Sunday, February 27, 2005

last day of the gates

(photo: Wolfgang Volz)

there are some fairly obvious reasons for it - furthest distance from the sun, worst-favoured inclination of the ecliptic, the coldest, the darkest, the dreariest - February really sucks. so many depressed faces, so little enthusiasm for anything, so very hard, the morning struggle to lift back out of the cosy amniotic bubble of dreaming into another day - into yet another day of the same.
I get such a vicarious lift from seeing these pictures. thank you, Christo. thank you, Jeanne-Claude. thank you, you army of crazy helpers (not volunteers, incidentally - they've always insisted on paying their helpers, if only a pittance and food). if I lived in New York, my February, this year, would have been utterly transformed, knowing that all I had to do to escape these midwinter blues was take a stroll in Central Park. I so envy this guy with the backpack crunch-crunching between this wonderful avenue of orange portals. why didn't I just go? they're pulling them all down tomorrow. stand by for a massive wave of depression sweeping through the apple - a macro-cultural equivalent of the day when you pull the christmas decorations down. we're familiar with SAD (seasonal affective disorder). now for NOMORGATES (non-microsoft-related post-gates syndrome).

more wonderful photos here

everyone a critic

someone wrote to say that one of my reviews wasn't objective enough.

I don't really know what 'objective' means. I think I know what it's supposed to mean, in that an 'objective' assessment of any given situation is supposed to be one that's uninfluenced by personal prejudice on the part of the assessor. it's the credo of both the experimental scientist and the BBC journalist. an 'objective' report - whether on a set of clinical trials or a distant war-zone - is meant to be one that just states the facts. conversely, a 'subjective' report is one that comments on the facts from a personal viewpoint.

I just find it a little hard to believe that there can be anyone left in this well-informed world - this better than at any time in history informed world - who seriously believes that there can be such phenomena as 'facts.'

I have just read a report that includes an interview with the surviving 'Brother No.2' of the Khmer Rouge - the Cambodian communist elite which, under the leadership of Pol Pot ('Brother No.1'), organised the killing of over a million and a half people who were in any way associated with 'wrong thought'. This man - a free man, incidentally, who has never been formally accused of or tried for anything - not even minor traffic offences - denies any knowledge of those killings. From his point of view, they are not 'facts' at all, but misunderstandings and misrepresentations of otherwise inexplicable events that somehow left a million and a half people lying in unmarked mass graves.
Slobodan Milosevic is currently playing the same game in front of his accusers at the Hague.

truth, clearly, is a function of belief as much as it is a function of fact.
I understand, for example, that a majority of American and a few English citizens actually believe the government-peddled 'facts' presented as justification for the invasion of Iraq: a) that Iraq was involved somehow in the destruction of the twin towers; and b) that Iraq possessed weapons of mass destruction which were capable of being launched against allied nations (ie Israel - but there were dark, incredibly preposterous hints at the time that London and Washington were at risk) at twenty minutes notice.
I also understand that the 'fact' that our planet coalesced from a mass of smaller planetoids over a period of several thousand millennia and that life on earth then evolved after a waiting period of several more is seriously disputed by many millions who prefer the biblical 'truth' that all this happened in a week.

so I find it a little dismaying that anyone should expect 'objectivity' in a music review.

a piece of music, like any work of art, is an objective phenomenon in only the most limited and constrained sense: any evaluation of its value can only ever be an opinion. it's not like a racing trimaran - you can't apply a set of rigorous assessments in order to evaluate its efficiency: check-list assessment will effectively forestall the design of a racing trimaran that has blunt ends, a corrugated hull, a tiny mast and is made from reinforced concrete; but if I were to compile a list of things that music does and reverse-engineer those aspects of some of the most successful three-minute hits into a song, I might end up with a hit, an amusing TV mini-series and another gadfly celebrity or five, but I won't have made music.

