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To THE CULTURE SHOW last night, with its egregiously DUMBED DOWN new E4-style 'format' ...
As well as their staggeringly pointless 'Greatest Living British Icon' (read, in actuality, ENGLISH icon, BTW), we also had a staggeringly patronising interviewer tell OUTKAST "you're fashion icons"*; had Sofia Coppola's Marie Antoinette "played as a pop icon"; John Lennon as "another dead icon"; and a hot young artist said she was "not interested in producing iconic images of people who're already icons..."

Pity poor Andrew Graham Dixon - who the producers forced to sit in a horrible spangly approximation of some kind of Hoxton Dickwad cocktail bar, being asked stoopid questions by TCS's new young blonde puppyishly poppy presenter**.

I like Graham Dixon (I liked the fact that when forced to submit to the mandatory 'And who would YOUR icon be?" question, he chose a POET***); and he had possibly interesting and pertinent things to say about celebrity and celebrity afterlife (" Saint John Lennon...") as our post-Nietzschean stand-ins for a previous epoch's religious devotion.

Is this what all this 'icon' blether is about? God is dead. Islam is on the re up take. And instead of believing in nothing we iconify ... everything?****


*Does anyone DOUBT that there are 1000s of interesting things one might say about, or ask, OUTKAST? Does anyone not think that, with today's new technology, there are 1000s of new ways of presenting things, framing things, jazzing things up (sure, it can be pop video facile, but it can also be Jean Luc Godard suss - there are a couple of adverts at the moment that beat the visual shit out of anything else on current TV). See - this is what I mean about DUMBING DOWN here, in this specific context. I really have nothing against a well thought out Trojan Horse sort of DUMBING DOWN. Come to that I really have nothing against an all out DUMB and PROUD OF IT - no subtext, for the fun of it - DUMBING DOWN. But the kind of dumbing down The Culture Show is presently engaged in - it suits nothing, it helps nobody, it has no shape or surprise, it's astonishingly old hat and lazy.

Let's take the OUTKAST segment
The whole thing was flagged as some kind of big summit or quasi confrontation or something, and actually segued with the inter-title OUTKAST MEET ZINA - as tho the presenter, Zina Saro-Wiwa, were as much a catch as the boys themselves. This is really lame - unless the interviewer is really, truly notable, which, for all that I'm sure she's a wunnerful human bean an everything, who the hell knows? And on this evidence, she can’t interview to save her life.

(According to the BBC Press Office notes for The Culture Show, Saro-Wiwa is a "broadcaster whose big passions are music, 'ideas' and cultural politics..." [Scare quotes around 'ideas', BBC's/Saro-Wiwa's own, BTW.] She also "has a series coming up called Hello World which is looking at global celebrity culture." (NO! get outta here! Wow, that's a topic that don't get much coverage, innit!) And she is "currently an adviser for the British Council's music unit and also a guerilla film-maker." I'm sorry - but if the latter two statements are true, then gawd help us all.)

I mean, all the things you might do with OUTKAST ... instead, you get the two doubtless jetlagged principals, who have probably already done 37 media interviews that day, and - wow! INSANE idea, this, Sebastian! - interview them in a Saville Row shop - DUH! - because they're "fashion icons". Never mind the wider point that, actually, 89% of performers these days, black and white, are actually "fashion icons" - that that's the way things work nowadays, morons. Never mind that Outkast are doing, and have always done, amazing things, sonically; have left a legacy of incredible work with their videos (a whole segment could be devoted to how Outkast played with and baffled Hip-Hop/black stereotypes with their playful and contrary and funny videos); have just made a fascinating cross-timeline film; and are helping bend entrenched hip-hop away from BLING-dom...

So, uh - what you gon' ask them about, now you got them here? The interviewer asked them about ... their pets. (ZS-W: "I'm a dog person , myself." "I don't have any, no, but I'm a dog person...") About ... their clothes. (ZS-W: "Can you just run us through what you've got on today?")

I'm not 100% sure about some of her other wince-making Qs, because I had to keep turning the sound down, so embarrassed/annoyed did I get.

