joeldurston

Archive for August, 2012|Monthly archive page

The Real Notting Hill Carnival?

In Satire on August 27, 2012 at 12:52 PM

Notting Hill residents angered by the “debauched revelry” happening on their doorsteps are planning a “comeback festival” in Hackney, TAY can exclusively reveal.

The Notting Hill Carnival saw 299 arrests this year – a figure up on last year – amongst loud music, traffic and public transport disruption, along with a range of other behaviour that many residents of the largely upmarket, upper middle class area disapproved of.

So, during these festivities, hundreds of Notting Hill-ers were secretly planning a “comeback festival”, which our sources suggest could happen this weekend.

Jamie Smith, a 45-year-old going under a pseudonym, said: “some are us are well and truly sick of the riff raff that annually comes into our treasured community, causing public disorder, disrupting public transport and besmirching its good name with hellish, soulless music, gaudy dancing and god knows what else.

“Quite why this happens in our community is beyond us when it is so uncharacteristic of Notting Hill’s normal character.

“So we have resolved not to take this erosion of cultural values lightly, and will stage our own festival in what I believe to be many of these revellers’ backyard, Hackney.”

Mr Smith was unwilling to go into specifics of the festival but TAY has learnt from other sources what events are likely to be involved.

It is believed the likes of Adele, Coldplay, Moby and Norah Jones will play from loud speakers on the streets, causing awkward semi-dancing from festival-goers; long tables with Habitat cutlery will recreate a dinner party feel; organic potato salad, tofu kebabs and cous-cous with pesto or humus will be sold at every corner; and many stalls will promote new business ventures, private schools and morally dubious tax avoidance schemes.

There may also be several cases of people, at the smallest invitation, whipping out business cards from pockets – a practice which will no doubt raise some eyebrows.

Several Hackney residents TAY spoke to about the possibility of the festival suspected that, if it did go ahead, it may exclude the local community.

But Jamie Smith rebuffed the claims, stating “the event will be for everyone … provided of course they earn over £30,000 and vote Tory”.

Joel Durston

Why Should Pleasures Be ‘Guilty’?