there are, it's true, music journalists who try hard to appear objective. they do this by using a form of analytical language that invokes and implies authority if not authenticity by association with either a form of academic hermeticism or street lingo, or a combination of both. such critics rarely use the first person singular, for example: they conceal their opinions behind a buttress of recondite allusion and a shield of encyclopaedic cross-reference. either that or they just describe what happens in the music, track by track, as if it were a series of paintings, or the plot of a movie.

art in general, however, is very resistant to evaluation against mechanistic sets of criteria.
this is the problem with teaching art, whether it be painting, performance, or music - the teacher has to allow the student the freedom to develop their own set of discriminatory sensors within the context of understanding that nothing comes from nowhere and that everything ultimately refers to something else. that some art is 'good' and some is 'bad' and that there's a spectrum of relative goodness and badness in between is simply not the case. art is not like science. bad science is demonstrably bad. there is an international language of science which subjects any new science to a rigorous process of peer-reviewed evaluations which has nothing whatsoever to do with individual opinions about what happened (usually - there are outstandingly interesting exceptions when it comes to cutting-edge science like cosmology or string theory or quantum effects). such is never, has never been, nor could ever be the case with art. art is always and irrevocably contextualised by its cultural currency, and that currency moves up and down in the cultural stock markets as fast as a whore's drawers.

the dominant culture decides. always. this is very obvious in the case of the endless struggle we English have with the so-called Americanisation of our culture - from root to branch, from spellings to styles of governance, it's clear that there are some aspects of supposed Englishness that are on the wane. (the same applies everywhere, of course - the Académie Française was established to maintain the purity of the French language, and has certain strange legislative powers that actually oblige newspaper editors not to use words like 'le weekend' and so on.)

English spelling was a very flexible affair in Elizabethan times. Shakespeare used at least two spellings for 'colour': coulour from the original Old French and color from the Latin; colour, the compromise, became the more commonly used one, so that by the time Johnson and the other eighteenth-century dictionary writers came to formalise it, they decided that 'colour' was the way to go, whereas 'formalize' was not. and so it has continued.

we can continue spelling 'colour' the English way so long as we don't want to rewrite an HTML tag, however, in which case we have no choice: if we want a web page with a black background, then 'body bgcolor=#000000"' is the only spelling that will work. in the programming world, it just hasn't proved to be worth anyone's time to create and insert into the browsers the snippet of code that would apply an either/or there. and it's no longer a 'fact' that Americanisation with an 's' is right and Americanization with a 'z' wrong. most dictionaries now concede that either will do. and, while we're on the subject, you'd better be clear about which floor you want to live on: if you choose the first floor here, you'll expect to be on the first landing you arrive at upstairs, whereas in the States you'll be put on what we call the ground floor. there are innumerable such examples of cultural difference, of course.

obviously (to me and maybe to you) there's a lot of misplaced energy here: whereas it's definitely worth fighting tooth and nail against a lot of instances of creeping Americanisation (the insurance-based model of health care that's undermining the NHS; the virtual monopolisation of media-ownership; the politics of paranoia; the measuring of success exclusively in dollars and cents; the industrialisation of human relationships) it hardly seems worth the effort to rail against those shifts in language use, for example, that are just going to happen, willy-nilly, as part of the development of a living language. there are many American usages that are uniquely apposite and great fun: 'go figure', for example, is so wonderfully succinct - the English 'work it out for yourself' doesn't capture the half of the conspiratorial shrewdness contained in that expression. ditto the ubiquitous 'meh', which I think perfectly encapsulates the frequently needed 'totally average - neither good nor bad - not worth talking about' hand-waggle. I shall continue spelling colour o-u-r for the same reason I pronounce laboratory with the accent on the second rather than the first syllable - because that's how I learnt it here (and, besides, the American way still sounds too close to 'lavatory' for me to be able totally to suppress the sniggering seven-year-old inside us all whenever I hear it). however, I expect a word such as 'probably' to be displaced by the already widely-used 'prolly' eventually, and, come the twenty-fifties, surely the grandchildren of the current generations of Cholmondeleys and Featherstonehaughs will have decided enough's enough - we're Chumleys and Fanshaws - get over it, grandad.

