about that for a few minutes to ensure that that last paragraph is purged from your mind forever.

Other delights from Kookyville included a mother and daughter (Annierose and Suzanne) spotting a dwarf walk into the salad bar where they’re having lunch (presumably after the director had yelled “OK, Dwarf enter stage right!”), which subsequently prompts a conversation about how Annierose “would quite like a dwarf” because they could provide “all the best qualities of a baby, but he could go to the toilet himself.” Between that and the chucklesome story two hoteliers tell about a guest with Thalidomide short arms falling out of a window (complete with unnecessary munchkin-style voice impersonation), it’s difficult to know which sketch the Official Broadcaster of the London 2012 Paralympic Games wanted me to find most funny.

We also had two call-centre girls called Babs and Cabs (who were later joined by their “bezzie bizzle Shabs”) who’d taken the day off work to visit a farm. The unlikely location of their excursion subsequently led to weighty debates about whether animals eat meat, given that they are meat, and also saw them constantly pronounce “ewe” as “ewie”. Yet again, television presents gross stupidity as entertainment and something to celebrate rather than despise.

Kookyville also introduced us to Afsad, an Asian David Brent figure presiding over a car sales “dynasty”. His shtick seemed to involve introducing his employees to camera and then either insulting them or embarrassing them. “This is a guy who’s had cameras up his ass!” Asfad excitedly announces at one point. The employee then laughs politely, before confirming that he’d once had an exploratory procedure to determine whether or not he had Crohn’s disease. Honestly, the giggles!

But what will next week hold? Maybe Babs, Cabs and Shabs could take another day off work and visit the Large Hadron Collider at CERN. And maybe Ronnie could go for an Indian meal and explain to the waiter, in excruciating detail, about the time a prawn bhuna once made her vomit over a child.

Or maybe it could all just stop. But having said that, the ‘comedy’ never really started.


Filed under Celebrity Culture, Rant, Television

Irrelevant basement dwellers versus the world

“This is for all the haters who thought that I was here for just one or two years. But I feel like I’m gonna be here for a very long time,” said a resolute Justin Bieber last week, as he accepted the award for Favourite Male Pop/Rock Artist at the 40th annual American Music Awards.

If he does indeed stick around for years to come, I like to think that he’ll eventually resemble Colonel Kurtz from Apocalypse Now. Overweight, cloaked in shadow and shorn of his once famous locks, he’ll surround himself with belongings and keepsakes assembled from the various body parts of his adoring fans (willingly donated, obviously).

“Beliebe,” he will whisper, adenoidally, into the ear of a tearful and overwhelmed 40-year-old fan, as she slices off the appendage and clumsily threads it onto the bloodied chain of his gold necklace. Barely conscious, she will then stumble to a nearby chaise longue made of skulls, where Bieber’s ‘people’ will cover her with a patchwork quilt of skin, retrieve the blade from her weakening grip and replace it with a complimentary bottle of ‘Girlfriend’.

“Next!” they will shout, as another middle-aged superfan is ushered into the darkness.

To his army of dedicated fans, my musings about his possible (but unlikely) future probably marks me out as a ‘hater’. But I don’t hate Justin Bieber – well, not burning hate – he’s just a boring global phenomenon; a slip of a boy who makes autotuned pop songs for teenage girls to scream over. Sure, he comes across as a bit of a cocky twat as well, but that’s by the by. His loyal and ferociously unhinged fanbase idolise him.

“Justin Bieber spelled backwards is Rebeib Nitsuj, which means ‘Flawless King’ in a language I just made up,” tweeted one fan recently (probably after scrawling it on her parents’ bedroom door in lipstick and screaming “Rebeib Nitsuj!” while standing over their bed brandishing a carving knife).

Bieber’s slightly petulant acceptance speech at the AMA’s suggested that he saw the award as a victory over the ‘haters’ (or ‘haterz’) against whom he and his fans battle constantly. But what exactly is a ‘hater’?