In Culture, Opinion on August 19, 2012 at 1:38 AM

I like Coldplay, Kylie Minogue, Adele, Harry Potter, Jason Statham movies, R & B music and The Sun (or many examples of their work at least). The typical thing is to qualify declaration such typical yardsticks of ‘bad taste’ with an ‘…and proud!’ (‘I am a Potterer…and proud!) or by describing them as guilty pleasures. I don’t – because why should I feel guilty about any of my tastes if they bring me enjoyment and don’t hurt anyone else?! I’m neither particularly proud nor guilty of reading Harry Potter. It’s just something I like, or at least liked (and in the relationship of creator and consumer, I think it’s fair to say most of the effort was JK Rowling’s). Of course, ‘guilty pleasure’ is just a harmless little phrase, and I recognise I’m reading a lot into this, arguably too much, but the phrase does raise some interesting issues about our appreciation and consumption of art (in the broader sense – music, art, film, photography, theatre etc etc.). Principally, it follows if a pleasure is ‘guilty’, there’s something or things to whom or which people should feel guilty. I don’t know; some kind of existentially depressed cultural muso like High Fidelity’s protagonist up in the sky perhaps? An omnipotent cultural entity which peers down on us disapprovingly every time he sees us reaching for a Scouting for Girls album or a Michael Bay DVD? I jest of course. I understand there’s a set of nebulous understandable binding principles for what critics (with a small ‘c’) consider ‘good art’ – invention, technical skill, wit, lyricism, emotion, intelligence, sincerity, moral/political message, resonance with the audience etc etc. Most, but by no means all, will largely agree on these. But everyone’s view of these is different, as shown by the massive disparity in people’s music tastes, even among critics working for similar media outlets. People need to remember there are a lot of (subjectively) boring arthouse films and a lot of (subjectively) shallow and annoying experimental bands. The inevitable response is: so Girls Aloud are just as good as The Rolling Stones? The Wanted as relevant as Hendrix? Well, in a way, I think yes. Pop – in the narrower, One-Direction-and-Saturdays sense – is not meant to change the world, just be something catchy to brighten the walk to work or dance to. And if does that, then to a large degree it can be called, in a kind of Aristotelian way, successful. Relativism is a philosophically tricky position in any field, not least one which arouses such strong convictions in people. But given the massive difference in tastes and the intrinsically abstract nature of art (it can’t be so easily measured by profit or yield as in business, or scores such as sport), I think a largely relativist, subjective perspective of art is the only plausible one to take. As Roy Sutherland explains in this brilliant speech, reputation and perception are vitally important, often obscuring the true worth or efficiency of things, or the fact that there is no intrinsic value: (of English upper-middle-class people “rebranding” unemployment) “having a son who’s unemployed in Manchester is really quite embarrassing, but having a son who’s unemployed in Thailand is really viewed as quite an accomplishment.” Also, with ‘guilty pleasures’, we have sort of ‘obligated pleasures’. I don’t know if this is necessarily so, but it’s certainly so. The idea, held to different degrees, that we should like certain things – Bob Dylan, world music and Mike Leigh films. Some will even say, to varying extents of sincerity, that it’s blashphemy to criticise, homage or satirise these kind of things. Well, to these – I hate Bob Dylan. Deal with it. I find his music grating, nasally and pretty much devoid of anything so apparently base as a good hook. I also don’t like him as a person, from my albeit limited personal knowledge of him. (Yes, I gather he’s a great lyricist, an acute observer of the human condition – but one can get this from literature…without the nagging voice.) This is not to suggest he shouldn’t be regarded as a legend, because he’s obviously moved and provoked millions with his music, just that I shouldn’t feel obliged to like him. The kind of appreciation and almost universal devotion may not seem a real problem. This trait of Dylan fandom (or lack of it) isn’t really a huge issue, at least on the face of it. No one’s going to really have their world’s changed for me not liking him (not least him as it seems he’s doing pretty well for himself). What is concerning, though, is when all this grand importance we imbue in art makes people close-minded, restrictive and censorious. In music, the trait often comes to fruition when a ‘shit’ artist covers a ‘better one’ (with the former often more successful, commercially at least, than the latter), and all the musos admittedly somewhat in jest decry ‘blashphemy’ against something so ‘sancrosanct’. And even call for the death of the ‘offending artist’, as Mark Ronson found, with numerous death threats from sanctimonious and no doubt crying-because-they-stepped-on-a-slug Smiths fans for having the supposed temerity to, god forbid, produce a cover of one of their songs (which were never real threats and, to his credit, he took in good humour, but it doesn’t change the mindset of these morons). Harmless, you may think, but the same trait of oppressive censorship for critique of art has led to the actual deaths of millions, even in our modern, supposedly advanced world. Salman Rushdie was subject to a fatwa calling for his death merely for writing a novel (and a rather good one according to the Booker Prize), and riots all over the Islamic world caused around 100 deaths on the basis of a fucking cartoon. (Of course, there are similar cases across many belief systems – including a similarly-themed case last week of New York rabbis branding “evil” plans to make them get parental consent for sucking a baby’s bleeding cock – and there are arguably relevant, complex geo-political issues at play, but the most egregious examples do seem to surround Islam). Just last week, a Christian girl of just 14 with Down’s Syndrome has made UK news for being arrested for burning a Koran. Would people get so up in arms if the book had been Harry Potter? I daresay they wouldn’t. Superficially, a ridiculous analogy, yes – but hear me out if you will. All holy books definitively are is art – literature which moves people to great things, awful things; criticism, indifference. But ultimately just art, as evidenced by the fact millions, if not billions, do not consider the truths contained within literal (and increasingly so). Some people choose to think it’s divinely inspired (and it may be), but that’s their interpretation, not brute fact like 2+2=4. In principle, one could just as easily consider the described world and characters in the Harry Potter books to be true, and then take offence and call for restriction of (unharming) freedoms when others ‘disrespect’ their sincerely held view. So, people have no logical reason not to criticise the Bible, Torah or Quran – unless you somehow think, you shouldn’t also critique Harry Potter for the same reason. (There can be a lot of fear of criticising religion for fear of being branded ‘racist’, but this is illogical. To discriminate on the basis of what colour skin one has is nonsensical because they have no choice in the matter and it doesn’t necessarily make them anything, but criticising actions or beliefs is fine as these are chosen so should be stood by.) But wouldn’t it be preferable to engage in the debate? Consider if the actions or words really are so ‘immoral’ or ‘untrue’. And then if it is, spread that message; and if it’s not, have the humility to admit faults and change actions or taste accordingly. Not indulge in this culture of identifying onself vicariously through people in the media, most evident in a load of humourless whingers complaining about new BBC sitcom, Citizen Khan, the Muslim (or ‘Muslim’) protagonists of which have the nerve to (shock horror!) not to read the Quran and to laugh at themselves. To not be offended is not a democratic right, far from it. It’s only a right, in this respect,  not to be physically harmed. The trait is even more nonsensical when applied to real people, such as in the uproar at Rihanna (seemingly) choosing to take Chris Brown back after his domestic abuse. For one, the moral issues are debatable; she wasn’t exactly the person who did the Bad Thing in the first place, and for all we know they could find each other genuinely repentant and forgiving (respectively). If that ‘s the case what’s wrong with that?! But that’s not the point. The point is that it’s a personal, moral (i.e. not legal) choice. She has no fucking duty to do what you want her to do, because she’s a musician, not a member of the clergy, nor a social worker. She makes music – if people like it, they support her and she continues; if they don’t, they don’t and she doesn’t. Simple. Besides, Rock ‘n’ Roll history is filled with many who have actually perpetrated crimes and/or ‘immorality’ and been venerated despite, or probably because, of it. And, I don’t know if you’ve watched any of her videos, but Rihanna hardly markets herself as a paragon of (traditionally held) virtue, to be held up as a moral examplar. We can only be ourselves so let’s just live our own lives, and let others get one with theirs if it doesn’t do us any actual harm, by just changing the channel instead of imposing our own cultural tastes on others to the point of character assassination of strangers, death threats or calls to essentially shut up. Surely, they’re things to feel more guilty about than listening to the odd Katy Perry song?! Joel Durston