most human transactions are based on agreements: these range from the trivial (I agree to call this object salt in order that there won't be any confusion when you ask me to pass it you at the table) to the metaphysical (I agree that what you are perceiving and recognising as 'real' is much the same as me in order that we might co-exist and communicate in similar universes). there are real and valid arguments that one individual's inability to agree with another on either of these levels - these supposed aberrations from normal behaviour - represent merely an extreme form of alternative opinion rather than symptoms of madness, but so long as the cultural consensus remains in favour of salt being sodium chloride rather than a fluffy quadruped with long ears, the social boat remains relatively unrocked by such assertions.

in the matter of critical objectivity, however, the check-list-and-score method of assessment is one I'll continue to resist, since it belongs ultimately in the same cultural model that requires that someone must be to blame for everything bad that happens - the 'the insurance will cover it' model, in other words. sometimes shit just happens. and quite often it happens under the auspices of the major recording labels.

go figure.

Thursday, February 24, 2005

pull the other one

scientific fact: there's more nothing than something out there

Monday, February 21, 2005

Nepal - party on!

yes, I know stylus is a music e-zine, but I would have thought a journalist who happened to be in Kathmandu when King Gyandendra celebrated Nepal Democracy Day by suspending democracy might have thought such a thing worth mentioning, if only en passant. but no, you'll search in vain in this interview with a wannabe-Ricky-Martin Nepalese pop-star called Jhumi Jhumi, and in the writer's breathless excitement over his subsequent performance at a party for the sons and daughters of Kathmandu's finest for the slightest tremor of concern over what was going on outside.
fortunately for us, Radio Free Nepal wasn't on the guest-list.

Tuesday, February 15, 2005

call me naïve..

if it were possible for seven men, with seven cheque books, to eradicate world poverty at seven simultaneous strokes of a pen, I for one would expect them to do it.
and it is, and they don't, so there it is.
billionaires are different from you and me (unless I happen to be talking to a billionaire - in which case e-mail me for the fawning and flattering version of this post), and are not subject to the same moral constraints, so it seems to be up to us little people to help each other out here.
even in our little rural neck of the woods, we've become used, over the past few years, to stepping past the Big Issue vendors with a quick smile that's supposed to say 'hi, I want to acknowledge you as a fellow-human in need, and don't want you to think that I'm either ignoring you or am careless about your plight, but I'm actually in some conflict here about the self-evident legitimate need in your personal case and the efficacy of the role you're imposing on me by inviting me to participate in its alleviation in this manner: you see, the big issue involves a lot more than the Big Issue...' and actually is interpreted as 'cringing liberal tightwad who passes by twice a day and smiles to cover his embarassment at pretending to human warmth despite wishing the council or the police or anyone really would move me and my bloody dog somewhere else'.
a billionaire wouldn't have these scruples - he'd just walk past. no recognition. no compassion. no problem.
it's evidently incumbent in billionairity to be liberated - a rare gift - from the imagination.
meantime, with a best shot at a definition of a contentious word saying that it applies if you live below 60% of the national median income (itself defined as the mid-point on the shifting scale of national earnings), and exemplified as a household of 2 adults and 2 children having less than £193 per week to spend after housing costs, that seems to work out at somewhere between a third and a quarter of the population in this supposedly developed country. it's much the same in the states, and apparently one in five Israeli children go to bed hungry.

