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THE GREAT ICON CON (contd)

I started to watch The Culture Show last night – partly just to see through to the grim end their “Greatest Living Icon, British (G.L.I.B.) quest; but I had to turn the sound down before long because it was aggravating me SO much.

I'm sure it's not actually Laura Levene's fault, cos she's just reading a script written by some clueless coked-up trustafarian 21 year old whose parents dinner party with someone in the BBC hierarchy (“handbags have always been ICONIC!” indeed); but this new jokey jokey ‘don't worry we'll make culture silly and un threatening and flirty for you’ tone is REALLY starting to get my iconic faux-Rauschenberg goat. I'm sure who ever is behind it thinks it's ever so "market penetrative" – ‘We want to get that part of the A/B female demographic that wouldn’t normally interact with a multi strand culture mode...’ - but it's really just a different, and MORE patronising, form of Reith-ism. As in: Come here little plebs, and drink at the culture trough. It has items on POP STARS and HANDBAGS – so you won’t be frightened by all the strange words like “symphony” and “ literature” … BAH!

And if I hadn’t already turned it down I would have when that ridiculous 'defend your icon' face off began. So, this is it, is it: Morrissey, David Attenborough and Paul MacCartney. H Jesus fucking Christ. Kate Bush, Kate Moss and Vivienne Westwood all relegated to nowhere land for THIS? Somewhere there is some WANKER with a complete set of MOJO and 'Q' magazines - who has complete DVD sets of all his favourite COMEDIES (he can 'do' the Ricky Gervais dance from The Office) and he has a mate who got him tickets for that recent Noel Gallagher acoustic set and it was "blindin', yeah, he's still got it, yuh," and HE BLOCK VOTED here, didn’t he?

Macca, Attenborough and Mozzer: ‘culture’ as cocoa and slippers.
Exciting icons of the … 60s, 70s and 80s respectively.

The difference between the last series of TCS and this one is staggering.
The last series was pretty OK, above average intelligent on things like architecture and classical music and even a couple of nods in a vaguely 'WIRE' type direction. (It had a great piece on Terry Riley, for instance.) But now some trendy dolt of a producer has obviously been brought in to get the "young" "Saturday night" "demographic" (curse that word/notion) and so therefore only does items on stuff that is already in that demo's "comfort zone" ...as, last night: Rickey Gervais, handbags, Faithless. This is 'culture' as in ‘gun culture’ or 'ladette culture' or 'mall culture' ... i.e. the same grimly dumbed-down pass-notes version of "semiology" that is prevalent all over media land. (And thus why ‘icon’ is everywhere like crab grass. It makes you sound like you know what you’re talking about, without having to do anything more than name a couple of 70s footballers and a porn star or two. I.e., nothing you couldn’t have done watching TV, really.)

Last night's adult-panto and handbag pieces had already been done in The Guardian (and the Gervais/Pilkington thing was just an advert for their Guardian podcast) - which, is there anything more desperate than being later on the scene than the Guardian? (It’s like the researcher was off sick so they just picked up that day’s Grauniad.)

The same thing has happened with G2 since the redesign - there seems to be some kind of INCH PANIC, that means text is split up into smaller and smaller Q&A or boxed off or IDIOTS GUIDE TO type sections and at least FOUR gossipy "personality" COLUMNS every day which will spit weary sarcastic venom at how vapid and trivial it is that all the other newspapers have been covering Paris Hilton and Lindsay Lohan and Britney ... whilst, of course, also covering Paris Hilton and Lindsay Lohan and Britney.

The handbag piece (by the egregious Zina Bendybus-Wimoweh) was perhaps the pits. Not because I think fashion doesn’t deserve decent coverage - I think it NEEDS more and better coverage. But this wasn’t it. This was desperation, on a story that is already weeks if not months old. And what IS it doing here? Something to do with "remit" or "demographic". Get in Laura Levene - as opposed to an older, more specialised presenter with a background in, well, arts and culture. Set the programme in a COCKTAIL BAR. (Don’t ask WHY: just do it.) And switch from doing intelligent pieces on slightly more marginal or 'difficult' areas to ... handbags and "icons".

I have to say, I think this ridiculous "Greatest Living Icon" thing has been the most pointless waste of BBC time and resources I've seen for a long time. It seems to concretize the trendified fear-of-thinking attitude at work here, involving an apparently 'democratic' 'viewer participation’ element, that, under a microscope is revealed to be mere sub-focus-group salad dressing. And that is essentially MEANINGLESS. 'Greatest Living Icon.' Meaning what? What do Morrissey, Paul MacCartney and David Attenborough have in common, anyway? (Apart from all being, when you get down to it, part of a comfort-inducing past rather than any unpredictable or frightening or mystifying future?) Nothing. It's not about 'culture', and about taking viewers to new places in culture - it's about COMFINESS. About staying in and pandering to a perceived demographic's COMFORT ZONE. Icon is a real New Labour style weasel word - that can mean everything/anything in any context whilst at base, really, meaning NOTHING WHATSOEVER. Certainly nothing that might "offend" or confuse one perceived "demographic" group or other.

