Friday, April 11, 2003
ROMANCING THE CROWN
Now I know that lot of people are heavily into celebrity following and are avid voyeurs of anything good or bad about them. Fortunes, for high profile actors and actresses, for example, can be made by creatively manipulating those who provide media trivia for that insatiable public appetite for gossip and particularly hot photographs of stars. You guess that the clever ones play along with the fame game because that way they have some control over how they are portrayed and profit into the bargain. We have celebrity magazines here who offer fortunes to those in the public eye and produce, for them, richly photographically illustrated articles which are almost exclusively incredibly flattering, idealised, and so often set in their homely surroundings (so contrived and stylishly pristine that they make the subjects often look ridiculous.)
It is ironic that the backdrop to the Douglass' v. Hello case is essentially economic; an ongoing circulation war between arch rivals in the celebrity vanity photography business and both magazines have the philosophy any publicity is good publicity.
Sure there are genuine privacy issues underlying the position of celebrities like them, but the more pragmatic ones are adept at protecting their own privacy and keeping a fair balance between their personal and private lives very successfully. Some are damaged and can be even destroyed by celebrity itself or the media and its attention. You wouldn't wish that on any one. Ironically, the majority of those who manage some sort of balance are the most likeable and whinge the least about invasion of their personal life. You get the distinct feeling with some that moan that they are more than a little confused between their public and private images.
Instinctively you feel for people who genuinely have their privacy invaded by the press and are hurt by it. Some of them seem to just ask for it, some of them don't. Some of them we feel sympathy for, some we don't. I felt the Douglass' protested too much;they invited little sympathy over here at least and many felt that their suit was trivial and, rightly or wrongly, an extension , particularly of Michael's vanity. It is hard to know what to make of someone who buys a full-page broadsheet newspaper ad, for example, to suck up to and support a celebrity friend, where a personal card or phone call might have been more appropriate and certainly less ostentatious. At best it was naïve; the point being that even if it was entirely genuine , it wasn't perceived that way.Similalry, even if the court case was taken up out of a genuine grievance, as it must have been for them,it was unwise. Personally, I don't think this court case did either of them any favours in the long run in terms of our perception of them as entirely genuine although I am equally sure they would feel very hurt at that suggestion.
Leaving aside just why it is that people are so very interested in these people outside of what they are actually paid for , seem to somehow need them, or even feel they actually know them in some way, the recent judgement in the case of Michael Douglas and the pirating of their wedding photographs intrigued me. Now I have no idea what either Michael Douglas or his wife are really like but from distance they both seem, to me at least, a little too good to be true, if not a tad naïve. I was not surprised that Michael Douglas's new website seemed, to me, very self-congratulatory and, well, sorry to say,a bit cheesy. He mentions his social and charitable works and then his acting in that order.
On his site I read his response to the judgement he had just been given in his fight with the 'Hello' celebrity mag and he didn't appear to underatnd the ruling. "We deeply appreciate that the English Court has recognized the principle that every individual has the right to be protected from excessive and unwanted media intrusion into their private lives."...
In fact the learned judge , under current British law ,could not rule in terms of invasion of privacy and , indeed 9 of the 13 charges brought against the magazine were ruled out. In effect, the law saw this for what it was, a business transaction, where someone else had breached the confidence of contract, gate crashed the party and produced snatched 'spoiler' pictures in a rival magazine. The court agreed that no intention to harm the couple was proven and thus I couldn't have too much sympathy when the couple protested that they had been emotionally traumatised by it and it had turned their wedding into a nightmare.I'd always want a wedding to be a perfect and unspoiled day.
Now having been married once and knowing how important wedding photographs can be for a couple and their respective families, I am sure that the illicit photographs appeared after the event and thus the lovely couple were assured, I presume, during the actual celebrations, of an unspoilt wedding day and that to me would be the main thing. It is hard for the ordinary person to feel sympathetic when the wealthy couple sold the rights to publishing their wedding album for a huge sum of cash. If privacy was the genuine issue , why make it such a public event?