Sunday, February 13, 2005

it was the nightingale and not the lark

so the most stressful day in the calendar for all teenagers and for far too many so-called grownups (apart from christmas) looms, like a leering gargoyle, some krusty ronald mcdonald of the senses, most cynically exploiting the better part of our human natures in thrall to the worst.
be my valentine.
kill me.
in common with most subsequent commercial abominations, we Brits were originally to blame, of course. together with the Merry Christmas Whore of bauble-trash and guilt-shopping, and the invention of photography, and the not-unrelated invention of the Welsh national costume, some unspeakable Victorian entrepreneur dreamed up and marketed the Valentine as the definitive expression of secret love. the idea caught, emigrated to the US, took fire - and from 1910 there was Hallmark.
being in love is a wonderful thing. when you're in love, every day is Valentine's day. at any and every opportunity you're going to think up some new way of showering your soulmate with gifts. nothing is less of a chore, more of a delight. constructing those handmade cards, filling in the I love you balloon letters in neon red, covering them with glitter-glue, stuffing the envelope with glittery hearts that are all going to fall out all over the carpet when the beloved opens it. oh the delight!
new lovers - beware - accept no substitute for those tacky handmade cards. cherish them. the tackiest, most amateurish handmade card, crafted, literally, with love, is worth a thousand of those ten-quid padded and be-glittered Hallmark monstrosities. once you either receive or stoop to sending one of those, the writing's on the wall. there's an all-too familiar formula relating the likely endurance of the new love, in weeks, expressed inversely as a function of the size of the card and the price per square centimetre. ugly, but true.
like all similar states of fever, or chemically-induced delirium, the being-in-love state is experienced at several dimensions removed from the universe as it is known and experienced most of the time. everyone, once in it, wants it to last forever. on average, it lasts about three weeks. what happens after that is that guilt begins to emerge - guilt at the cooling of the fever, and the reluctant emergence of the realisation that either this is something that matters, that needs to be considered as an ongoing life-changing event, and, if so, necessitating the scary sacrificial absorption of the being-in-love cell into the larger organism of this other thing, or not. and where there's guilt, there's profit, as Quark used to say.
what does it say about us that we're so desperately reluctant to disengage from the fantasy narrative of romantic love that we'll collude in such a tacky industrial process of emotional surrogacy rather than confront the real? where in the canon is the alternative to the Romeo and Juliet model? why is everyone so happy at weddings - the statistically near-inevitable moment of love's murder?
in 2003, Hallmark reported consolidated net revenues of $4.3 billion, which is more than the annual Gross Domestic Product of the Seychelles, Eritrea, Burundi, Djibouti, Liberia, The Gambia, Comoros, and Guinea-Bissau combined.

Saturday, February 12, 2005

god's soldiers
so what's so bad about fascism anyway?
(thanks to james)

fences and sails

all hail to Ellen, Queen of the Seas, champion of champions. staggering achievement. I'm in total awe of that level of skill and stamina and general superhuman heroine-ness. sems like a really nice woman, too. incredible.
I was thinking about her this afternoon as I was trying to rig up a temporary support for a fence that today's gales were in danger of flicking over. again. (my annual bête noire - whatever possessed me to erect a fifty-foot run of 6' high panelled fencing in a wind-tunnel?) struggling to secure what I actually thought was a rather nifty, almost nautical fix involving wooden splints and garden-wire tensioners, I got to comforting myself - ripped back, scraped knuckles, ruined knees - with the consideration that it could be a lot worse: I could be struggling to repair a broken mast alone as I dangled from it forty feet up whilst being tossed around in a Force 8 storm at minus 10 with nothing but the South Atlantic Ocean all around me for several thousand miles.
but of course it's not the same: no-one's watching me do this and, more's the point, no-one cares. I'd imagine it does actually make a helluva lot of difference, and would mitigate one's suffering considerably to know that not only do you have your whole team looking out for you by live comsat relay, but that there's tens of thousands of people logging on to your every move, watching your webcam updates, and skipping their own sleep in order to satisfy themselves that your marathon repair-job will have been completed safely and succesfully. not that I wish to detract from Ellen's achievement one bit. I'm just green with envy at the way that sort of suffering gets to enhance rather than diminish one's self-esteem.

unfurling the gates

Christo & Jeanne-Claude's wondrous new artwork was unfurled this morning in Central Park, Manhattan.