Although a stray comment from Laura Levene (I think, I had the sound half down by this exasperated point) was the only indication here that maybe they were a bit unsettled at TCS by JUST how conservative their viewers choice was – the top 3 “living” icons all white, all male, all middle aged or older. Which means that either there is an even bigger disjunction between who they WISH was watching the show and the age of the people who really ARE; or their supposedly trendy Observer Music Monthly-reading cocktail-drinking "demographic" are as hidebound and blinkered as some old Punch-reading Home Counties ex-Colonial from the 1920s...

I suppose any popular "icon" has to be inoffenseive to some extent if it's going to appeal 'across the board, demographic wise'. But Macca is only really here because Lennon is dead (and he's getting some strange twisted sympathy vote as against the misogynistic tabloid's favourite Female Hate Figure of the moment); and a few years ago, Morrissey was KAPUT wasn't he, a joke figure rather than an icon.

And David Attenborough - well, it's like voting for your Gran, really, isn’t it?
I mean – no offence, he makes great progs n’all, but in what sense is it ‘culture’ in the sense that Schoenberg or Scorsese or Pat Califia, say, are? It’s more ‘culture’ in the sense of red phone boxes and World Cup 66 and … well, Morrissey’s quiff and Macca’s thumb. It’s got nothing to do with culture as inroad or departure, and everything to do with HOLDING ON to some kind of passing and un-difficult Britishness. And I’m not necessarily knocking either Attenborough or anyone’s notion of comforting Britishness – it’s just all such a lumpy doughy hodge-podge and always will be if you stick to EMPTY inoffensive terms like ‘Icon’ which don’t mean anything to anyone when it comes down to it.

It is SO quiescent. It's like DONT EVER UPSET ANYONE EVER. And so the Qs that Levene asks guests - she might as well still be on a Saturday morning The Chart Show. Faithless unplugged? WHY? For god's sake WHY? Because they are so obscure and need the coverage? Because their new record isn’t a live album greatest hits sets - it's a strange new daring departure? No - because IT WON’T OFFEND ANYONE. A little bit dance, a little bit multicultural, a little bit real musicians playing real music ... Christ, it's worse - more contained, more fearful, more limited - than The Old Grey Whistle Test ever was. It REALLY is.

Just keep on filling the space, and never, never ever, ever, even think of asking the question of any subject, "but is this really worth doing?" and "if so, why?"

posted by Ian 12/03/2006 07:01:00 AM

Comments:
Attenborough has a place in the nation's heart for the same reason Peel (or even Dr. Who as a character) did. They represented 'Reithian' values that people once 'respected' and now long for; which themselves represented a 'Britishness' - mythical or otherwise - that's pretty much vanished now. The educated/informed patriarch imparting his influence or knowledge for 'the common good' and enlightening 'the great unwashed'. Lest we forget that Attenborough gave us BBC2 (the antithesis of today's crude, bullying commercialism).

I doubt Colin Murray will end up with the almost religious devotion Peel's had since his death (even by people who hated everything he played). Nor will Attenborough's death be subject to the vast amount of schoolyard jokes Steve Irwin had. As much as I can't stand Morrisey, I can see his Larkin/Pinter/Kenneth Williams appeal. He's the arch nostalgist - for a world of rationing, emotional austerity, 'keeping your chin up', a grey Britain where you could at least get milk at school and regard the gas board, post office etc., as 'serving the nation'.

Which brings us back to hauntology - that 'old' Britain has vanished, but's its traces lurk around; trying it's best to age gracefully (unlike 'new' Britain, trying to keeps its wig on and its tits firm on its deathbed).

Personally, I hope Attenborough wins. Even more hauntological is how he represented a world where other species managed to survive in their natural environment without some Australian moron pouncing on them and calling them 'cute little fellers'. Despite the overuse of 'iconic', we do need some sense of national comfort that doesn't require biometric cards...
AGUIRRE
 
I'm not for a minute questioning Attenborough's position as a broadcasrer and programme maker of genius ... but is he an ICON? In what way? Even though I'm not a fan, of those three, maybe only Morrissey could properly be called iconic in his position and influence... in the same way that Bowie and Siouxsie Sioux (or Hockney and Hirst) also were/are, yeah? I never liked The Smiths - but Morrissey unDOUBTedly had a huge influence - through his dress and manner, and through the 'iconic' images on record sleeves, in a way that remains really interesting...
 
maybe nobody voted? maybe it was like the astrology columns in women mags - my sis who worked on one said they used to say 'who wants to do the stars?' five minutes before the deadline
 
oh leave david attenborough alone. he's done more for british culture and for educating the plebs than any music critic ever has.
 
gawd help us i'm not HAVING A GO at the sainted david; i'm having a go at a vapid programme on BBC2 which makes a mockery of the hopes and contributions of precisely such broadcasters innovators as he...
(although i remain ever suspicious of that sort of idea - lampooned so brilliantly by victoria wood - that something like attenborough is What TV *Should* Be, and everything else is a force field of mind-melt crud designed to pacify your so-called "plebs" ...
 
