Friday, 23 January 2009

Hobbesian War of All Against All, Coming Soon!?

It's been quite the week for the mass forecasting of fighting in the streets among angry peasants with pitchforks. To set the tumbrils rolling, in the first instance will the UK really go bankrupt, asks Camilla Cavendish of the Times? She reprints the charming Jim Rogers’ assertion that sterling is 'finished' and we Brits should all learn Mandarin and head for China, or maybe Singapore, Rogers’ chosen bolthole. She adds pointedly that we can be quite sure Rogers and other outspokenly apocalypic hedge funders are ‘profiting handsomely by shorting sterling.’But’, she laments, ‘the nervy media gave their words considerable prominence, partly because a British bankruptcy is a ghoulishly fascinating possibility...
Well, not just 'the nervy media', Ms Cavendish, but you too, it seems. (Perhaps she’d rather be thought of as a ghoul than a nervous wreck.)
Cavendish then expresses concern that ‘a vicious circle has taken hold in which sterling falls in value, amplifying liabilities, and bank share prices fall as liabilities mount.’ Yes, troublesome indeed, so one might want to refrain from abetting the flight out of sterling that Rogers & Co are so keen upon...
What, then, is to be done? ‘Technically’, writes Cavendish, in her view the government ‘has mostly made the right moves on the banks… The only thing that could push Britain into bankruptcy would be a full-scale panic. So it is strange - and exasperating - that the Government keeps inadvertently fanning the flames of panic.’
And how do they do so? ‘First, the bailout announcement was overshadowed by reports of Mr Brown's populist “anger” with the banks. This helped to spook investors into fearing that full-scale nationalisation is on the cards…’
No, no, this is getting us nowhere, surely we’re back to the fault of that nervous media, who have now gone and reported the wrong blasted thing?
Cavenish eventually winds round to blasting ‘Mr Brown's spending spree as Chancellor, and the remarkably lax regulation by the tripartite system he put in place’ and observing that ‘it is surely not long before Gordon Brown (Titanic) Enterprises are bought out by Cameron Inc.’ So we see where she's coming from, but not whether we're supposed to feel better...
Okay then, so ‘the pound is plummeting, the once booming financial services sector has never been weaker and some investors are losing confidence in the UK.’ Ross Walker of the Royal Bank of Scotland warns that ‘The credit boom went a long way to disguising the mediocrity of the UK.’ (One could say it went a fair old way to disguising the mediocrity of the RBS too.) But actively trying to make us feel better, and in the course of the same piece from which I took those two quotes above – a piece entitled ‘New look UK economy to emerge from gloom’ – is the FT’s Economics Editor Chris Giles.
The FT’s experts suggest that some of the elements of that ‘new look’ will be ‘a slimmer financial services industry, lower house prices [and hence consumption], higher borrowing costs, fewer migrants and lower growth rates.’ The ‘big losers’ of the current crisis will be ‘those who bought property at the height of the market or are close to retirement without final salary pensions, the newly unemployed and the very rich, whose incomes tend to be correlated with the stock market.’ So on that basis I would feel not so very terrible, but that I bought in early 2006. But then you gotta go when you gotta go...
Giles has found a particular booster for the piece's general tack in ‘Britain’s chief cheerleader abroad’, Sir Andrew Cahn, chief executive of UK Trade & Investment. ‘The most important benefit [of the sterling slump] is that our exports are more competitive’, says Sir Andrew, ‘and we are continuing to attract inward investment as [UK] assets are cheaper to buy.’
But what are Britain’s major exports? Aren’t we in a real poke here too, because of the sorry state to which Thatcher reduced our manufacturing base? Well, Sir Andrew mentions some ‘unlikely sectors’ to be cheerful about, chiefly security – ‘a growth area.’ He insists that security is ‘not just defence equipment but airport protection systems, protective clothing, and security advice and services at sporting venues…’
Oh Jesus, so much for the good cheer. What we have arrived at, then, the sum of all our hopes, lies in the silver lining to the global jihad...? I need a drink.