And should one say here that it felt somehow worse that such dumb questions should come from a young black person? Would such DUMB questions have been asked of Chris Martin? Or Steve Reich? Or Squarepusher, indeed? They seemed to have looked at a showreel of OUTKAST videos, and a few previous Q&A cuttings, and left it at that. Which begs the Q of WHY BOTHER. I do know that it felt wince-makingly uncomfortable to see the condescending surprise on Siro-Wiwa's face at the idea that these sub-fusc Hip Hop types might - shock horror! - actually like non-black music!!!!++ (Kate Bush, The Smiths, and the predictable if puzzling Andre 3000 name-check for Squarepusher.+++)

Siro-Wiwa's whole attitude was, like, 'You mean you can like pole dancing AND intelligent white pop music? You can like big ol' sexy asses AND the way Kate Bush's mind works? You can like bush and Bush!? Gosh, I...uh... hang on here... I'm having difficulty with this... uh... notion. You mean... people aren’t straightforward and easily summable up in a two-word media catchphrase? You mean - people have inherent contradictions? Oh my, I shall have to think about this strange new idea, and no kidding!'

Not to be patronising in my turn, but you would think, as a young black woman, she might just have had some experience herself of NOT always fitting into the ready made & superficial stereotypes people had prepared for her.

Saro-Wiwa, presented with the GIFT of Big Boi's love of KB, could have asked him about gender and sonics, or playfulness and the mixing desk, or running up that hill, or any number of yes I said yes, did I hear right, questions. What did she ask? "How does that one go?" Here you have stereotyping as some kind of dumb self-fulfilling prophecy. Or, in other words: DUMB QUESTIONS IN, DUMB ANSWERS OUT, obviously.

** Lauren Laverne - who I used to like, enormously, and who I still like, in certain other contexts. But here she jars like break-dancing in a SCHOOLS TV Poetry segment. ('Hey! KIDS! You know... Shakespeare was kind of a versifyin' HOMEY , too...') It's not her fault, per se. But these days, as soon as someone is perceived as moderately successful at appealing to a certain audience - they are plucked up and flagrantly over-deployed in all manner of other, seemingly ad hoc, contexts. (See also: the use of female columnists like the appalling Barbara Ellen and the cloyingly frisky Lucy Mangan by The Guardian and The Observer.) But you only have to look at * to see how this is no guarantee of anything.

*** {Laverne reacted to (t)his choice in the same way as Saro-Wiwa reacted to Big Boi liking Kate Bush... except her reaction was maybe less patronising, more perky & punky ironic - Gosh!, you mean they still have things like POETS where you come from? As if the subject under discussion were some type of stripey candy you used to buy in jars, or a dish made of tripe, or something.

****Who said that? That the danger is not that, after the death of God, we believe in nothing, but that we believe in ... anything/everything (?)


++ {Later on, Lauren Laverne returned to this topic, saying "how weird" was it that Russell Brand and Outkast should both like Morrissey. Why, exactly? It's two thousand and mother fucking six, bitch! (Sorry: Richard Pryor doc last night.)

+++ {Squarepusher, BTW? - I really don’t get it. Not then, not now, and I somehow think not ever. I saw him play once, live, years ago and was open mouthed in HUH!?-dom, like, THIS is what is Trendy with da WIRE kids dese days? It was like some awful album from 1974 - Isotope or Seagull or somebody. Flying fingers for the sake of it. And last night's Squarepusher solo spot was EXACTLY the same. It was like John Williams used to be on the Spanish guitar, except on a six string bass. It was the worst kind of turgid tech-for-tech's sake jazz-rock baloney. In my opinion, like. Gawd alone knows what Andre 3000 hears in it.

{ .... }

Just goes to show, don’t it.
We finally get black music/Rap taken seriously, featured on a ‘proper’ arts show, prime time, BBC2; and finally get music and art taken out of the supposedly ossified hands of the dead boring white middle classed men, all the dons and career carpers and softly-softly Braggs. You have a smart young black woman interviewing sharp young black artists – and the show presented by a sassy young (ex) pop star woman.

And ...

And it’s mortifying, it's AWFUL, it's clueless, it's crap. It somehow manages to patronise EVERYONE. It's soufflé – but without even the charm of soufflé. Flat soufflé – which is worse than bad, it's pointless. If you can't even do lightweight well – what's the point. I might as well switch to TMF, where at least they know what they’re doing; where at least they know superficial, and can do superficial humourously and well.

Or we might as well go back to the tentatively just-inching-post-Reithian days when tweedy old dons mocked Pink Floyd for being repetitive and too loud. At least then there was a bit of friction, something to argue about.

This is toss.

