Thursday, October 26, 2006

today: I look forward to the GOP getting a spanking

I am really looking forward to the Republican party being spanked in the mid-terms. I imagine that the feeling for anti-Bush Americans is similar to the feeling we in Britain had in 1997 when we knew the Tories were going to get blitzed in the General Election.

However, I've been reading and hearing lots of chatter about Hilary and Barak over the past few weeks. I do hope that the Democrats and their supporters do not see that Congressional elections on the back of a war and a pervy scandal as some kind of victory. The fact is that any party in charge when stuff like this is happening is going to get spanked in the next election that comes along. Public reaction will get the voters out because there is something to be angry about. Remember : people vote against rather than for.

My worry is that the Democrat party, who seem to be ineffably stupid when it comes to making sensible electoral decisions, will do exactly what they did in 2000 - begin to believe that the Prez election in 2 years is already won. I don't doubt that there will be a time for a female prez and a black prez, but if they nominate either Hilary or Barak (or a 'dream ticket' containing them both) they will lose because HIlary's history and gender and Barak Obama's race and inexperience will give some people reasons to vote against them. In some ways it's a shame but what the Dems need to do is to choose the the least offensive, most 'acceptable' candidate. This, if they read their history is the other one of the only two ways to defeat a rabidly ideology driven government. The other is, of course to put them up against a wall and shoot the bastards! However, CNN would have trouble reporting that one.

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

Today : I accuse Tony Blair of being a bloody idiot.

Dear Tony,

Along with any loads of your colleagues, much of the press and plenty of the 'intelligentsia' you have joined the call for a debate about religion and culture and such prescient points of discussion as 'should Muslim women be banned from wearing veils and headscarves.?'

You bloody idiot. There is no debate. The debate is over. We are supposed to be a country that enjoys the kind of freedoms that you are so keen on helping the US promote abroad. You are also, as a leader, supposed to be able to weigh up the issues and see some sense.

The result of the debate, as you obviously missed it, was : Muslim women can wear what the hell they like. They can pray to whomever they like, they can talk to whomever they like and they are also perfectly capable of doing whichever job they choose, whatever they are wearing.

Just for the record, Christians, Pagans, Atheists and everyone else are also free to do all of these things. France was just wrong to ban headscarves and veils in schools. Why are you allowing legitimacy to the racist xenophobes who are using every opportunity to attack Muslims? Why have you not sacked the 'race relations' minister who declared that a teacher wearing a veil denies students their education? Where have your balls gone?

Yours in annoyance

S. Dog esq.

Tuesday, October 10, 2006

this weeks crackers pop personality is...

Howard Jones's friend - the completely pointless mime artist. Or as the Germans say, more appositely Pantomime Tanzer.

Saturday, October 07, 2006

today : I admit to my secret addiction

My name is Saltydog, and I am an addict.

I have kept this addiction secret for several years. It's okay, I can handle it. It hasn't got any worse over time. But the moment has come to admit my addiction and begin to embrace it. The fact is, I am a fan of reality TV.

RTV is much maligned. The 'critics' still treat it all as not as serious as 'serious' TV - the traditional stuff that critics like, like unfunny comedies, stuffy, long winded documentaries with high brow topics and 'hard-hitting' drama. RTV is lumped in with soaps, game shows, comedies with jokes rather than ironic commentaries on the nature of humour and it's relationship to the social fabric of an increasingly fragmented society, and melodrama as fodder for the uneducated, non-Media Studies degree qualified masses.

But lots of RTV is fun and entertaining, and in the best cases touching and intelligent. What I am addicted to is the simplicity of the narratives. Person wants to be a singer - person achieves their impossible dream, person with two left feet becomes, against all the odds, an accomplished dancer, naughty child turns into good child. Done well these shows can be quite compelling.