The court case got pretty heated at one point with one barrister accusing the rival publication of purveying pornography !(with some justification it seems in terms of the magazine owners associated and syndicated companies.)Beauty is in the eye of the beholder not the one who pays or invites the photographer. I guess a person, too, can never be sure just where photographs of them will be juxtaposed or how an innocent image might appear to express something beyond what was intended !
Was the end problem that the alternative, paparazzi photos that were published, were not as pretty as the officially commissioned ones? Was it the loss of artistic control over the images? I presume the happy couple were actually delighted with the official set of photographs,and thus the alternatives would have appeared evidently tackier; so what's the real beef? But deep down, I would have hoped that they could have had the maturity to laugh off the rogue photographs as one of those things. It would have been more graceful, in my view, to have let it pass . However, what's done is done and let's hope that Michael gives whatever damages he does earn from the settlement, to one of his favourite charities as I am pretty sure he is likely to do. That would be the honourable thing to do now.
johncoxon 10:56 PM - [Link] - Comments ()
Thursday, April 10, 2003
PORTRAIT OF THE SHARK OF TIKRIT
The image of the Baghdad strong man frantically but ineffectively trying to single-handedly destroy the plinth under the hollow bronze of Saddam Hussein with a lump hammer was testament that well-intentioned might can be right but has its limitations. He did manage to displace enough marble tiles to show that the grandeur of the plinth was, like Hussein's smile, purely cosmetic.
When the US engineers stepped in to help, my chief concern was that they didn't score an own goal if the statue didn't budge or the chain broke, and I was relieved when the edifice bent and bowed and then, with a second tug came away altogether.
I had been staggered by the omnipresence of Hussein's vanity statutory and portraits all over Iraq, multiple testament to a giant parasitic ego sustained by an army of murderously misguided sycophants. The only virtue it all had, in the end, was that, all over the country were enough icons to ensure that a fair percentage of the population got an opportunity, to take off a dusty trainer or sandal and vent their hatred of the man and all he symbolised.
In education we have a theory of precepts and 'cognitive dissonance', where a disturbed or anti-social pupil's view of their own deviant behaviour is that it is appropriate and completely defensible and reasonable. Just as we find it so hard to comprehend the mentality of an apparently rational person who commits serial killings without apparent motive or explanation, so too, you have to conclude that tyrannical regimes and those who lead and maintain them have no perception that what they are doing is in any way perverse. Saddam, I am sure would see nothing hypocritical in having all those palaces while the majority of those he oppressed lived in relative squalor and poverty.Killing the opposition and terrifying the populace is radical feudal politics indeed but to this sort of regime it is simply pragmatism and the only way it can survive.
All the statutory and portraiture we saw were idealisations, striking heroic or paternalistic smiling postures with all the charm of Great White Shark. But to compare this person to that ocean predator is disrespectful to the natural predator.Give me the reptilian brain of a shark, because such creatures aren't culpable having customised brains whose only function is to enable them to feed and all behaviours are purely instinctive. Presumably Saddam was a rational but perverse person exercising considered choice which makes the whole set up so much more chilling and impossible to understand.
Public statues were traditionally put up to honour and commemorate valour, virtue or achievement but essentially not normally commissioned by the achiever and often done posthumously. In the case of Saddam Hussein, you presume that he either directly or indirectly commissioned his own idolatry for the present and posterity and that it had also the vital function to remind everyone of his power and what it would do to them if they ever dared to challenge, it even in the slightest way. Thus, since the regimes total effort was for its own agrandisment, it has no valour,honour or achievement to celebrate and thus the icons have no intrinsic value. You can only guess that he actually saw himself as the image he had portrayed and, if he is still alive, you can also only wonder how much an ego that big would be enraged by the public abuse of the image he cultivated and cherished.