Thursday, 22 January 2009

Oscar Nominees: Good Work, Fellas

Not Oscar's nominees, no, per the photo - but then I know that AMPAS are protective of any and all reproductions of their famous statuette, whereas I do hope Sesame Street are happy to see Oscar the Grouch show up anywhere, as I certainly am and as I imagine those two tourists were too...
No, ordinarily this blog finds it best to yank down the earmuffs and the eyeshades round Oscar Nominations time - an announcement that only marks the end of one round of Drivel being talked across All Media, prior to the commencement of a fresh Drivel festival. But, having glanced at this year's noms list, with a special interest in one or two parties, I have to say I can't remember a year when so many of the Good Guys seem to have won (if you consider the taking-part as winning, which sadly most people don't...)
One can't but be pleased, for example, to see Werner Herzog and Peter Gabriel both getting recognised. Will they both go to the ceremony? They should ride in the limo together, talk about some stuff on the way... Elsewhere, good to see two pictures highly praised at Cannes - the gentlemanly Laurent Cantet's The Class, and Waltz With Bashir - go into the Best Foreign Film pot. I would imagine Danny Boyle, Simon Beaufoy and Anthony Dod Mantle will be a gang for the night as part of the Slumdog Millionaire set, and it seems to me they deserve all the praise in the world for their respective inspired inputs to that picture. This blog need say little more on the subject of Sean Penn and Milk save an extra hearty congrats to Gus Van Sant, who served a long stint on this project, and to Focus Features. And I imagine the 13 nominations for The Curious Case of Benjamin Button must be close to some kind of record? I'll be writing about that picture at length elsewhere, but as with the others above, I think in this case the recognition and applause for the quality of the filmmaking is deeply, deeply deserved. As it so often isn't...

Wednesday, 21 January 2009

ITV: Taking us all for muppets, as well they might

Part of what makes the current 'social mobility'' debate so wearisome are the tired old carrier-bag categories employed in any discussion of social class in Britain. It seems damnably hard for commentators to be serious and insightful about this supposedly perennially Burning Issue, and sometimes I do suspect that it's beyond them, or beneath them, or makes them too personally edgy and defensive. (Not for nothing did Richard Sennett title his great American study The Hidden Injuries of Class - that captures the furtive tone of things perfectly.)
The French do it far better, strange to say. Where would we be in this mess without the unimprovable terms déclassé (as in 'winter suntan' or 'electronic goods') or petit bourgeois (in its modern sneering usage)? After all, while it would be ludicrous in this day and age to conduct a conversation about the British class system solely within the Marxian categories of 'bourgeoisie' (petit or haute) and 'proletariat', it would be no less ludicrous to assert of all parties to said conversation that 'We're all middle-class now...' - as if society were some fat bell-curve of solid bourgeois burghers, with a smidgen of upper-crust toffs to the right of the curve and an intractable lump of lower-class scum to the left.
All the above being said, I don't pretend expertise in the sociology of the class debate but I feel confident that I'm a few steps clear of its usual torpor just from having read Pierre Bourdieu's classic Distinction: A Social Critique of the Judgement of Taste (the French again!), from which it became clear to me that assessment of any individual's true class status must be made on a graph that employs an x axis of 'cultural' capital as well as a y-axis of material wealth and social status. In Bourdieu’s famous formulation, ‘Taste classifies, and it classifies the classifier.’ Taste is socially constructed, and so reflects on the individual and serves to situate him or her within what Bourdieu called habitus, ‘systems of dispositions characteristic of the different classes and class fractions’ - systems, in other words, that are harder to read than a bank statement, or an entry in Debretts, or indeed a court judgement. Having read that much of Bourdieu, I mentally closed the book on the matter; in fairness it's probably time for me to read him again.
Anyhow, last night ITV broadcast a sensationalising schoolboyish hour-long doco called Too Posh To Pay about the supposed corruption and hypocrisy of 'the middle classes' and their seeming behind-the-curtain addiction to acts of white-collar crime. Fair enough as telly, it was a neat compilation of the sorts of true-life 's/he lied to me and stole my money' tales that fill the tabloids. But as to the definition of 'middle class' - well, there wasn't one, not even the barest attempt at one. And from the hard-hitting Crimewatch tone of the voiceover, you'd think we viewers would want to know how to identify all these middle-class scumbags who are pilfering our savings and cash-tills and conning the council or the taxman, just so we can see them coming in future, like shuffling zombies over a hill...
Nope, the real problem was all there in the title - specifically the word 'Posh', a term that was decisively hollowed of meaning back in 1994 (or whenever) as soon it was applied by Simon Fuller to Victoria Adams - you know, Jacqui Adams's girl from Harlow, now worth probably around £120 million, but still - just like all of us - proudly 'branded on the tongue', to borrow Wyndham Lewis's formulation. Or to put it another way, as James Baldwin put it in an essay of 1979 entitled 'If Black English Isn't a Language, then Tell Me What It Is':
To open your mouth in England is (if I may use black English) to "put your business in the street": You have confessed your parents, your youth, your school, your salary, your self-esteem, and, alas, your future...
In defence of social mobility, one should say that Baldwin was certainly wrong about the 'future' bit: clearly he never spent enough time on this 'damp little island' to run into any Bradford millionaires wearing silk hats, and he didn't live long enough to consider the case of Victoria Beckham. But, to return to Too Posh To Pay - most of the penitent 'middle class' wrongdoers interviewed weren't really 'middle class', but rather a bit to the left or the right of the curve. And I knew as much because of their accents...
The effect of this demonising little entertainment was to make me feel sorry for the poor slandered middle classes. Maybe I should start taking the Mail. ITV must reckon we're all a bunch of muppets; but then, fair do's, they've got grounds for it, in that there seem to be a lot of Brits out there who think Martina Cole is gritty realism, and the singers on X Factor are brilliant, and Victoria Beckham is posh.