According to a completely made up acronym provided by @iAmTheWiseOne on Twitter recently, it means: [H]aving [A]nger [T]owards [E]veryone [R]eaching [S]uccess. But I’m not entirely comfortable with that. It suggests that the famous and successful are deserving of our unwavering praise and adoration, like dictators appearing on the balcony of the presidential palace in order that throngs of admirers can vacantly applaud the cultural famine they’re enduring. Dissent will not be tolerated. Like the mother who was forcibly sedated during a heated meeting between the Russian deputy prime minister and relatives of those who perished on the stricken Kursk in 2000, you shall be silenced and removed. You will speak kindly and favourably of our heroes. You will kneel before our Flawless King.

No? Then you’re a hater.

The ‘hated’ tend to view this situation as the talented and fabulous being remorselessly persecuted by the marginalised and envious, who are simply jealous of their success and the trappings of their fame. As such, ‘haters’ are often deemed “irrelevant” and dismissed as shadowy lurkers with unspectacular careers, desperate to make a name for themselves by criticising their supremely talented targets. They’re just “people sitting in a basement with nothing better to do,” as Justin Bieber once said.

When Andy Dawson (@profanityswan) recently wrote a scathing review of Chris Moyles’ latest parody album in The Mirror, the former Radio One DJ took to Twitter to bullishly respond. “Andy Dawson in The Mirror. Hey Andy, I really bug you don’t I. You HATE my success so much. Really hate it. Thanks. Makes me want more,” said Moyles, in 140 characters of embittered smugness. “Shut down the haters sir,” chimed in fellow DJ ‘Grooverider’.

Because, of course, it couldn’t possibly be that his album was every bit the detestable pile of horseshit that Andy Dawson said it was. And according to Moyles, it wasn’t about the album at all. It was about Andy Dawson despising his SUCCESS. He hates it. Hates it so much, in fact, that the only way he could deal with it was to harshly review his work of unrivaled musical genius. To Moyles, he’s just another ‘hater’. His views are irrelevant. Likewise the opinions of any critics who have the audacity not to fawn over the vast amount of mind-numbing toss that the entertainment industry regularly churns out these days.

But it’s not only Justin Bieber and Chris Moyles that have ‘haters’. A quick search on Twitter yesterday suggests that it’s the must-have thing of the moment, even if you’re not remotely famous. Because having ‘haters’ means that your existence has been validated. You’ve raised your head above the parapet and triggered a reaction. A negative one, yes, but a reaction nonetheless. But even if you’re not relevant or self-important enough to have ‘haters’ specifically hating you, then you can always loosely claim to have them if you’re a certain zodiac sign.

“Haters hating on #Pisces cuz we are a lil bit of every sign all rolled into one and we pull it off like a true G,” tweeted @ZodiacPosts the other day. “I’m awesome!” replied one ecstatic Piscean, thrilled that the ‘haters’ apparently dislike the way in which he pulls off his meaningless existence “like a true G”.

And we shouldn’t forget Geminis, who “never care about what the haters have to say…they have more of a *talk to the hand* kind of attitude ;)”. Yes, of course they do.

But hasn’t the world always been calibrated to account for both love and hate? Marmite’s famous advertising campaign notably didn’t feature a load of whining teens slathered in gloopy yeast extract burbling on about how, if you don’t love their favourite spread, then you’re just a hater. The advertisers knew they had a product that was divisive, and that wasn’t universally loved. In fact, if you visit Marmite’s official website it gives you the option of hating it, right there. And instead of that mouse click being an empty gesture, it actually takes you to the ‘Hate Marmite’ Facebook page (URL: MarmiteHateParty). It’s a common sense, no bullshit approach to acknowledging that differing points of view exist, and will always do so.

I accept that YouTube dwellers who leave mindless “Your soh gayyy!” comments on Justin Bieber videos probably do tick the ‘hater’ box, because there’s nothing remotely clever or interesting about their contribution to the world. But the term ‘hater’ is now liberally used to smear dissenting views against, well, anything.