johncoxon 12:48 AM - [Link] - Comments ()
DARK STAND UP COMEDIAN
Tuesday, April 08, 2003
As a true , but perverse, indicator of 'the medium is the message', a small-to-medium sized man, in what looked like a stage military uniform, came onto our screens in the comic role of Minister of Information before leaving, in haste, the Baghdad theatre at the eleventh hour. We were never listening for, or expecting, any accurate information from him, merely seeing how long he could keep blustering insults and hollow threats and inventing successes at his eagerly anticipated press conferences.His act always seemed to follow on just after up-to-the minute genuine reporting and graphic evidence from the TV networks that clearly completely contradicted the man from every angle. Thus he became something of a celebrity and even invited the sympathy and admiration of some viewers worldwide,( who clearly didn't know his history and true identity although it could have been presumed in such an obscene political set up.)
Al Sahaf certainly was a special type of stand-up comic; inadvertently the butt of his own joke. You were laughing at him because he seemed to be taking the role so seriously yet ,it appeared, he was the only person who didn't know what was actually going on all around him. As such, his insane loyalty and dedication to the lost cause of what was Saddam's PR seemed astonishing. Some were even fooled into the thought of him being the only senior figure worth preserving , as a comedian at least, after the fall of the regime. But, alas, the humour was purely contextual and dangerously deceptive; when you see this man's C.V. and the murderous ruthlessness he showed in his climb to political prominence, there could be no role for such a person in a decent world however plausible he seemed on the surface. The peculiar and often disorganised (and sometimes strangely archaic) language he started to use just before he quit the scene suggested a man in denial, who was simply spouting his megalomaniac boss's twisted vision,ideals,dogmas and xenophobia and losing the plot mentally in the process. It might have worked on the frightened and uninformed masses at one time, when the regime completely controlled public information, but here it was tragically funny if it wasn't so awful, and the possibility that his propoganda may have encouraged those who didn't know better to continue to fight and very probably die for a lost cause.
Mohammed Saeed al-Sahaf has been compared to Monty Python's hapless Black Knight, the one who continued to display supremely ill-founded confidence and belligerence even when separated completely from all his limbs by his adversary and rendered impotent . A more interesting comparison could me made with rise to fame of a seemingly tone deaf, garrish Cuban diva, Margarita Pracatan, who was launched on the public, via satellite link, having been discovered by programme researchers who were satellite channel-hopping on behalf of antipodean wit, Clive James' T.V show in Britain.
Margarita was so incredibly bad as she croaked through the standards(to her own accompaniment on what seemed like a toy keyboard) and yet was so full of exuberant confidence that she became essential viewing, won many hearts and became feted when she finally came to Britain.
The parallel with Mohammed is in her duality and the comedy of her performance that stemmed from it. Audiences were glued to the set because, it appeared, only she did not know just how wonderfully awful she was, and yet there was, and still is, the sneaking suspicion that she knew exactly what to do with the opportunity she had been given and how to milk riches from it. In England we have a famous PR guru and entrepreneur called Max Clifford whose business is to represent many celebrities but also has been involved in revealing scandals and helping people, for example, to capitalise on 'kiss and tell' stories and other events that make folks temporary celebrities who can , if properly advised, make a financial killing while their celebrity or notoriety lasts.
Max is a consummate opportunist media manipulator, and incidentally, with a little appreciated personal mission to expose politicians and celebrities who are closet hypocrites. I don't think that even Max could do much in terms of future career advice for Mr. Al-Sahaf and I'm sure he wouldn't take him on, anyway were this awful , hypocritical creature to survive the war.
Perhaps we will never know if Mohammed was just making the best of it, ordered, as it were, not to abandon but man the bridge of his Titanic, deny the impact of the iceberg and re-assure the remaining crew that the ship would never sink as long as he kept up the rhetoric. Maybe he was told to carry on ad-libbing to try and drum up patriotic zeal, or was trying to save his own face and that of the arrogant regime he represented and whose total hypocrisy was evident everywhere and confirmed by his astonishing performance. It certainly didn't look as though he was getting any genuine information or script writing help or that he was doing anything else but maintaining a defiant stance on behalf of the rest of his rotten regime that had run for it and left him to face the media and look after himself.