The Weird and Wonderful World of Olympic Basketball

In Culture, Sport on August 10, 2012 at 5:07 PM

I, like much of the rest of the UK it seems, have always viewed basketball with a kind of outsider’s indifference to the huge stir it causes on the other side of the pond. So it was curiosity that I hopped onto the Jubilee Line to the O…sorry, North Greenwich Arena for the Women’s Semi-Final of the Olympics between France and Russia.

The first thing to say is that the arena is a spectacular host to such glitzy showcases. The 20,000-capacity arena also plays host to the ATP World Tour Finals, which takes tennis well away from the prim and proper world of Wimbledon whites to a showy American-style spectacle, with lights and monitors littering the stands and the area high above the stage, and the stands rising from the ground precipitously, offering great views and acoustics.

So walking into the stadium to the sounds of Kanye West’s Power, accompanied by a light-show on the floor to which all the players were introduced felt, if you’ll excuse the overused term, epic. The players were all introduced in that stereotypically American-sports-announcer manner as they warmed up with their court sprints and lay-ups. Meanwhile some black Ant and Dec-like figures were trying to whip the 75%-full stadium into a kind of friendly frenzy, designating the four sections of the crowd the ‘Rihanna Stand’, the ‘Oasis Stand’, the ‘Van Morrison Stand’ (us), and the ‘Bob Marley Stand’. For better or for worse, it’s hard to imagine that at Wigan v Bolton.

Then, almost as a surprise due to all the hoop-la, the countdown was sounding for the start of the game and the jump-off. I think France got the first points on the board, but in truth I couldn’t tell you in any kind of certainty. This is partly because of the ridiculous high currency of scoring in basketball, making the only real reaction to any baskets oh, that’s cool , good shot, rather than the hyperbolic reaction that meets, say, goals in football. It’s often said that the reason Americans have high-scoring sports, staged with such razzmatazz, is a cultural thing: that something in the (typically) more polarised, here-and-now, just generally ‘big’ culture precludes the appreciation of a gritty 1-0 win away at Stoke. And, watching this very un-British staging of sport, there’s certainly something in that. For the other reason it’s hard to keep track of the score is the whole atmosphere. It was almost as if the players were peripheral figures to whole thing; hired stooges, paid to entertain at some bizarre, faux urban disco/Butlins hybrid.

The dads’ dance-off

The break after the first period contained a dads’ dance off, for Pete’s sake (a tie breaker for their two families drawing in the family shootout they had…somehow it seems it was always destined for the dance-off).  The only thing that would make the whole thing any more ‘audience interactive’ would be if a searchlight randomly stopped on a crowd member every time there was a free throw (the equivalent of a penalty), and for that lucky lad/lass to COOOOMMMMEEE ON DOOOOOWN! and try their luck. That’s not to condemn the whole shebang – just to point out that dancing dads and kiss cams are probably not quite what the ancient Greeks had in mind when they created the Ancient Olympic Games as a noble and pure pursuit of perfection for mind and body. I, for one, had to consciously remind myself a few times I was watching the best female exponents of a sport in the world, not a circus troupe.