Let’s face it, if we all gushed about the same things we would find ourselves living in a zombie wasteland of intolerable blandness. Is that what we want?

So let us continue to be critical, and let us ignore the ridiculousness of the ‘hater’ label. After all, it will likely disappear in the next few years…like many of the celebrities whose success we apparently loathe today.

Anyway, I’ll be in the basement if anyone needs me.

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The New Gods

When John Dillinger was gunned down by FBI agents in an alleyway close to the Biograph Theatre, Chicago, it was reported that ghoulish souvenir hunters dipped handkerchiefs, newspapers and even hems of dresses into the gangster’s blood, such was the thirst for morbid mementos of the newsworthy occasion. With the blood on people’s clothing and possessions eventually rusting and fading over time like an Instagram filter taking years to render, I guess it was the 1934 equivalent of snapping a quick photo of the macabre scene with an iPhone.

Eighty years on, I think it’s reasonably safe to assume that no one in their right mind would think to dip an object into a crimson pool of congealing blood at a crime scene in order to document the moment (unless Kay Burley had left her Thermos mug unattended while she slithered under the door of the victim’s home to graphically inform the family about the death, in which case, that’s just asking to be dunked). But in our coldly efficient modern world, we don’t need to resort to such hands-on measures. Our innate urge to opportunistically capture moments for posterity – from the morbid to the mundane, the magnificent to the morally questionable – is facilitated by a wealth of accessible technology, which makes things a lot easier…and a lot less icky.

Today, practically everything is photographed, captured, screen-grabbed and recorded. And unlike the scraps of newspaper and cuts of fabric stained with Dillinger’s blood – perhaps consigned to unmarked boxes in dusty attics across the Windy City, remaining strictly in the locality in which they had originated – anything and everything can be shared across the world in a matter of seconds. There’s no longer anything physical to hold onto; no photo, letter or keepsake to place under a pillow or slot between the pages of a book, or secrete somewhere safe, away from prying eyes. There is only endless replication and digital permanence.

So if you use Twitter to call for a revolution following the re-election of President Barack Obama, for instance, it’s impossible to disassociate yourself from that mind-bendingly idiotic moment. Even if you hastily delete the offending tweet – fearing sedition charges and 20 years in prison, with your increasingly sweat-sodden toupee sitting on your head like a clump of dewy turf – it’s too late. It exists forever.

And if you post photos of yourself on Facebook, posing seductively like a sexy Grim Reaper amid New York’s Hurricane-ravaged landscape, those images are lost to you the second you hit ‘upload’. They don’t belong to you anymore. They belong to the Internet.

Similarly, when 15-year-old Amanda Todd made a fleeting error of judgement as a naive 12-year-old, lifting up her top to flash a stranger who’d delivered disarming compliments down the grainy lens of a webcam, that momentary lapse was frozen in time before she’d even lowered her shirt. It was pixels and data, captured and saved. It was a moment that would haunt her throughout the remainder of her troubled young life, with her tormentor sending the image of her breasts to her friends and family and eventually posting the image to Facebook as his profile pic. In Amanda’s own words, which she penned on flash cards in a YouTube video she posted about her experience: “I can never get that photo back. It’s out there forever.”

It was out there when she succumbed to drugs, alcohol, anxiety and depression; it was out there when she started to self-harm; it was out there when she drank bleach during a failed suicide attempt; and it was still out there when she hanged herself at her home last month.

Tragically only a couple of weeks after the death of Amanda Todd, 15-year-old Felicia Garcia from Staten Island, New York, took her own life, when she threw herself under a train. After reportedly having consensual sex with four footballers on the high school football team after a party, she was later humiliated when a sex tape was leaked online and passed around her classmates. The subsequent bullying, not least from two of the boys directly involved in the video, ultimately led to her suicide. “Finally, it’s here,” one witness reported her as saying, before she fell backwards from the Huguenot station platform.