Mohammed Saeed al-Sahaf represents, in the end, a very sinister, almost accidental feature of the visual medium with either people with power or representing the powerful, in that even this monster could potentially invite sympathy and grudging admiration and, were it not for journalists and independent witnesses, the real truth behind this apparently tragi-comic figure might have escaped our attention and thus allowed us to be fooled. When was the need for independent and responsible press reporting ever better illustrated than in this conflict and the power of what it could and can do in the future for the commom good? Perhaps now and in the future , remaining tyrants and their supporters might do well to fear the honest and free media more than any army or its weaponry.
johncoxon 7:50 PM - [Link] - Comments ()
EVERYTHING STOPS FOR TEA
Sunday, April 06, 2003
I spoke to Steve's wife this afternoon, (who waits, quietly courageous at an army base in a garrison town in Northern Germany,doing her thing,)to see if she had heard any recent news. Steve is O.K., she told me, spirits high but desperate, only, for someone to send him some mints! Now Audrey is quite a remarkable lady and when I spoke, as an aside , of my recent problem with my own nationality, she declared herself a Scottish Brit and therafter I can finally declare myself, proudly as an English 'Brit'. (She was actually in active service herself during the last Gulf War.)
I was particularly concerned because I'd heard that three men from our 7th Armoured Brigade had lost their lives the other day. Steve is assigned to the Fusiliers, a part of that huge battle group, the Seventh, and one poor young guy from his outfit, called Kelan had been killed by a single sniper bullet in the neck. (The other two soldiers had, sadly, been killed in a different location and were not fusiliers.) Steve is safe , somewhere in northern Basra. He did manage, at last, to wash his legendary huge feet, with honourable contempt, in an ornamental fountain in Basra's airport lounge. He also helped 'liberate' a large portrait of one 'Saddam Hussein' ( the only true Weapon of Mass Destruction this is really all about )which he, personally, cut out with his knife, having discovered, with his crew, a long ladder in the dangerous labyrinths of subterranean tunnels under the airport and scaled it for the prize. He intends, I hear, to bring it home to present to his regiment's museum.
Conflict can bring out the worst and the best. The undertandably anxious wives and families of our troops over there in Germany have enough to worry about without the mindless racial and verbal abuse, damage to their vehicles and property and being spat at by that oh-so sensitive , narrow minded minority of 'bottom of the gene pool' xenophobic locals opposed to the war. I don't think that obscenity will ever be reported. Funny that the town would have no economy to speak of, without that garrison there and how selective and fickle the national memory of most country folk really is. Let's not mention Hitler here, shall we.
Now, the Daily Star is a red-headline, national tabloid uncompromisingly partisan and pro-troops and doing its bit to keep up the morale of our boys. There, for all to see was a brilliant juxtaposition of two contrasting images of the British character.
To the left Tony Blair, in his unruffled and pristine lounge suit and tie, downing a cup of tea from, I guess , the best Downing Street china. To his left the anonymous image of a typical British 'squadie' (so called because British troops are traditionally drilled in marching form on parade squares to barked orders in ranks or 'squads' in a form of training that goes way back.)
It turns out to be none other than our own Staff-Sergeant, nominally Small Weapons Instructor and crack shot, Mr. Steve Hanson, sitting on his Warrior armoured vehicle, making a 'wet',(army slang) 'brew'(civilian English slang), or 'cup of tea' somewhere in the Iraqi desert, under the great caption, 'Everything Stops for Tea.'
Steve likes his tea, and in this instance, I can reveal that he is about to 'sup' a cup of Earl Gray, the tea of his preference, sent to him in one of many food parcels, from his beloved Scottish Brit love, the fair Audrey!
The Daily Star sent Audrey a copy of the photo montage post-haste,and a copy of the relevant paper when she wrote and asked, an act of, I think,great generosity and sensitivity.