Thursday, February 10, 2005

Jesus was here

now that it seems more or less universally accepted that sea-levels will start rising fairly soon with the melting of the ice-caps, I'm wondering how much the disappearance of this vast amount of habitable and cultivable land has been factored into socio-economic forecasts. it's going to be serious enough here, when the entire populations of these thousands of maritime communities are going to have to start relocating inland, but in some cases whole nations, like Bangladesh, where most of the population lives at sea-level, are going to be displaced.
I checked in to the environment agency's flood projection model and discovered that, by chance, we've chosen to live just a few metres above the worst-case flooding scenario (at least for the forseeable future) around here. we live about thirty miles from the sea, but before the local Abbot initiated the drainage of what are now the Somerset Levels in the fifteenth-century, our town had a harbour. local legend has it that the boy Jesus landed here when he accompanied his uncle Joseph on one of his trading trips. it's one of the stories concocted by those wily old abbots to drum up pilgrimage trade (the other was that the tombs of King Arthur and Queen Guinivere had been discovered in the Abbey), and it worked pretty well.
we believe it.
there's a solitary scrubby old tree on the north slope of a hill on the edge of town called Wearyall Hill. the old harbour was where the Safeways (whoops - Morrisons now - gone to the dogs if you ask me) car park is now at the foot of the hill (they'll be drowned - good riddance, I say). the tree in question is supposed to be descended from the tree that sprang from the staff that Joseph planted there when he stepped out of his boat, one hand leaning on His shoulder, thereby, presumably, conducting the miraculous staff-becomes-tree effect. anyway, it's still known as the Holy Thorn, and we stand by the story. it is, actually, an oddity - a variety of hawthorn that's endemic to the Middle East and doesn't appear anywhere else in the UK. the local hippies and Buddhists and pagans keep it decorated with colourful ribbons. the Christians, by and large, ignore it. embarassed, I guess, by all that pluralist idolatry.
we like that, too.

Wednesday, February 09, 2005

Father jailed for smacking

there's going to be a tabloid whoo-ha about this, of course, and lots of braying about the nanny state, but I'm glad, on balance, to see the threat carried through. hopefully, it'll only take one or two cases like this for the message to get around - that no amount of semantic quibbling can excuse violence against children, and that any argument about the difference between a 'smack' and a 'beating' is just not the point.
guilty as charged - and ashamed. in the darkest times, I used to wonder how it's come about that the human child has evolved these traits that seem designed solely with the purpose of testing its parents patience to the point of head-banging hair-tearing sleepless insanity. and I'm one of the most patient people I know. twins made it doubly hard, of course, but still...
my own mother was - the euphemism used to be 'strict' - with us, as, of course, was hers, and hers, and so on as far back as you care to go, so it was embedded in me, that violence, and I've had to learn to control it (thankfully, it was balanced by dad - the most pacific of men, who was often the moderator of mum's rages)- but any cod-psychologist could have predicted that, given the circumstances, it was almost inevitably going to burst the valve at some point in those early years.
neither of the boys remember me ever hitting them, thank God. to be honest, it probably only happened maybe three or four times. (they both went through a period of being utterly fascinated at the idea of my mother hitting me - wanting to know about it in detail - that typical mix of horror and amusement in kids trying to get their heads around this alien behaviour of grownups.)
I mean - I didn't thrash them with a hazel twitch or anything. and I do recall, at the time, justifying it in terms of simple primate behaviour: when the baby gorillas really piss off their dad he swipes them aside until they get the message. but what I do remember is the moment of the red anger overcoming all the rational restraints and the violence of the reaction - although, even in that moment, the tension between the wildness of the root impulse and the not-quite-overwhelmed moral shadow literally restraining the arm even as it descended to spoil the force of the blow - then - I can still hear it - the slap on the leg, the shocked cry, the look of fear - and - immediately - the devastating feeling of shame, self-disgust, regret, remorse - and the scooping of my child - my beautiful beloved child - into my arms, and holding him, holding him, holding him...
and the "why are you crying, daddy?"