But how can these tragic events have occurred in this day and age, I hear you ask? In our celebrity-obsessed culture, sex tapes are de rigueur. Remember when Rob Lowe became a virtual pariah in Hollywood when his sex tape surfaced in 1988? Well, nowadays, the media love them! And there’s no stigma attached anymore. Celebrities are queuing round the block to either talk about them or plot the making of one. Robbie Williams recently revealed that the biggest regret of his career was not making a proper sex tape. (Surprisingly, it wasn’t his decision to release Rudebox.) And during this year’s Celebrity Big Brother even Coleen Nolan said that she and former husband Shane Ritchie had once made a sex tape, which was subsequently destroyed. Although if the Mayans were right, that tape will no doubt resurface on December 21st and bring about the End of Days.

Of course, for the likes of Paris Hilton and Kim Kardashian a sex tape was merely the launch pad for global fame, with reality shows, fragrances, fashion collections, magazine front covers, and tearful, soul-searching chats with Oprah about their humiliation and faux regret about how it all began.

After 1 Night in Paris was conveniently ‘leaked’ around the time Paris Hilton’s reality series The Simple Life premieredshe rose from relative obscurity to global superstar almost overnight. The sex video was made with her ex-boyfriend Rick Salomon in 2001 and was shot almost entirely through the grey-green hue of a night vision camera, which made it feel a bit like a raunchy deleted scene from Bravo Two Zero. This stage of Paris’s life is covered on her Wikipedia entry under the somewhat depressing heading: “2003-05: Career Breakthrough”. And sadly, it really was. It’s only in the last couple of years that her star, mercifully, has faded.

Her former best friend, Kim Kardashian, who is her slightly more curvaceous, brunette replacement on the world stage, also achieved fame following the ‘leak’ of a sex tape in 2007 (coincidentally recorded in 2003, the same year she witnessed Paris Hilton’s meteoric rise to fame off the back of one). With the premonitory title Kim Kardashian Superstar (“featuring Hip Hop star Ray J”, who was clearly desperate to crowbar his apparent musical credentials into the title, when he could just as easily have been described as “narrator and stunt dick”) the clumsy visuals could have been achieved by filming an extreme close-up of a bowl of chicken breasts on a car’s parcel shelf while driving down a cobbled street.

Still, artistic merit aside, the video didn’t do her any harm. After dropping her lawsuit against Vivid Entertainment for invasion of privacy – originally claiming that selling the video was “despicable” and “malicious” – she settled for a cool $5m). She’s now the highest earning reality star in the world, a multi-millionairess and the darling of the Mail Online – that steadfast moral guardian of the world and tireless crusader against Internet porn. The Mail despises pornography, but forget about that for a second and look at this HILARIOUS video of three grandmothers watching Kim Kardashian’s “famous sex tape”! Ha-ha! Priceless! You’re right, Mail Online, she really is a “star”.

The media treats Kim Kardashian’s sex tape as a mere saucy anecdote. In 2009, she smiled out from the cover of Cosmopolitan, which carried the headline: “The mistake that still haunts her (no, not the sex tape)”. And let’s face it, why would she regret the thing that’s made her richer and more famous than she could possibly ever have imagined?

It was recently reported that Nadya Suleman – aka ‘Octomom’ (a media nickname, which sounds like a human exhibit from a Victorian museum of living curiosities) – made a sex tape and was “hoping to become famous and make tons of money”. One insider said: “She really, truly thought she was going to end up as successful as Kim Kardashian.”

And why wouldn’t she? The Kim Kardashians and Paris Hiltons of this world are the new gods; infallible, untouchable and supremely vacuous beings, with vast wealth, highly visible public profiles, an adoring press and media at their beck and call, and close to 26 million Twitter followers between them. And all off the back of their respective sex tapes.

Amanda Todd and Felicia Garcia, on the other hand, experienced nothing but despair and anguish, and probably would’ve given anything to erase their mistakes from the face of the earth. And for them, social media wasn’t a source of followers, friends and support, but simply another conduit through which their tormentors could continue their unrelenting persecution of them.