Iconic toss, no less.

posted by Ian 10/15/2006 08:05:00 AM

I have to say - I would REALLY like a t shirt with, in big black letters...:

I'd buy one! It would be the contemporary equivalent of Lydon's "I hate Pink Floyd" t-shirt...

Pretty sure that quote comes from GK Chesterton.

Zina Saro-Wiwa's ineptitude is reminiscent of the arts presenter on Newsroom South East (Brenda McManus, if memory serves). I could just about hack the vapidity of her commentaries if it wasn't for the fact the intonations OF her VOICEovers are ALL over THE place and make it sound as if she doesn't understand a word that she's saying (which might well be the case for all I know). The effect really is toe-curlingly awful.

It's perfectly reasonable that the BBC should aim to reflect the diversity of London in their presenters but over-promoting this sort of incompetence doesn't do anybody any favours in the long run...
Well - it's high time The Pill Box became a "brand" (something like Number Four in the Contemporary Media Cliches chart; and no need to ask what has been at Number One for a Bryan Adams like eternity...); maybe if I get enough enquiries I'll get some ICONIC TOSS t shirts made up for Xmas ...
wasn't it GK Chesterton? I saw the idea updated by someone who applied it to the death of ideology, or it might have been the grand narrative - same difference. I think it was postmodernism that done it anyway
shit, didn't read the clever clogs comment preceding. It was a pretty easy question though. While I'm on, were you referring to one of the Halifax ad's? The one with waterfalls and stuff? You can't have the sound on obviously, because of the song, but a great piece of work I thought
Ummm about the Andre liking Squarepusher thing, Andre really likes jazz and has said in a number of interviews how he wants to start recording instrumental jazz albums "like Prince".

Take that love of pseudo jazz and pop in Hard Normal Daddy and suddenly things become clear.
The Squarepusher I heard at the end of TCS was nothing like the Squarepusher I've heard on CD, with all the quick-fire "drill & bass" cut-ups and stuff (which also left me cold, but in a different way). But I'll forgive him everything for "My Red Hot Car (Girl)", which mangled UK garage quite brilliantly (if sadly atypically).
who should be presenting the culture show? i'll tell you: BIDISHA - her (rare) appearances on the newsnight review have been the only reason to occasionally turn on to the show. she's incredibly astute and critical and her knowledge seems incredibly broad for someone so young. i saw a greeat late night debate about the state of current art on bbc 2 about six months back where she expertly cut down some diluted ponced up version of matthew collings (can't remember the guy's name) then urged the TV audience to rush to check out The Wilton Diptych at the National Gallery. there's class.
actually scratch that - the late night debate i mentioned was crap but she was terrific.
the chesterton quote is strange bcz he's always tagged as saying it but apparently* never actually quite did -- tho there are various not-unlike versions in the father brown stories, and it's clearly something he did think

*actually i think i read the "never did" claim in something c.hitchens wrote so take that as you will -- i am willing to BET that CH has not read ALL of chesterton but is willing to imply he did (but then nor have i) (nor you i imagine)
I've been reading RAYMOND WILLIAMS the last couple of days!
Some good stuff, I think.
**** The definite take on Chesterton's non-quote is at:
I agree Zina Saro-Wiwa interview technique was aweful..... but she's so damn cute!
It is amazing what Jealousy make people say.

I am a Tv and Film producer with more than 15 years experience and I can say that Zina Is an amazing interviewer, she gets the story right and interview her guests very well.

It is easy to criticize people in seating on a Sofa. What have you done today to make cultural in the world more interesting Mr Blogger? Since the internet exists and that type of sites, everybody think that the world is interested in their simple ideas. . Well, if you are so good, why don't you write for a national paper and put your name at the end of your piece.
I have to say I superficially agree with a lot of your comments. However what you fail to take into account is that television programmes are made by a group of people. Therefore you can't blame a presenter for being shoved in as a last minute replacement for an interview that has taken place at the last minute and not having a clue about them. Or not getting on with them. Or the interviewees actually being incredibly rude or thick but not being able to show that because publicists then wouldn't let you interview other clients that you want. Also, you can't blame the tone or angle of the piece on the presenter - or even the director - often they are the ones who have to make sense of a stupid idea that a series producer or planning editor has come up with that works on paper or is gimmicky enough to make them feel they are down with the kids. Unfortunately there are no auteurs in tv magazine formats so they will never have the authority, wit and intelligence of any blog where you have the luxury of saying what you want when you want it.
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