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Heavy Plant

Walk past a "Heavy Plant" warning and wonder vaguely if the trees thought it was for them; if whoever put it up had enough imag...

Tuesday, September 26, 2006

Brooker, Banksy and Barley

Charlie Brooker may have gone a bit overboard with this article about Banksy. If you aren’t familiar with Banksy his website will tell you most of what you need to know about him and Charlie Brooker’s article will fill in the rest. Banksy started out as a graffiti artist and has branched out into other areas embracing other forms quickly, efficiently and in a very striking manner, his work is very media friendly. He is a skilled self-publicist and has essentially made himself a brand rather than an artist.

As always I agree with much of what Brooker says but he’s bordering on irrelevant here. Banksy’s background is as a graffiti artist and whilst Situationist influenced graffito had conceptual and political depth the form itself is far more based on immediate visual impact and not on profound insight and developed thinking. Warhol beat Banksy to the brand strategy by a clear three decades and Damien Hirst is probably much better at it in a far more financially gainful way so why would Banksy be so objectionable? Brooker seems to be particularly bothered by the pseudo subversive leanings of Banksy but the trouble is that cultural norms have now expanded to recognise anything remotely alternative. The knock-on effect is that to be genuinely subversive you actually have to be a subversive, making you subject to anti-terror legislation which is a bit of a frightening prospect. Not that Brooker is expecting genuinely subversive behaviour but seems to think that Banksy is trying to infer that he knows some real criminals, which he might. He does live and work in the East end of London and has done for some time.

Banksy’s work is ContentLite and style heavy but it makes extensive use of irony, something Brooker ought to be well acquainted with as he makes his living with it. You only have to read through Brooker’s article twice to see that he has badly missed the point on at least one occasion. Brooker may not like Banksy’s popular leftist anti-globalisation leanings and his association of American capitalist icons with the political activities of that country but the point is that whilst these may be shallow and poorly constructed they do point at a resistance to a cultural invasion from a country whose actions are increasingly abhorrent to the general public. Banksy might not be the sharpest tool in the box but he is at least getting involved.

Whilst popular culture and the mediatisation of everything give everyone a chance to see creative work and to be creative almost none of us are but most of us have an opinion about what creativity is and how it should be done. The modern world has made everyone a consumer and a critic. Brooker himself is most successful as a TV critic and writer who can hand out the kind of vitriol and satire on contemporary existence that makes the rest of the media check themselves against his every scribbling to ensure that they haven’t slipped too far into being Nathan Barley.

Nathan Barley is Brooker’s creation, a kind of conceptual voodoo doll for him to stick pins in, a hate figure and all too common occurrence in everyday life. Nathan Barley is a patchwork archetype of loathsome traits who doesn’t do anything in particular with his life and is agonisingly self-involved and self-important but somehow still holds influence. If you’ve been to Hoxton of a Friday night at any time in the past six years or so you will have seen hundreds of Nathan Barleys out parading themselves around. Nathan Barley became a TV series in which Brooker and Chris Morris used heavy handed irony to build the character and assassinate it, possibly in despair that the kind of narcissist that Barley represents to them is exactly the kind now being given precedence by popular culture.

I find Nathan Barley problematic because at some point just about everyone steps across the line into Barley-dom and the charge of hypocrisy is all too easy to level at Brooker himself. If you look at the unctuous Barley’s claim of being a ‘self facilitating media node’ it is far too easy to apply that definition to Brooker who writes for newspapers, publishes a website writes for and appears on TV, producing mostly parody, pastiche and criticism safely free of the need for originality.

Brooker and Morris have become unspoken media-appointed guardians of integrity – if they get to you you’ve done something wrong - but something about their output bugs me. For example Nathan Barley isn’t parody or humour, it was close enough to the nature of real life that I could barely watch it. In fact I couldn’t escape the feeling that I was watching Brooker & Morris’s self-loathing made flesh. I also had an uneasy feeling that if they didn’t continue producing this kind of material they might easily have become this kind of person, or worse still are in danger of becoming the real life Dan Ashcroft of the Nathan Barley series whose identification of the ‘New Idiots’ and articulation of their horrors sanctifies and reinforces them. It’s a self-fulfilling prophecy that both writers have fallen into with their wallets open. It also irks me that when people like Brooker, who go out of their way to be a bit different, do something creative you end up with Nathan Barley which is more of the same but dramatised rather than flatly stated as in his other writing. Boring, barely relevant and cringingly difficult to watch.