It’s rumoured that Kris Jenner – the Kardashians’ unscrupulous ‘momager’ (a risible portmanteau word, similar to ‘celebritwat’) – is keen to “sex up” Kim Kardashian’s 17-year-old half-sister Kendall Jenner, so we shouldn’t be surprised if a sex tape miraculously works its way into the mainstream in the near future. But is there not enough real news in the world for the media to stop fawning over sex tape stars and simply refuse them the publicity they crave? It’s a truly fucked up world when wealthy socialites and so-called celebrities can sell their souls and make millions, with the full blessing and support of the media, while their mortal counterparts make genuine mistakes and have their fragile souls eaten away.

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Pot Noodle and pornography

While swanning around the labyrinthine corridors of my unconscious mind the other night, I managed to walk past all the doors that would likely open into fantastical, other-worldly adventures – allowing me to inhabit a ridiculously attractive superhero version of myself – and instead stumbled into a room full of discarded, soiled nappies, with a cat brushing up against my leg. But like walking into a Crystal Maze game-room with Richard O’Brien’s instructions ringing in my ears, I seemed to know exactly what to do: stop the cat eating the baby shit. Wonderful.

I tried my best, tiptoeing balletically through the faecal minefield, but the cat was frustratingly tenacious. No sooner was I shooing it away from one spattered nappy than I was desperately trying to prevent it from lapping up a soupy shit from another. I awoke to the sound of my retching, where I promptly tweeted about the experience (because there’s simply no point in having a dream like that unless you can instantly repulse 400 strangers).

My hugely underwhelming dream made me wonder if my mind had finally established that I’m actually rather dull, so was merely generating the dreams I deserved. The following night, I’d probably drift off to sleep and find myself trying to locate a vole in a towering pile of beige knitwear. Failure to locate the rodent would then trigger a penalty task in which I would have to assemble a flat-pack wardrobe with Bill Roache.

I recently read a story about how Samsung had filed a patent for an auto-generating life diary “by collecting all manner of information about your daily routine from your smartphone”. Even though I despise the very idea of such an application, I guess it makes sense. Pretty much everything we do, think and feel is either done with, or transmitted by, the little devices we keep welded to the palms of our hands every day. If I am indeed crushingly dull, then my iPhone probably holds the key to confirming this assumption.

My apps were the first thing I checked. A good friend of mine recently posted details of a new app on Facebook called 123D Catch, which can turn photos into amazing 3D models. He has a unique ability for sniffing out cutting edge, interesting apps that do cool things. I, on the other hand, have a spirit level and a torch app, which I appear to have subliminally equipped myself with should I ever need to build a small wall in failing light.

My most recent app is Flightradar24, a flight tracking service that provides real-time info about thousands of aircraft around the world. The other day, my wife asked me why I’d suddenly got up from the sofa to stare out of the window at the overcast sky. The awful shame of explaining that I was trying to spot the Aer Lingus flight from Dublin to Heathrow flying by – as indicated by my app – simply wasn’t an option. “No reason,” I meekly replied, before swiftly returning to my seat.

I got tremendously excited the other night when I spotted a ‘Polar Air Cargo‘ flight on the map, flying over the North Sea. Even though the flight was probably only carrying supplies of Pot Noodle and pornography, I like to imagine that it was transporting flamethrowers and dynamite to a strung out Kurt Russell, holed up in a partially destroyed Antarctic research station. Still, active imagination aside, the initial analysis of my iPhone was practically bending the needle of the dull-o-meter.

One app that I thought might be quite revealing was Audioboo. What had I recorded in days gone by, I wondered? Snippets of live music from exclusive secret gigs? Scraps of treasured audio from wild nights out with friends? No. The answer: a recording of my neighbour using his deafeningly loud leaf blower on a Sunday afternoon (even though he’s retired and has all fucking week to do it while the rest of us are at work). There was also a recording of the sound of marble-sized hail hammering against my office window, and precisely one minute of Ceefax saxophone-based muzak. Thrilling.