NB

i wonder if powerful people in the upper echelons of TV *have* been reading the Pill Box ...!

Film 4 this week: Fast Times at Ridgemont High (as per a recent PB suggestion);
ITV 3 currently: a Warren Beatty season
ITV 4 next weekend: a Sam Peckinpah Night.

Now all we need is some Fassbinder and it's a cinch ...
 
'Iconic' is of course overdone to the point of meaninglessness - funny how when our totalitarian celeb culture has devalued 'fame' per se, there is this endless rush to identify 'icons' i.e. a way of identifying those who are famous for ACHIEVING something, however minor.

It's a way of finding a kind of 'earned' fame index in our ever-fickle media landscape... Will Young = 'celeb', Morrisey = 'icon'; Gordon Ramsay = 'celeb', Fanny Craddock = 'icon';
David Walliams = 'celeb', Ronnie Barker = 'icon'; Jude Law = 'celeb', Jack Nicholson ='icon'.

Nothing to do with 'quality' just a way of knowing who's actually 'meaningfully' famous vs. who's just on telly or in 'Heat' a lot.

It's just a new 'noughties' paradigm. Old farts like us just don't get it as much as the 'demographic' most mass media is targeting...
AGUIRRE
 
One thing's for sure; the 1983 equivalent of The Culture Show would have run a million miles from Morrissey.

Also note Howard Goodall's How Music Works on C4, hailed as arts programming at its best when actually programmes like this used to be on schools TV as a matter of routine. Words And Pictures is its natural bedfellow, not The Ascent Of Man.
 
Grumble, grumble ... not like the old days ... we had standards then ... what's today's youth coming to?

Anyway, modern 'arts' programme does seem to be a school TV level. Like all those 'history' shows that seem to be over-stylised pastiches of 'CSI' autopsy shows.
AGUIRRE
 
Personally NCIS is my favoured Saturday evening televisual viewing. David McCallum as Magnus Pyke >>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>> Zina Bendybus-Wimoweh
 
the culture show is irritating twaddle for half-wits who read FHM but feel guilty about objectifying women. and verity sharp is an irritating cunt, with a face like a gremlin eating a wasp. no change that, SHE IS a wasp. i can just imagine her interviewing the winner (lets pretend its kate bush)...
verity: "miss buth cweates wadical moosik made fwum a faiwight thampler and ecwectic infwuences and hath become an endoowing icon faw wimmin in wock and pop"
kate bush: "oh fuck off back to cambwidge"
 
Hey Verity's just like 99% of other TV presenters - arts or otherwise. 'The Culture Show' just seems like Saturday morning TV, but on later.
Maybe the producers think it's the only way to compete with Ant and Dec! The weird logic of TV probably makes it a priority to compete with 'em
AGUIRRE
 
Strange why the BBC thinks it needs to compete with Ant and Dec when the latter have repeatedly been trounced in the ratings by both Dr Who and Robin Hood.
 
No, Verity's personality, a mixture of nasty upper middle class snootiness and no brain cells is by far the worst on tv.

Now, back to icons: surely it would be immoral for us to not to at least try to stop it being macca by voting for mozza?
 
Agree with Aguirre to some extent on his comments about icons versus celebs... but how, using those criteria, can HANDBAGS be iconic?

And I absolutely agree with Marcello about arts progs being like old schools programming.... as I'm typing I'm listening to Yentob's absurdly low-level prog about the web... who IS the demographic for BBC1 now? Not children, for sure, who would certainly feel patronised... bewildered pensioners maybe?
 
Ditto the attempt to make Robin Hood and Doctor Who 'trendy' and 'relevant'. Robin Hood as some kind of cheeky-chappie Mike Skinner (hoodies? oh, do fuck off...)? The Doctor as an eccentric copper (Ecclestone in that CID jacket)? Or David Tennant as the missing member of Franz Ferdinand, and too many episodes looking like they're borrowing the Eastenders set? Or the horrible dialogue given to black characters? Unlike previous doctors neither look, talk or behave like a scientist - more like youth workers.

Programmers don't seem to realise that 15-year old girls aren't particularly interested in adventure shows on Saturday night (or indeed mass appeal TV). I'm sure they have more mature concerns.

Whatever happened to entertainment for 8-year old boys? Why are they always targeted with 'dark' movies? Or 'comedies' about ejaculation, decadent celebrities etc. Every 'reinvention' of some popular character has to be oh-so-dark now (the 'darkness' gives me a headache trying to watch 'em). Or those facistic dog-eat-dog urban hell playstation games?
The prevalence of the above is probably what made 'Harry Potter' such a mega-phenomenon. Maybe young kids don't actually want their faces rubbed in 'the horror, the horror' all the time...
AGUIRRE(:wrath of the concerned parent of little boys...)
 
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