Banksy might be a bit of a nob but show me an artist that isn’t and I guarantee you they don’t make any money from their artistic work, they probably have to write for newspapers, television and websites. When I lived and worked in London my walk to work from Old Street station took me past at least 5 of Banksy’s pieces and I was constantly noticing new ones. Let’s not mistake quantity for quality, Banksy’s work definitely isn’t of a deep and meaningful nature but it has a huge presence in contemporary culture just as Brooker does. The chief difference is that Banksy isn’t shooting his mouth off about how crap other people’s output is whilst actually failing to engage with the material he’s criticising, however pretentious and showy.


By the way I am aware of the additional layer of irony created by posting this piece of consumer criticism on a website with little or no original work, just in case you got a sudden urge to point this out to me.

Monday, September 25, 2006

Today's word is 'Dusty'

Oh, it's empty. Must be bedtime


'Dusty' is Australian for hung over. I'm so dusty that people are scrawling 'clean me' in the dust on my back. I'm so dusty when I brush past people in the office they start sneezing. Quite, quite dusty.

Yep, definitely empty

We went to the Feastibility food & wine festival yesterday at a performing arts school in Newtown and I indulged in too much of one and not enough of the other.

Besides my self-inflicted woes I am also battling the kind of apathy that, if it gets any worse, may prevent me from breathing. I think I might need a holiday, a good thing I am going to Tasmania for a few days later this week.

I have also been trying to get various technical things on here working so that I can post things on here whilst away and put maps on the main page. It isn't working and it's annoying me, a LOT. I have put most of the time I would normally spend writing on trying to fix bugs so I'm apologies if people have been checking to see what I've been doing. I have been cursing at the computer. I have figured out how to post here one way but the other ended up here, which is no use to anyone. It's going to take the nice people at blogger a while to sort it out so I shall begin ranting writing again instead.

Monday, September 11, 2006

Crikey!

Put it down

You may have noticed that Steve Irwin died last week. You haven’t? What are you, a troglodyte? Have you been living on the moon for the last fortnight (and can I borrow your spaceship, I tire of this planet?)? This has provided Australia with (another) Diana MomentTM; a spontaneous outpouring of grief marked by the national spending on inappropriate cut flowers tripling over night.

I’m not going to pretend that this isn’t sad, the man was only 44, a father of two and one of the world’s most committed conservationists, this is ground that has been well covered elsewhere. The thing is that Irwin was a lot more…er…’hands on’ than most others in his field and had been riding his luck for years. My cynical and immediate response to the news of his death was: “well something was going to get him sooner or later”. A friend put it a little better: “there’s hundreds of crocs out there thinking, ‘dammit, that bastard was mine!’”.

The first I ever saw of Irwin was a typically gung-ho piece of television. Irwin was going to hunt out the world’s top 10 most venomous snakes and kiss them. Finding them at least should be relatively easy for an Aussie as 8 of the top ten live within driving distance of me. The idea behind this was to show that with the correct knowledge the mythology of ‘dangerous’ wildlife could be dispelled and people would feel more affectionate and conservationally minded towards creatures that don’t have enough “aaaaaaahhh” factor. As is evident from observing the world around us the road to hell is paved with good intentions and through a combination of his own enormous enthusiasm, planet sized personality and what appeared to the casual observer to be foolhardy disregard for his own personal safety Irwin quickly invalidated this enterprise.

Scrabbling amongst the dust and rocks in a remote area dressed in shorts and a short sleeved shirt Irwin picked up a snake in each hand, described its preferred habitat, how aggressive it wasn’t until you try you pick it up, the effects of its venom and what you should do if you were stupid enough to try and pick it up and got bitten by it. He then handed the snakes to his heavily pregnant wife and charged off into a small dark cave in search of more, his wife’s cautions following him into the cave. If he were going to deliver a demonstration of how not to behave in the presence of a venomous creature that just wants to be left alone he could not have provided a better example.

