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Oct. 25th, 2008 | 07:07 pm

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Jun. 4th, 2008 | 10:26 pm
music: The Pretty Things - Sickle Clowns

I've become increasingly suspicious of people who do things "ironically" lately. Too often this concept of irony is held up as a kind of rhetorical ejector seat, propelling someone to safety when they've said something they shouldn't and don't want to take responsibility for it. In TV shows this is often a free licence to say what you want; that might be all well and good if you actually are being ironic, but otherwise it just ends up looking like a tool for provoking laughter from imbeciles. Take BBC3's The Wall, a pisspoor variety show of unsigned "comedy" acts, one of which was a woman reading out all Bernard Manning's sexist jokes - but it was all right, you know, because she was a woman and was acting moved. Here's a case of "irony" being used as an excuse to use someone else's material verbatim, and look, all these fashionable kids with their jaggedy haircuts and their flat caps (worn ironically of course) are laughing, so if you're not you can't be part of the cool crowd.

Which brings me to Scallywagga. I'd seen trailers of this and thought it looked crap, but finally gave in to my curiosity last night and watched a whole episode. It was, quite sincerely, the worst thing I've ever seen that wasn't presented by Davina McCall.

Scallywagga, for those of you mercifully outside its blast radius, is a sketch show that's just finished its first series on BBC Three, a digital freeview channel frantically and desperately marketed at a yoof audience. Over time BBC 3's output has become more and more psychotic as it frenetically chases the kind of youth who only exists on TV anyway, the walking subculture in the aforementioned flat cap whose entire character and personality is governed by that one defining feature. It has gone so far as to ask viewers to record their own programme announcements on their webcams for use on the channel. It's finally given birth to this programme, which is a perfect example of the kind of show that thinks it's being ironic: it's self-conscious enough to ensure that the word "irony" is mentioned prominently in its title theme, for one thing. It has a large cast of young actors and all its sketches revolve around the central theme of youth subcultures, possibly becase in the Scallywagga world youth subcultures are all that exist anyway.

It is, quite simply, utterly dreadful. It's a comedy show with all the funny bits taken out, almost as if someone has identified where the laughs are and then consciously removed them in the edit suite. You end up with jokes that end just when you think a punchline is about to come in, easy cracks about obvious targets (one involves goths who don't go out in sunlight...geddit?!?) and, worst of all, endless catchphrases. The one I'm thinking of is a girl who pops up in incongruous places (such as a children's play area) and asks people if there's a Greggs (a bakery franchise) nearby. As I've only seen the one episode it's merely an unfunny joke, but as a catchphrase it's unbearable. Even more obnoxious is "CHILLYMONDO!", which the show's web site encourages people to shout out in public, record on their phones (because apparently "Scallywagga is all up on your mobile" - their words) and send in. Here's an example of an (unedited) Scallywagga joke:

I haven't quite worked out whether there's no laughter track or whether it's just that nobody's laughing.

But the show merely being unfunny isn't grounds for me to sit here talking about it in this manner. Ordinarily a short comment would be in order, and then I'd forget about it. But there's an altogether more sinister aspect to the show, a disturbingly misanthropic undercurrent where the bullies win, the villains are celebrated and ordinary, inoffensive people are routinely terrorised. That clip I posted is an example, albeit a minor one, ending with the loiterer shaking his head dismissively at the sucker who's doing his business for him. The episode I watched - part six - has an extremely unpleasant sketch detailing how a young lottery winner uses his millions to orchestrate a campaign of torment against someone else. Two things strike me: firstly, that the victim is a character who doesn't belong to the "in crowd" fashionista society that populate most of the sketches, but is instead an ordinary man of nondescript appearance. Secondly, like most sketches, there's no real punchline or payoff at the end, meaning that the intended laughs come not from the subversion of an idea - a key concept in comedy - but from the sight of someone with a "TOSSER" sign held behind their head as they walk down the street.