Tuesday, 20 January 2009

Paddy Considine plus RTK, in words and/or pictures...

Well, it's beyond my bloody powers of computing non-prowess but I daresay some of you might be able to follow this link here and so use Quicktime Player to view the videorecording of the Paddy Considine BAFTA career interview conducted by yours truly at the Bristol Watershed back on November 21 of last year, and allegedly now available to the casual browser. I can get the audio track, but it's not the same, is it?

Monday, 19 January 2009

Pete Townshend: Sound and Fury, Signifying Plenty

If we're talking Things rather than People, then I can't think of much that brings me more joy in this world than Pete Townshend's guitar-playing (taken in tandem, of course, with his imperishable songwriting and, on occasion, his plaintive/urgent vocals, on those occasions when he's not letting Roger Daltrey be his full-throated interpreter.)
In terms of the guitar alone, it's all about his dynamism and his artistry, isn't it? Re. the former - a few weeks back I had a really enjoyable chat with the musician-turned-filmmaker Simon Fellowes - about film and music, as it happens - during which he revealed that he had attended the Oo's famous Charlton FC stadium gig of 1976, and he and his mates were already feeling fairly excited before the band hit the stage, at which point Pete, in the act of striking the opening chords of the first number, slid to the front of the stages on his knees...
The artistry? The other night I finally watched the authorised Who documentary Amazing Journey, given to me as a birthday gift by my wife in 2007, and it was all very fine, along with a bonus DVD offering the expected extras, but the gems on that second disc to my eye are four mini-films devoted to each band member. The ones on Townshend, Moon and Entwistle offer brilliant musical analysis, and really confirm my feeling about the stunning redundancy of most rock ‘n’ roll journalism - a form that still abounds and yet hardly deserves to exist. No sort of writing about rock music by non-musicians can properly instruct a sincere pilgrim on the true nature of the creative decision-making behind musical composition and performance. But good audiovisual documentary-making certainly can.
For instance: I’m not a massive U2 fan, though I certainly like ‘em; and The Edge’s distinctive guitar stylings aren’t among my favourite sounds; but I must say he’s brilliant on the Amazing Journey films in terms of his comments on (and impromptu demonstrations of) the flamenco influence in Townshend’s acoustic playing. As for the electric side of business, both The Edge and Pete’s brother Simon are also highly insightful about Pete's signature ‘crash chord’, and Simon also offers a useful illustration of his brother's distinctive dropping of 'the third' from regular chords. What documentary film can add to all this, and so set the seal on the excellence of the lesson, is by cutting to the subject in action, and the filmmakers do this well. I should do likewise, in the spirit of underlining that Pete hasn't lost it, in fact in some ways he's getting better.

Blackburn 3 Newcastle 0: For God's sake

Full marks to the True Faith sight for an editorial that offers the correct analysis, and the appropriately despairing and vitriolic tone, in respect of Saturday's dreadful Championship-beckoning defeat, and the comments before and after the game from Joe Kinnear:
'Until now Kinnear has been tolerated by supporters - but if this is going to be a permanent arrangement then the future is postponed… Joe - do yourself a favour, bank the loot you’ve already had off Ashley and go back to pruning the roses.'
'[Kinnear says], 'Our biggest problem is a lack of strength in depth. Why wasn't it addressed by the previous two managers? I am carrying the can for it.' No Joe, the last two managers operated wholly under Ashley and were not given funds to buy the players required. Had [Keegan] been given modest funds you would still be down the f**king bowls club… You do realise why you ended up with the job in the first place, don’t you? It was because no-one decent would touch it with a f**king bargepole and you have made a t**t of yourself sticking up for Ashley, proving your lack of credibility. [Keegan] wasn’t perfect but he worked for Newcastle United whereas you work for Mike Ashley. And that is the nub.'