I said put it down!

The next segment of the show saw Irwin in woodlands, again scrabbling about under rocks until he found a specimen that suited his needs. Again he squatted down picked up the timid creature and described its’ lifecycle in intimate detail. Halfway through his spiel he halted, his eyes bulging out of his head, he looked straight at the camera: “Oh crikey!” He stood quickly and moved away, he put down the snake and moved aside the rock he was squatting over. Concealed in the hollow underneath and not three inches from where his testicles had been only moments before was an entire nest of poisonous snakes. “Oh man, that could have been nasty”, quoth the khaki clad clot, “They go for the warm bits…” It was a moment of unintentional comic genius that whilst certainly added to the appeal of the man also exposed the fact that was he was attempting was not just the act of a showboating show-off but to anyone less knowledgeable and skilled than himself would certainly have been a terminal experience.

The Ahhhhhh factor in action

Irwin was a reflection of the creatures he loved and worked with: a rare breed that is instantly intriguing and dangerous if not handled carefully. His unbelievable joie de vivre and enthusiasm played as entertainment on screen went over fantastically in America and in Australia but left me wondering whether he was making entertainment with animals as props rather than his stated objective of conservation and education. Naming his show “The Crocodile Hunter” also jarred with that for me. I also couldn’t help feeling that the personality that made him a global celebrity would have me attempting to tear his throat out after half an hour in his presence – I empathised too easily with the animals trying to kill him. I loathed Irwin’s public persona but I found his TV presence hypnotic simply because I could not believe that he made it through half an hour of such adventures, never mind a lifetime of them, without being stung, bitten, dismembered or eaten by the extraordinary array of creatures he felt the need to lay hands on. At the end of his programs I was left in a state of catharsis that quite rid me of any fear of anything but left me too exhausted to step outside the house.

It is this ambivalence towards him that characterises my reaction to his death. I am sorry to see the end of a great conservationist and an iconic Australian but I can’t help the feeling that natural selection finally called time on him. His sensationalist TV shows and frequent work at his own Australia Zoo in front of crowds mean that I can’t help feeling that it is quite fortunate that his death wasn’t far more public than was actually the case. Videos of it would have hit the internet in minutes had it happened anywhere he was being filmed by tourists. No one is indestructible and whilst Irwin was one of those people that are a reassuring presence and point of reference, the point of reference was always as a remarkable example of how many risks could be taken without falling foul of them. Irwin may well become a cautionary tale for parents and children round the globe.

It seems worth repeating the tragic irony of his death that he was killed by a creature that is normally placid - if not lugubriously unconcerned - trying to demonstrate that it was in no way as dangerous as its name or reputation suggested. He wasn’t even trying to touch it, kiss it, feel its goolies or otherwise interfere with it. There was almost no risk in the situation. Other naturalists and fishermen who have spent time around stingrays have said that at best guess the fish was just not in the mood to be watched. So remember kids, when they say leave it alone on the wildlife documentaries it doesn’t matter how knowledgeable or able you are, if it is having a bad day it will still kill you – leave it alone.

Monday, September 04, 2006

70's glow

Sunshine & Big Specs

This is another shot from Sunday. It has strange glow to it and looks like it was in a 70's magazine despite the fact that it was shot with a camera phone.

I am trying out different photo hosting services at the moment and whilst flickr seems to be the best and most popular one it has its' problems. Not the least of which is that I have to remember yet another set of login details. Picasa, where this one is hosted is Google's answer and means I can login with all the same details (flickr is owned by Yahoo). Unfortunately it doesn't have quite the same depth of feature. I'm sure more are on their way but in the meantime I shall keep experimenting.

Sunday, September 03, 2006

Sunset over Sydney

in: Rose Bay NSW, Australia
Rose Bay Sunset
Sydney City & Harbour
There's a whole continent to the West of in Sydney so you get the most fantastic sunsets. This is taken from the living room balcony of a friend of ours.

There are more details on the photo including map links on flickr - just click the photo.