And when I asked, cheekily, for a jpeg or equivalent , of the same for Steve's daughter Naomi,tonight, at what was, it turned out, deadline-wise, a very bad time for anyone in the newspaper industry, half an hour later, Peter, the kindly librarian of the paper, sent me immediately, an e mailed PDD document of the relevant clips, at no charge , of that edition of the paper. With necessary modifications in image scaling, at the speed of light , courtesy of my bestest American image manipulator Art Pal,(to preserve the somewhat poor resolution of the picture and caption )I was able to post it here. I think it is great journalism and a wondeful icon of something essentially British.
The posher 'quality' broadsheets, full of hand-wringing self-doubt and intellectual snobbery could never aspire to this type of spot-on graphicacy or directness and probaly abhor it. It is not the taking of tea, per se, but the ability of an unselfconscious individual to focus on something important and humanising in the crazy place he finds himself in, ironically, having been sent to a desert by the man in the suit.
johncoxon 1:37 AM - [Link] - Comments ()
As far as we can gather, Naomi's dad and the boys are in Basrah right now and I heard tonight that three of our soldiers have lost their lives in that incursion. Naturally it is a very worrying time and for operational reasons, up to date information is very thin on the ground. I was looking tonight at some photos Steve sent us, this one was taken when he was on exercise in Canada. Steve has gone to war in one of these Warrior armoured personel carriers. He is responsible for directing the fire of the big cannon on the front and he is , mercifully, an expert shot.
With his e mail he was telling us that the Warrior in the picture was having its engine replaced, adding with obvious enthusiasm and pride that the lads managed that feat in a staggering fifteen minutes! I looked over at the MOD website for a clearer picture of a Warrior in desert livery and came up with this one. I have cropped it and hope that I won't be prosecuted for infringing their copyright.
Now I think I have already said how much I respect men like Steve. They have a strong sense of decency but also are resourceful and have a strong sense of being in charge of their own survival and that of their comrades.
I spoke before about the tragedy of friendly fire and the recent 'frantic' purchase of Union Jacks. Again tonight, with great sadness, I witnessed, with the voice of BBC's John Simpson (remember him, the biased voice of the BBC ?) yet another such tragedy, where an American officer in Northern Iraq,odered a strike on an Iraqi tank and the pilot bombed not only that officer, the BBC guys and a number of Kurds in the convoy instead. The pictures we saw were live, and the camera man, slightly injured, was actually wiping his blood off the lens as he filmed. John Simpson had some of his clothes torn off in the blast; that's how close he was. His translator, tragically died later of his injuries. Let's not go there and instead call it the fog of war.
I remember a recent evening with Martin, Angela's son who was in the previous Gulf War and he was, in a rare moment of openess on the subject, showing us photos he had taken during the conflict. What struck us deeply was just how young he and his comrades were and that underlined the courage of that modest man and his friends who have, it is my belief, been marked for life by their experiences although they never complain. We saw a photo with the Union Jack and Angela remarked casually that it was good to see him and his boys flying the flag. It was not meant with any irony, but he said it was nothing really to do with patriotism, merely survival. It was brought along because of the fear of danger from friendly fire.How tragic that now seems in the light of what, inexplicably just keeps happening.
My own Dad was in the REME ( The Royal Eectrical and Mechnical Engineers) who had and still have responsibility for maintaining and modifying, when necessary, military vehicles.Just as I had remarked that the boffins had forgotten the simple device of making these vehicles identifiable from the air for self-preservation, Steve's Warrior is in need of another vital piece of equipment, that seems another staggering lack of foresight on the part of the designers. The REME have been welding these onto the body of the vehicles to make up for that oversight
You will no doubt realise that inside these tanks and armoured cars, vision is restricted and often you will see the commander with his head and shoulders exposed guiding the vehicle with the hatch cover at his back. It transpires that one of the horrific tricks employed against our troops in Northern Ireland led to the decapitation of an armoured vehicle commander. They had strung a thin wire across the road at at neck height. The Iraqis are doing the same, so , again improvised wire cutters, fashioned out of angle iron are being welded in place to protect commanders. It defies belief that, in the light of the experience in Ireland, some sort of fold-down wire cutting device had not been added as an adaption.
johncoxon 11:32 PM - [Link] - Comments ()
MONEY FOR OLD ROPE
London police were called to the Tate Gallery this Saturday lunchtime to investigate an attack on Rodin's celebrated marble sculpture, 'The Kiss'. Alas, our boys in blue were too late.