Monday, February 07, 2005

being peuyssed off with Beuys

I've not yet seen the Joseph Beuys exhibition at the Tate, but I'm fairly sure that it's all utterly meaningless in a thoroughly fine Fine Art sort of way, given that Beuys was the work. recreating the way he arranged some stuff once is the same as laying out a few of Beethoven's manuscripts and inviting us to enjoy the music. the man himself was clearly totally off the wall - Trickster in a greasy fedora. but I think he was an artist.
(*waggles hand a bit*)
the iconographic leitmotif of the pieces Beuys used to create during his 'actions' (the seminal prefigurations of most subsequent 'performance art') was the material, felt, and animal fat. these were supposed to refer to a personal epiphany, the turning-point in his life when, as a pilot in the Luftwaffe, he was shot down over the Crimea and rescued from his burning plane by a group of Tartar nomads. he maintained that these - his guardian angels - returned him to life by larding his badly-burnt body with yak-fat and wrapping him entirely in felt.
the truth - revealed after his death - is more mundane: he (and his co-pilot) were shot down, but they managed to make a safe crash-landing in a field. they photographed each other afterwards standing stoically next to their trusty Stuka. no fat. no felt.
he's not the first artist, nor will he be the last, to have woven a life's work out of a fictional personna: Carlos Castaneda and Eleanor Antin come most immediately to mind. but I'm sure I'm not the only one who's still actually deeply pissed about discovering that, because it does matter that the emotional engagement that's being drawn out of one as a spectator in response to the juxtaposition of all those felt-and-fat artefacts and the knowledge of their biographical provenance is, in fact, fraudulent. in effect, one's being invited to draw truth out of a lie, which is all very contentious and postmodern, but actually deeply off-pissing.
so fuck off, Joseph.
anywho, here, thanks to the splendid ubuweb::sound online collection, Mr Lying Bastard Felt himself, with his 1970 hit, Ja ja ja Ne ne ne.

Sunday, February 06, 2005

Gustav (*swoon*)

there was a brilliant bit on the (new season asap pleeeease!) spasmodically hernia-inducing Green Wing when the obnoxious full-on godsgift anaesthetist, Guy, is trying to impress our doctor heroine, Caroline, by singing along to Queen on the CD player in her car. she (the glorious Tamsin Greig whose surprisingly dull day-job is as Debbie Gerrard in The Archers) glances at him slightly askance and expresses surprise at his taste. he has no idea what she's talking about, and carries on gurning. finally she says, "well, with Freddie Mercury being gay and all." whereupon his expression freezes for slightly too long before he carries on mouthing the words to 'we will rock you' with moderately reduced enthusiasm for a few seconds. "well, of course," he says, "I knew that."
it's always been the case that some artists' non-heterosexuality has been more or less discreetly coded into their work (the incredibly effervescent Liberace as the Elton John of his day, for ex) although it's only relatively recently that to out oneself in the entertainment industry has not been career-suicidal. the minefield of gay-denial in Hollywood, for instance, has gradually been self-exploding as a multitude of macho myth cluster-bomblets in the form of the reputations of legion male actors whose careers exemplified American manhood are being triggered on the delayed-action time-fuse of either their belatedly fessing up or being outed as they approach senility and/or die.
women have always been better at spotting the deceptions than men. they've also always been more forgiving. which is how the reputations of such as Doris Day and Rock Hudson survived unscathed - there was a universal recognition amongst the women in the audience (and it's always really been women who take men to the movies, not vice versa) that the perfect heteros they were performing were just that - performances. throughout the fifties and most of the sixties, performing sexual perfection was de rigeur - the perfect family, the perfect job, the perfect wife, the perfect car, the perfect marriage, the perfect house - you couldn't buy into one without buying into them all. faking it was universally recognised as the only way to go, so there was nothing particularly odd about an obviously bent pretty-boy pretending to make love to a clean-living shiny-cheeked girl (who, it was said, preferred the company of women herself). actually, there was probably a secret satisfaction to be derived from the fact that their boyfriends and husbands just didn't seem to get it.
very little has really changed other than that the pink economy has burgeoned (nothing legitimates the marginal as effectively as profit) and, assisted by the parallel increase in the number of gay voices in the media, the balance of representation has tilted, if anything, in favour of the gay world-view. the proportion of testosterone-addled apes to oestrogen-balanced sensitives remains, I suspect, much the same - it's just that the former has less credibility as a dominant sub-species than in the good old days.
if a fag-hag is a straight woman who chooses to hang out with gay men, I wonder if there's a gender-reversed equivalent, and whether I'm turning into one. I say this because I've had it confirmed recently - through dabbling with the excellent Audioscrobbler - that my musical taste is essentially 'effeminate'. as a man, I feel a little self-conscious, for instance, at taking so much pleasure in the music of such women as, say, Tori Amos, or PJ Harvey, or, most recently, Gustav (*swoon*), when, so clearly, so much of their sexual appeal is a gal-thang. it could simply be that, Tiresias-like, I'm hermaphrodising with increasing age and (ha!) wisdom: I'm certainly no longer engaged in any of that competitive posturing that's incumbent on a boy's affiliation with the tribal stuff of heavy metal (except that I have met a couple of surprisingly girly-girls who were very much into heavy metal - and don't forget Rob Halford, front man of Judas Priest for three decades, who famously came out in 1998), and am no longer susceptible to the vocal wiles and wherefors that enmesh we puny men in these sirens' songs. except that I know for a fact that this simply ain't the case. when I go 'Gustav (*swoon*)' I mean 'Gustav (*swoon*)', and no amount of move-along-please, nothing-here-for-you from the scary lady bouncers outside the gigs I imagine she plays in downtown Vienna would deter me from trying to get my besotted fix.
ah well, if I can't have her, I can at least share her.
enjoy genua