Of course, the show's justification is that it's being ironic. But with such an astoundingly unfunny show that justification dies on its arse, especially as it doesn't have the guts to actually stand up for itself. One sketch involves a shopping centre security guard who chases a gang of hoodies out of his store by following them around reading a history textbook at them, because "chavs hate learning". There's the kernel of a funny idea there, but as soon as the gang are out through the doors the guard ceremoniously chucks the book in a bin. Because we can't have the lead character in one of the sketches being genuinely different from the simplistic "yoof" cliches the show gives us as a matter of course, can we? Not with the target audience this show thinks is out there.

So go on, watch it if you want. It isn't often I'm compelled to rant like this, but a show as ghastly as Scallywagga requires more than a thumbs down on Youtube.

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Garfield Minus Garfield

Mar. 1st, 2008 | 06:52 pm
music: Grand Funk Railroad - Inside Looking Out

Did you ever wonder what the Garfield strips might look like if Garfield was edited out of them?

See them all here.

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You boy!

Jan. 24th, 2008 | 07:05 pm
mood: ecstaticecstatic
music: Dr. Feelgood - Sneakin' Suspicion

After twelve months and four rejections, I've finally been offered a place at a teacher training college. Score!

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Budget cuts

Jan. 12th, 2008 | 06:53 pm
music: Bert Jansch - The January Man

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Ed's first corpse

Dec. 19th, 2007 | 09:21 pm

So my journey home today was slightly disrupted when, just as my train was arriving at the station, an old lady a little way further down the platform decided to end it all by lying down on the tracks.

Looked just like she was sleeping, she did.

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Poking Fun

Dec. 4th, 2007 | 07:45 pm
music: Led Zeppelin - Wearing And Tearing

I thought that Charlie Brooker's latest article was so good (and important) that it's worth reproducing in full.

Heat magazine - the tittering idiot's lunchbreak-pamphlet-of-choice - has caused a bad stink by printing a collection of comedy stickers in its latest issue. Said stickers are clearly designed to be stuck round the fringes of computer monitors by the magazine's bovine readership in a desperate bid to transform their veal-fattening workstation pen into a miniature Chuckle Kingdom and thereby momentarily distract them from the bleak futility of their wasted, Heat-reading lives.

Most of the stickers are baffling to anyone who isn't a regular reader - there's one of Will Young sporting a digitally extended chin, a shot of a man's head on a crab's body accompanied by the words "Roy Gave Me Crabs", and a photo of the editor looking a bit like a monk. So far, so hilarious.

But one consists of a shot of Jordan's disabled five-year-old son Harvey, with the words "Harvey wants to eat me!" printed next to his mouth. In other words, we're supposed to find Harvey's face intrinsically mirthful and/or frightening. Ha ha, Heat! Ha ha!

Jordan herself is on the cover of the same issue, as part of a montage depicting Stars Who Hate Their Bodies ("Jordan: SAGGY BOOBS"), so chances are she wasn't in an especially upbeat frame of mind when she later stumbled across the snickering point-and-chortle demolition of her blameless disabled son nestling in the centre pages. She immediately lodged a complaint with the PCC. Personally, I'd have caught a cab to their offices, kicked the editor firmly in the balls, taken a photo of his stunned, wheezing, watering face and blown it up and hung it on my wall, to be contemplated every morning over breakfast.

Of course, Heat's always had a psychotically confused relationship with celebrities. On the one hand, it elevates them to the status of minor deities, and on the other, it prints clinical close-ups of their thighs with a big red ring circling any visible atoms of cellulite beside a caption reading "Ugh! Sickening!". This is what the misanthropic serial killer in Se7en would've done if he'd been running a magazine instead of keeping a diary.

This might seem a bit rich coming from someone (ie me) who regularly says cruel things about public figures for comic effect. Eagle-eyed readers may have noticed I scrawled some fairly abusive things about Jordan myself in this weekend's Screen Burn column in the Guide, for instance. Isn't Heat effectively doing the same thing, only with more gusto, not to mention photos?