One Cornelia Parker, had, it appeared, already committed the sacrilege and left. She had, incredibly, spent an entire week, under the approving eye of lunatic gallery curators, painstakingly wrapping a needless mile of string around the work of art. Curator complicity is, I can now be reveal, part of the grand conspiracy to encourage and endorse, what is now commonly referred to here as the British School of Materialism.
Using the golden carrot of the ludicrously lauded Turner prize, the gallery, it seems to me, directly or indirectly, induces certain artists to design objects of the most outstanding banality which essentially must defy explanation by any rational, neutral observer and above all create a storm of self-advertising controversy. Apart from the large cash prize, the artist, who actually wins, is at least assured a measure of temporary celebrity or notoriety. More important, the gallery thereby maintains considerable public patronage and vital media attention. It may, accidentally, as well, lead a bemused less partisan public, quickly bored with this kind of temporary sensationalism, to wonder into other areas and very possibly come across genuine works with some actual artistic merit.
Cornelia Parker was actually responsible for quite dramatic and permanently interesting sculptural exhibit that represents far more constructive use of her time and ultimately our own.
It also has the increasingly rare virtue that you don't need her or anybody else to supply some art-farty intellectual explanation or justification for it. The idea of a work of art standing on its own actually speaking for itself seems to have gone for good in establishment art circles. Thus some artists at least and, significantly, their agents, can earn an extra bob or two talking it up in the media, by providing, in usually self-gratifying language, the verbalisation of an essence they lacked the skill to incorporate into their art. Cornelia here professes that she wrapped Rodin's work in string to represent (for her at least I'd suggest) the 'claustrophobia of relationships' and 'highlights that moment of erotic poignancy'. What utter bollocks! It's simply a media stunt or at the very least a selfish and impertinent act and you wonder at the mentality of the person who saw fit to allow her to amend the original.
If Rodin purposefully hacked away and smoothed the marble with such consummate skill to illustrate, in the classic style, two people in luscious uninhibited oscular rapture, why should this relative lightweight ever have been given permission to debase it for her own art propaganda or social commentary? Isn't this the humourless equivalent of drawing a moustache on La Gioconda or giving her curlers? At least that was amusing and the original was sacred and simply copied and modified! It is not clear whether in fact, Cornellia is here making a veiled allusion to her own sexual experiences, fantasies or preferences in terms, for example, of fun things consenting adults can do with bonds.
Auguste Rodin, pictured here, was himself no stranger to controversy, although, in his case, he never to my knowledge courted it. His 'Kiss' was once draped in cloth because it was though too lewd in 1904, and an earlier sculpture was considered such perfect artifice that critics refused to believe that he hadn't actually cast it directly from a human form.
Surely things in this century have reached a very sorry state, at least on the establishment Modern Art scene with its incestuous patronage and trash for cash mentality in the almost complete absence of any authentic radical with a truly individual perspective that genuinely challenges our art pre-conceptions in subtle ways. Must it be reduced to imposing itself, even temporarily, like this, on existing works of art?
The Metropolitan Police actually went to the Tate's assistance and arrested a man, apparently armed with a pair of scissors and in the process of liberating the marble lovers from Cornelia's abusive twine. He appears in court on the 25th April and it will be interesting to hear the justification for the charge of criminal damage to be levelled against him; not damage to the Rodin, but to a ball of string! Interesting too, to note that the British Culture minister, Kim Howells, has denounced the modern art up for this year's Turner Prize as "cold, mechanical, conceptual bullshit" and left a note to that effect on the gallery wall at the end of his visit. Such political and artistic candour is to be cherished.
johncoxon 9:41 PM - [Link] - Comments ()