Thursday, February 03, 2005

wild wild women

clearly, I don't read enough tabloids or watch enough cable - well, I don't read or watch any, actually - because this 'new' porn genre has alerted me to responses that I didn't think my well-bugger-me gland was capable of any longer.
for those who, like me, have been living the monastic life for a few years and/or are as cutting-edge-tabloid deficient as me, this is how it is: documentary access, would you believe, to wild, wild girls-only parties where the male strippers are there to be used (and we're not talking about their conversational skills here) as well as to be ogled at. reality TV meets stereotypical fantasy. Endemol eat your heart out. the girls booze and boogie and giggle at the boys (the music is utterly frightful, needless to say). the boys preen and tease and finally geremoff. the girls, egged on by lots of screaming and laughter, take it in turns to see who can give the most outrageous performance. it graduates from smothering the boys pecs and cocks with baby-oil to full-on blowjobs and fucking.
all good clean fun.
what's remarkable (to an uptight Franciscan rhino like me) is that whereas, a few years ago, this would all have been a low-budget studio setup, these sites (English as well as American - nice to hear a Taunton accent in amongst the Texan corn - well, it might have been Dutch - sound quality not the best ...) are showing the real thing: wild, wild girls-only parties where ... etc. I don't say 'purport to show' because, quite clearly, there's nothing phoney about these shaky handheld clips. I might be a monk, but I'm sufficiently media-savvy to be able to recognise the difference between a real party and a studio one (in the real ones most of the partygoers don't look like Caprice). and these guys are partying. they are partying! I grant that the filmmakers have probably set it all up in the sense that they've announced their intentions, hired a club (complete with djFUNky and his box of nineties grindcore) for the night, paid for the strippers, and offered all the girls free booze, at least - but hey, a party's a party - and they don't look to me like guns that are pointing at those women's heads. they're paysites, of course, and I don't do plastic porn, so I'm judging on the basis of a few fifteen-second teaser mpegs that burst out of my computer, grabbed me in a headlock, and made me watch.
but still ...
far be it from me to make any judgements about human sexual behaviour - live and let live, I say - total mystery to me, mate, gave up on trying to understand any of that centuries ago - but what seems to distinguish this genre from most others in porn, and what has tweaked my well-bugger-me gland so noticeably, is that this seems to confirm something that I've suspected for a very long time: that, far from there being any fundamental differences at all between men and woman (you know - those earnest answers to 'what do women really want?' articles that enumerate characteristics evolved from female nurturing as opposed to male hunting skills - as if evolution took no account whatsoever of reality), here's proof, of the most in-your-face, four-of-a-kind kind, that men and women are, fundamentally, exactly the same when it comes down to hypothalmus-related appetites - and that, given the right combination of socially liberating circumstances (ie contraceptive security, convivial company, booze-relaxed-inhibitions), there are just as many women as men whose idea of a good party is to shag the socks off a decent-looking stripper.
which isn't to say that there aren't equally a considerable number of women who find the whole idea of this totally appalling (I mean, that music! - you'll have to take my word for it), but my guess is that very few women would muster the old arguments about exploitation that used to be applied (are they still? I had this argument with Jenni Murray once) to the gender-reversed situation - male party, female strippers - and that the general view would be that what's sauce for the goose is sauce for the gander.
seems fair enough to me.
something else that strikes me, and that's related to the whole post-Warhol thing: there seem now to be vast swathes of the post-Big-Brother generation who will do anything - absolutely anything - in return for their fifteen minutes: a spurious entitlement which seems nevertheless to have been adopted as a fundamental human right. the word 'shameless' has become subject, in the twenty-oughts, to the same semantic alchemy that transmuted 'hypocrisy' and 'greed' in the 'nineties - an upending of the relationship between words and values that corresponds to the relentlessly amoral tracker indices of the stock markets. this is hardly surprising, given that the universal perception of 'success' - whether in business, politics, or Hollywood - acknowledges that it predicates on one's being shameless, hypocritical, and greedy. which, you might say, is a lesson better learnt late than never. personally, I'd find it problematic looking anyone in the eye after admitting to doing anything - aerobics, flossing, wanking, whatever - to the soundtrack of a djFUNky mixtape. but hey, I'm a baby boomer - shame's my middle name.