Not a spare second is wasted, unfilled by some hollering from a master of ceremonies, dancers, light trick or burst of music, the latter often reduced to sounding like an aggressive nugget of sound that would greet someone opening a computer. In the sphere of sports, basketball is truly the ADHD kid, let loose on all the toys (to football’s working-class kid done well who now votes Tory, somewhat guiltily). Every stoppage, even the second-long gaps between someone scoring and the defenders collecting the ball, is filled by a blast of music, typically hip-hop or dance. I was sat there, envisaging some hyperactive MDMA-riddled bloke up in the control room, uncontrollable in his excitement at all the gadgetry around, waging his personal vendettas on unadulterated emotion, silence and gravitas.

Britain’s Got Talent semi-finalists, Peridot, entertained the crowds at half-time, and in between the third and fourth quarters there was some guys and gals doing some breakdancing/somersaulting act with skipping ropes (very impressive, it must be said), and some dressed as Games Makers even broke into a little jig when sweeping the court. There was also some points scored in between I think.

All in all, not one for the Daily Mail reader who enjoys his cricket, but (or therefore) pretty good fun. (Oh, and I believe France won. But then I’m still not entirely sure I didn’t pay for the privilege of walking into some super high-tech, virtual reality vision of sport in the future, like a kind of sports version of Woody Allen’s Orgasmatron.)

Joel Durston

100m Men’s Final

In Sport on August 5, 2012 at 5:04 PM

The eyes of the world will be on the Olympic Stadium tonight for the men’s 100m Final. What makes it so enthralling is not just the raw speed (it should comprise the five men who have posted the fastest ever 100m times), but the enthralling cast of (probable) characters – the reigning champ (Bolt); the protégé (Blake); the (relative) elder statesmen (Powell and Gay); the redemptive figure (former drugs cheat, Gatlin); and the white guy (Frenchman, Lemaitre).

Usain Bolt, for those that have been living on Mars for the last half-decade, set the games alight in Beijing by absolutely obliterating both the field and the world record (from his own 9.72 to 9.69) …and still with time to celebrate after 80m. (And then won golds in world record times in the 200m and 4x100m Relay just for good measure). He then went on to defend his status with a series of impressive wins in Diamond League events breaking his own world record in Berlin, running a blistering 9.58. However, disaster struck at the World Championships in Daegu where he false started – and by quite some time – his training partner Yohan Blake capitalising. After the initial shock, many waved this off as a one-off lapse; a sign that even Bolt is human. However, Bolt’s loss to Blake at the much-feted Jamaican trials confirmed any lingering suspicions. It is true that Bolt was probably not 100% fit, but nonetheless, the loss proves a major scalp to Blake. And with Bolt proclaiming himself 95% fit at the start of these Games, it is also a loss which leaves the door at least slightly ajar for the opposition…

…Chief among them, at least by popular consensus, the aforementioned Blake. While the 22-year-old’s gold-winning time of 9.93 in Daegu was not lightning-quick – by the stratospheric standards of modern sprinting at least – it was a huge statement of intent. And his 9.75 personal best cert set in the trials in Kingston certainly was rather fast – the fifth quickest time in history. Plus, he has time on his side, allied with supreme confidence and an unbelievable workrate, which has earnt him the nickname of the “beast” from Bolt, whom he says he often beats in training. So the scary thing – for competitors at least – is that it seems he can only go quicker. It is certainly telling that, while the rivalry remains good-natured (they quip that the most competitive they get is over dominoes), the pair has increasingly been training separately in the run-up to the Olympics. Not so long ago (in the couple of years after Beijing), it was not inconceivable that Bolt was happy to mentor Blake (and Antiguan Daniel Bailey) just to give himself some reasonable competition. But in doing so, he’s helped in creating a monster, his own Frankenstein. The question is, can he be stopped?

Rather forgotten about in all the fanfare on the Bolt/Blake rivalry, in which Asafa Powell is a peripheral figure, is Tyson Gay. This is largely because he has been plagued with injuries. But it must be remembered this is a three-time gold medallist at World Championships (and more), who has run 9.68 (at the trials for the 2008 Olympics) – the second quickest time in history were it not for wind assistance. After having serious thoughts about retirement, the very fact he is at the Olympics at 29 years of age shows his belief and hunger. If he can shake off injury troubles, don’t be surprised if he sneaks onto the podium.

Asafa Powell will also be in serious contention for a medal. Thought of as the perennial nearly man of sprinting for his unfortunate tendency to run superfast times but not quite perform at his best when it really matters, his speed must not be ignored. He has held previously set the world record on three separate occasions (the last an utterly dominant 9.77 set in a Diamond League event in Gateshead), and qualified in the third and final slot in a very competitive field at the Jamaican trials despite carrying shoulder problems among others (a very brave run considering he was hobbling straight after).