Good question. Thanks for asking. My defence, in as much as I've worked it out, runs like this: people on TV aren't real people. They're flickering, two-dimensional representations of people, behaving unnaturally and often edited to the point of caricature. They're fictional characters and it's easy to hate them. Everybody hates someone on TV. But you never really hate them the way you'd hate, say, a rapist. Because they're not really there, and with one or two exceptions (TV psychics, say), they're ultimately harmless. Put Vernon Kay on my screen and I'll gleefully spit venom at him. Sit me next to him at a dinner party and I'll probably find him quite charming, unless he does something appalling. That's not hypocritical, it's rational.

In fact, in my limited experience, the more unpalatable you find someone's TV persona, the nicer they turn out to be in real life. Recently I was walking down the street when someone I'd written something nasty about suddenly darted across the road and introduced himself. Almost immediately, I started apologising for the article, explaining (as above) that people on TV aren't real people and so on. At which point he looked faintly crestfallen. He hadn't read the piece at all, but he'd seen a TV thing I'd done and just wanted to say how much he enjoyed it. Then he asked what it was I'd said that was so bad, so I found myself sheepishly repeating it while staring at the ground. There was an uncomfortable pause. And then he laughed and said it was all fair game and not to worry. And I thought, who's the dickhead in this scenario? Because it sure as hell wasn't him. I'm the dickhead. I'm always the dickhead: always have been, always will be.

Even so, and speaking as a dickhead, there's surely a world of difference between tipping cartoon buckets of shit over someone's TV persona, and paying a paparazzo to hide behind a bush to take photos of their arse as they stroll down the beach in real life, so you can make your readers feel momentarily better about themselves because ha ha her bumcheeks are flabby and ho ho he's bald and tee hee she's sobbing. And even if you accept that degree of intrusion, on the basis that these people rely on the media and yadda yadda yadda, how insanely superior and removed from reality do you have to be to invite your readers to laugh at a photograph of a small disabled boy whose only "crime" is a) being disabled and b) having a famous mum with "SAGGY BOOBS"?

Each week, Heat opens with a featurette called Everyone's Talking About . . . detailing the latest showbiz scandal. Last week, it was Everyone's Talking About . . . Marc Bannerman. This week it ought to read Everyone's Talking About ... What Total C***s We Are. And maybe it will. We shall see.



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Quotation of the month

Nov. 29th, 2007 | 07:10 pm
music: Led Zeppelin - The Rover

From a BBC News story about Gillian Gibbons, a British teacher in Sudan sentenced to 15 days in jail for allowing her seven year-old students to name their class teddy bear Muhammad:

Sudan's top clerics had called for the full measure of the law to be used against Mrs Gibbons and labelled her actions part of a Western plot against Islam.

There hasn't been an ideological propaganda campaign this cutting since Goebbels named his terrier Neville.

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You heard it it here first

Sep. 24th, 2007 | 06:46 pm
music: Bert Jansch - I Have No Time

Foxes know, apparently, according to the strangely ominous piece of graffiti that's just appeared at the bottom of my road.

Don't say I didn't warn you.

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The ghost of summers past

Aug. 31st, 2007 | 06:02 pm
music: Pentangle - Hunting Song

Back in May 2004, having just finished my first year as an undergraduate, I had the address on my bills changed temporarily so that I could still pay them on time over the long summer holiday. I'm conscientious like that. When I returned to Bristol that September, I had the address reset again.

Except that, three years later, I'm still getting bills for a house I no longer live in. I don't know how many more times I can scream at British Gas over the phone before my brain starts to pour out my ears. Today I gave them a twelve-minute call (my phone logs the time) in which they changed my address to...the exact same address. I despair.

If you own a company handling so much of so many people's money, shouldn't you hire a customer services team capable of differentiating between changing an address from and changing an address to?

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