Tuesday, February 01, 2005

in praise of the tongue

[photo: dave kaul, 1999]

they tend to get thought of just as biological entitities, like, oh I dunno, gall bladders, or spinal cords - something that you only think about either in biology lessons (that experiment that everyone remembers about dipping a paintbrush into different substances - sugar, salt, lemon juice, quinine [in tonic water?], is all I remember - in order to locate the discrete areas of the tongue that are responsible for sweet - salt - sour - bitter, and then mapping those areas on a drawing of the tongue) or when you burn it or get an ulcer or - god preserve us - when you're getting it pierced. but it's actually one of the most wonderfully under-recognised organs in our bodies, and we shouldn't be shy about singing its praises.
when I think of all the areas of pleasure it's involved in - it's responsible for all that scrummy yummy tasting of good food and fine wine, it seems to possess near-infinitely nuanced capabilities in sex, and it sports a miraculous function as a shaper of sounds in song and words in conversation: all this in a motile fleshy appendage tucked neatly away inside our mouths, except when we want to be rude and stick it out.
it has another function, though, that I suppose I must have know about but hadn't paid any attention to until one day, a few years ago, when a crown got sucked off a tooth by a particularly glutinous chocolate caramel toffee and I had to wait a full weekend before being able to get it attended to (these things always happen just before the weekend - usually over christmas). it was then that I discovered that the tongue has what I think is known as a semi-autonomous function, ie, although we can take control of it whenever we want to, it is in fact in constant motion, on automatic, acting as a searcher-out of little scraps of food debris caught between the teeth, so that, when it's suddenly confronted with a huge gap where a tooth used to be, with a spike at the bottom of this cavity screwed into the jaw as an anchor for the crown that is no longer there, it just can't help itself - it worries away at this thing, this spike, as if it could dislodge it, despite the fact that, whenever it probes at the spike, it damages itself.
that weekend was endless - it felt like having a piece of barbed wire stuck in my mouth - and there was no way I could persuade my tongue from doing its job - there was no way I could switch off the automatic pilot that kept telling it, whenever I forgot for a moment to still it myself, to try again - to probe at this alien object lodged in my jaw and prise it away. I ended up stuffing wads of cotton wool into the gap and looking and sounding like marlon brando in the godfather (I wish).
whenever I've told anyone about this, they've always reacted in the same way: "you mean, it's like having a kind of little animal inside your mouth, moving around and cleaning up all the time?"
you too, huh?
sorry about that.

boys will be boys

(via spitting image)