American Justin Gatlin is also in the running, so to speak, for a medal. Spurred on by the desire to redeem himself for the shame of his drugs abuse, which brought him a four-year ban, he set a new personal best of 9.80 at the American trials – the fastest time ever for an someone over 30. And while this may not be enough to challenge the above runners on their proverbial day, such a time will certainly put him in the mix should the field fail to quite light up in the way expected (and certainly hoped).

Another notable mention goes to Christophe Lemaitre – the reserved (but certainly not unconfident) Frenchman who last year became the first white man to go sub-10, with his winning time of 9.92 at the French national championships at Albi. And British hopes of a medal, however vague (this Olympics at least), are best placed with Adam Gemili – an 18-year-old with a personal best of 10.05, and who is also on the books of League Two football side Dagenham & Redbridge (this season gone on loan at Thurrock).

Joel Durston

Why footballers’ Wages Are Fair

In Opinion, Sport on August 1, 2012 at 5:20 PM

*With another journalist arguing their wages are not fair:

Fair:

The perennial question: why are professional footballers paid so much? Because we choose to pay them so much is the simplified, but largely correct, answer (or at least around a third of the whole population according to recent statistics – either way, a fuck load of people).

The common complaint runs that it’s unjust that people earn six-figure weekly sums for kicking a glorified pig’s bladder around when nurses, teachers and soldiers (substitute other noble worker) struggle by on wages supposedly incommensurate with the importance and difficulty of their respective jobs. And some of the more pompous complainers will draw admittedly egregious analogies to third world poverty. The arguments are well-meaning and certainly appealing, superficially at least, but they just don’t hold up to rigorous scrutiny.

The facts are all professional footballers have worked extremely hard since a very young age to perfect their trade and reach the top of probably the most competitive field in the world. At the highest level (ultimately) small differences in ability spell the difference between great success and failure; millions and thousands – all based on the consumer’s insatiable appetite for the service and associated willingness to pay for it in various forms. As such, demand from employers is great and supply of necessary quality relatively low, increasingly so higher up. So wages are greatly pushed up due to competition. The money is also a great, aspirational carrot, if you will, for everyone to work hard for. Granted, one could call for greater governmental regulation (wage capping etc), but this would probably just lead to the best workers and organisations fleeing abroad to similarly competitive markets (see the recent exodus of rich French people following Francois Hollande’s introduction of the 75% tax rate).This would deprive the UK economy of the world’s best talent in a very prosperous market and millions in tax revenue. Nearly all elite employees (i.e. those who don’t avoid or evade tax) will see almost half of their earnings go straight to the tax man, and in effect pay all those aforementioned supposedly embittered teachers, nurses and soldiers – often at the expense of super-rich foreign oil magnates owning organisations. And on top of this, many – quietly – give very generously to charity (a player giving £10,000 is less newsworthy than a kiss-and-tell), and even stop civil wars! (Though being a good role model is not technically important to wages – employees are judged on performance, not ethics.)

It may sound ridiculous to take footballers’ employment status out of context, but why not? Millions choose the best job offers, and do jobs they know aren’t of great benefit to the world yet feel they should be paid reasonably for their hard work, including myself (this is not my job). Why should footballers not be similarly remunerated? Because they have the gall to enjoy what they do and don’t – ostensibly, at least – save or educate the world?! In relation to the real money men in football, the players don’t even do that well financially, and much of the money really rich footballers earn is from outside ventures.  For instance, in British football, Michael Owen is the second wealthiest player with an estimated value of £40m, yet only comes in at 66th in the whole British football money list. At least footballers aren’t, as the same type of complainers so often decry of bankers, screwing the world up. I, for one, would certainly much rather see the money generated from football go into the hands of its primary players, so to speak, than its hangers-on. Granted, this may all be at the expense of the traditional fan being priced out of watching his team live week in week out, but by the same token he or she will have a far, far greater opportunity to follow football in one form or another cheaply…swings and roundabouts.

A typical counter-argument runs that all this cold logic is not the point; morally, players don’t deserve what they get. This may be so, but surely the logical extension of this position is an often hypocritical, arguably rather self-righteous belief that billions are also at least somewhat wrong in liking football – for essentially paying footballers. This is bollocks; people can like what they want, especially if it doesn’t affect anyone else. Football muggles must at least recognise this, and that their opinion is little if any better than the next person’s. For the great irony in all the sanctimonious lefties – as it typically is – denouncing free-market capitalism as an elitist system is that – in many cases, including this – the people actually do have the power. People can love football for what it is or talk with their wallet and don’t watch it, leaving it to wither and die. I, for one, am more than happy to buy a few pints to fund great athletes, camaraderie and drama.

Joel Durston