My favourites are the redemption shows. Once I watch one, I often find myself rooting for the characters and wanting, sometimes, desperately, them to to succeed. Recently I have watched Bad Lads Army, That'll Teach em, Evacuation, Ballet-hoo, Beauty and The Geek, and several others. The Saturday Night Reality season is upon us. X factor goes head to head with Strictly Come Dancing. SCD wins, and it wins because they realise that the story is the thing. Each Saturday show is accompanied by a daily dose - a half hour show that follows the couples behind the scenes and explores all the facets of their training, tantrums and triumphs. By the end of the run, you feel that you kind of know these remote celebrities. And d'you know what? The ones that do well are just normal people who work hard.

The best reality shoe for me is Brat Camp. Unruly and out of control teenagers are taken to a camp in the middle of Utah and retrained by hard work, self reliance and asceticism. It's kind of like Transcendentalist training for the terminally delinquent. As a school teacher I recognise the delinquents. They are just like the ones I deal with everyday. And the show captures the experience that teachers have. Over the course of just a few episodes you begin to see that underneath the horrid brattish exteriors are scared children. In the classroom you know you have cracked it with a certain student when you can get a joke, a smile or a secret out of them. Pace Herman, the damaged boy whom after making my life hell for several months with his disruptive and abusive antics, came and asked me advice about how to stop his brother from bullying him and stealing his stuff. I couldn't help really, but the ice was broken. I told him to ask for a lock on his room door - and he was grateful for this simple advice that anyone could have given. It gave him a little control over his life. Or Lottie, the aggressive, mouthy handful of a girl who was gradually destroying everyones' patience and in three years slipped from the top end of achievement to the very bottom. During one particularly nasty shouting fit (she shouting at me, for what I forget) I told her she was pretty when she smiled. That appears to be all that was needed, someone to say something nice about her. As with Grace, she was suffering from step-child syndrome - her father was gone and the new dad had his own daughter to dote over. Lottie just needed some positive attention from an adult - any adult. After that things went on the up for me and Lottie. Within a few weeks she was shushing the class for me and even finishing the odd piece of writing. I saw Lottie the other day, walking down the street scowling. It made me laugh as I drove past

Brat Camp manages to show this journey. We see hardened aggressive teenagers melt a little and grow younger (like Jennie Greavie from series 2 pictured above). It's always a front, a crust grown over pain and low self esteem. The latest series widens the story. Parents accompany their unruly brats and. even though I've only seen episode 1, it is pretty clear that the parents are possibly even more problematic than the kids.

The reality shows that I can't handle are the ones that set out to humiliate or to behave like a freakshow. Big Brother, for example, grows ever more prurient and charmless. It also has no story. The characters don't develop. Essentially they are characters in search of an author. They are basically made to do nothing apart from the occasional task designed to strip away their dignity. They say that drama is real life with the boring bits cut out, Big Brother is like real life with the interesting bits cut out.

Like taking bad drugs.

Tuesday, October 03, 2006

today's scary and totally unhinged person is...

Screamin' Jay Hawkins

today : I watch the new Cracker

Be warned. This little sliver of writing contains possible spoilers, especially if you are American (or living therein).

It was nice to see Robbie Coltrane back on TV as Cracker. And even though the latest one-off story wasn't nearly as dire as the Hong Kong one-off from 1997, neither was it close to the quality of the originals.

Whilst everything was in place - Coltrane, MsGovern and Antonia Bird reunited, a killer with plausible motives, a political edge. Fitz at the gaming table and arguing with his (now married with children) son, embarrasing himself whilst too well oiled and putting the pieces together satisfactorily, it had a hole in the middle.

The original Cracker was driven by the energy of tension between Fitz's chaotic personal life, beset by demons and difficulties and the disturbed. violent nature of the crimes. And both the glue that tied these two elements together and the conduit that facilitated a plausible free-flow between them was Panhandle. In the early episodes Cracker not only cracked The Train Killer, Sean and Tina, Albie et al but, crucially, Penhaligan herself. Their close workiong relationship and subsequent affaire was the hidden dynamo behind the plot and character dynamics throughout the original shows. It fed the tensions of the squad room, where Panhandle was jealously regarded by the other detectives (notably Jimmy) and Fitz caused out-and-out resentment through his intimacy with her. And it contributed to the familial crises that engulfed Fitz. He had two reasons to escape into work and the main one was Panhandle. He also could use his relationship with her to avoid dealing with his problems with Judith.