Meanwhile, my iPhone’s ‘notes’ were full of hastily typed vehicle descriptions and registration numbers of suspicious cars and vans (my posthumous gift to the Crimewatch reconstruction team); wonderfully random shopping lists (e.g. milk, kitchen roll, cloths, sponges, The Longest Day); and a proud ‘note to self’ which simply read: “Poo travelling at 4.76mph-4.90mph” (a reference to a ‘number two’ I parted company with on World Toilet Day 2011, and subsequently monitored using the Flush Tracker website).

Of course, my photo library provided even more information about the extent of my dullness. The photo I’d taken of some tarpaulin-wrapped sand that was briefly abandoned in front of my car port – to potentially use in a future  complaint letter to the builders who left it there – had a uniquely dull quality to it, and would no doubt have provided my so-called ‘automated life diary’ with a pivotal moment from that particular day. As would the photo I’d taken of a shop display with some mugs that spelled out the word TWAT.

These are the mundane observations, recorded happenings and consciously chosen smartphone applications of a crushingly dull man. My mind was right, and the iPhone doesn’t lie. Still, at least any future life diary will provide my descendants with a digital account of where I went wrong. Hopefully, that way, they’ll have a more exciting time of it, stride about the place with their scintillating personalities and become huge successes. I’ll just be the dull ancestor who took photos of sand and monitored the subterranean journey of his own shit. I guess I’ll have to live with that.


Filed under Personal

Offended by things. Lots of things.

American author Fran Lebowitz once said: “Being offended is a natural consequence of leaving the house”. Of course, nowadays, you don’t even need to leave the house, or raise your weary head from your drool-sodden pillow. All you have to do is reach for your smartphone each morning, drop into your social network of choice, then wait patiently for someone to point you in the direction of something vaguely controversial.

You could scribble a colourful limerick on the cubicle door of an Outer Hebridian public toilet, and a photo of it would eventually be blown around Twitter on a disapproving wind of collective huffing. We seem to spend an inordinate amount of time being offended by things.

Back in June, Adidas managed to offend lots of people after they revealed the new JS Roundhouse Mid trainer on their Adidas Originals Facebook page, which featured a garish orange “shackle-like ankle cuff” that some critics said resembled a symbol of slavery. The online backlash against the company was almost immediate. “How  would a Jewish person feel if Nike decided to have a shoe with a swastika on it and tried to claim it was OK in the name of fashion?” said one Facebook user called Kay Tee (Katie, I’m assuming).

Admittedly, Topshop recently had to remove a Slayer t-shirt from sale because it featured the death’s head insignia – “in the name of fashion”. But I strongly doubt that the elephant-sized Goering in the Adidas boardroom is the distinct lack of Nazi-influenced designs in their range of sports-casual footwear. Of course, if they now phase out their famous three stripe trademark and replace it with the double Sig Rune of the Schutzstaffel, those monsters will make me look pretty stupid.

If the ankle chain on the JS Roundhouse Mid had been attached to a leaking bag of clinical waste, which wearers of the trainer had to drag behind them like determined mountaineers pulling the corpse of a frozen friend through deep snow, it still wouldn’t have generated half the commotion that the chain’s link with slavery did.

Ironically, while everyone was busy dribbling their self-important opinions about the “Amistad Originals” (as they were rib-ticklingly dubbed) reports that Olympic-branded shoes and clothing – to be worn by Team GB and Games volunteers – were being manufactured for Adidas in sweatshop conditions in Indonesia went largely undiscussed.

But that didn’t matter. Because eventually, after 3,500 largely negative comments on their Facebook page, Adidas announced that they were cancelling plans to release the trainer. The offended masses of Facebook and beyond had triumphed.

At the start of the year, there was even a mild hoo-ha about the season five promotional poster for Mad Men, which appeared, in all its minimalist glory, on phone booths, bus shelters and subways in New York, and even plunged spectacularly down 12 stories of the Figueroa Hotel in Los Angeles.