Waching the originals again , it is striking that Geraldine Somerville's perfomance is subtle and terrific. She and Coltrane pinged dialogue off each other and her tough/vulnerable persona was superbly portrayed. The latest film was accompanied by a DVD style extra - The Making of Cracker. Interviews, a potted history of the show, Coltrane, Ecclestone, McGovern, Lorcan Cranitch. But no Somerville. It was like somehow she was excised from the exercise. Even during the interviews she was barely mentioned. It was odd - like Take That without Robbie.

Even with Somerville's absence, if the latest episode somehow becomes a series the producers would do well to remember that Fitz needs a Panhandle-style character, as well as other adversaries like Jimmy to really make him fire. The detectives in the 2006 version were unmemorable cyphers. In fact. the whole show would have been better done over maybe three hours to give the setting and context space to breathe and develop.

Sunday, October 01, 2006

today : I watch some more TV about TV

I like Ricky Gervais. He's a likeable guy. But, like almost everyone in the world these days, he is a victim of hype. The Office was an enjoyable comedy. But not the best of all time so many people seem to believe (Colplay's latest album is good, I think, in the same way). It was too cynical and downbeat. And that, of course, is the reason why it was so critically feted - it matched the fashionable obsession with downbeatness and darkness that makes critics wet their pants.

The problem with it was the same problem that crops up in Extras - Gervais's follow-up. The characters are not likeable enough. The classic characters of British pathos comedy were plucky failures. Mainwaring and his pomposity which masked the small-mindedness of the provinical bank manager, was always undercut by the dapper cynicism of Wilson or the puppy-like impetuousness of Pike. Fawlty was not a full-blown monster, but a full-blown frustrated failure. The same goes for the Steptoes, The Hi-de-Hi yellowcoats, Hancock, Martyn Bryce and Margot Leadbetter. Even when they were at their most petty we could see flashes of stoic self-awareness. They were, at their heart, sympathetic because they knew what they were.

The closest thing to Gervais's comedy of embarrassment is Larry David's 'Larry David' character. Yet even he is sympathetic in some respects. He causes endless, painful trouble for himself by often doing what we all want to do - stand up to or simply reject the fakery of social rules. 'Larry' refuses to be bullied by etiquette. Yet he is loyal to his friends, successful at his work and loving to his wife. he has redeeming features.

In Extras, Andy and Maggie are terminally self-obsessed, terminally thick AND terminally socially dyslexic. Andy's agent is a moron with no redeeming features and most everyone else in the world of TV and film is vain, stupid, narcissistic and generally appalling. In the latest episode of Extras Maggie casually tells the glamorous wife of a dwarf actor the disparaging remarks that Andy, her best friend, has made about them. In the previous episode when Andy gets Maggie to pretend to be a fan in order to impress another woman, Maggie's stupidity is predictable and amusing. She gives the game away accidentally. Yet blithe indiscretion is not an endearing trait. This is not the stuff you accidentally tell. The plot creaks.

Creaking is also heard loudly when Andy's agent and Barry from Eastenders refuse to disbelieve the tabloids regarding Andy's incident in the restaurant. This just doesn't ring true - that even the most idiotic people cannot draw a simple line between their own previous experience and current events. Then when, unbeknownst to Andy, the agent appears on Richard and Judy trying to defend Andy but behaving in the most politically incorrect way imaginable, the creak becomes a snap. Too late - the plot becomes contrived, almost as if it was fitted around the appearance of Richard and Judy and the desperation of everyone in TV to get in on the act. It reminded me of The Player, where whole scenes were built around Hollywood types performing self deprecating cameos to the detriment of the film itself.

As with Studio 60, I am wary of the fact that the show is TV about TV. The show purports to undermine the cult of the celebrity by portraying real celebs as shallow, pointless fools. Yet its very basis lies in a perpetuation of the celebrity culture it claims to deride. And I don't feel sorry for any of the characters. They are losers just like Martin or Mainwaring or Hancock, yet they are losers because they are superficial tossers at heart, rather than heroic failures struggling gamely through the shit that life has served them.