The debate about the ad campaign flared up after a New York graphic designer photographed one of the posters on a phone booth for his “daily photo project” before posting it to Flickr, Instagram and Twitter, with the comment: “I’m not too sure how appropriate is this Mad Men poster”. His photo (and opinion) was then widely retweeted, re-posted, analysed, discussed and expanded upon across the Internet.

Because that’s what we do now. Rather than leave our thoughts and feelings bouncing aimlessly off the walls of our minds like an abandoned game of Pong, we routinely disseminate our observations to a global audience of strangers for wider consideration and analysis.

For die-hard fans of the show, the Mad Men poster – striking in its simplicity – was a visual cue to dust off their Dorothy Thorpe Roly Poly glasses, top up their whisky supplies and buy enough cigarettes to turn their lungs into charcoal briquettes. (While for opportunistic scribblers on the New York subway, it was a sure-fire meme.) But for those who weren’t familiar with the show’s distinctive iconography, there was a problem with the poster’s bleak imagery. One New York blogger wrote:

“If you know the show, you smile at the inside joke. If you don’t know the show, you Google “March 25″ and maybe you guess what it is or maybe you think March 25th is National Commit Suicide Day and you start the search for the perfect building to throw yourself off of. Or, if you see it in NYC, you think of [Richard Drew’s ‘The Falling Man’ photo, taken on 9/11].”

Anyone who speculated that the Mad Men poster might have been advertising March 25 as “National Commit Suicide Day” should perhaps have noted other unlikely observances in their calendars, such as ‘International Do A Poo On A Miniature Golf Course Week’ and the widely celebrated ‘Smash Your Nuts With A House Brick Day’. It was a ridiculous argument. Although one blog commenter did dwell on the suicide theme by suggesting that the Mad Men poster could certainly be viewed as insensitive – especially if we all clicked on the handy link he’d provided about the death of Paul Tilley, the former creative director at DDB in Chicago, who jumped out of a window at the Fairmont Hotel window in February 2008 (four months after the finale of Mad Men’s first season).

That’s the thing with the internet, you see. If ever you’re not entirely sure as to why you should be offended by something, there will always be someone willing to take you by the virtual hand to help you to join up the dots – any dots.

Unsurprisingly it was the poster’s ‘falling man’ link that was the most emotive observation. Although it mainly seemed to be bloggers who raised the spectre of 9/11, with some helpfully placing Richard Drew’s iconic photo next to the freefalling Don Draper image – just to make absolutely sure we got the comparison. Similarly, one blogger wrote that the Mad Men posters were in “bad fucking taste”, while helpfully linking those three fucking words to the ‘Falling Man’ Wikipedia page. You can heavily signpost an argument on the internet like nowhere else.

Most recently, a pop-up Benetton store in SoHo, New York, called ‘The Art of Knit’ managed to offend some uptight parents with its ‘Lana Sutra’ installations; yarn-wrapped mannequins contorted into various sexual positions by Cuban-born artist Erik Ravelo. And once again it was a photo posted to Instagram that sparked the debate (albeit without a supporting tirade from the poster about their love of knitwear being forever ruined).

Ravelo’s art installations – remarkably well done, it has to be said – look like two life-size Morphs wrestling on a colourful bed of spilled intestines. However once the images hit the Internet, the debate as to whether the sculptures were offensive and inappropriate played out in everything from the Huffington Post to the deepest, darkest, ‘secret door-knock’ Mumsnet-style forums. Great exposure for Benetton, but a tedious, and now routine, argument to once again bore the shit out of us online.

I don’t think it’s that we’re more easily offended these days, I think it’s just the ease with which we can now trigger or join a debate that’s turned us into blathering bores. After all, we can share an observation with the world with a simple swipe of our index fingers across the smeared screens of our smartphones. Social media has given us a voice online…and we really like the sound of it.

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