Wednesday, 22 August 2012

A decade of reckoning

There is nothing concealed that will not be disclosed, or hidden that will not be made known

Prince Harry has been photographed in the naughty naked nude. I suppose I shouldn't be shocked. I mean, I shouldn't be shocked that some weasly, slimebag of a hanger-on has ratted him out for a few dollars or a momentary feeling of empowerment.

All we do these days can be laid bare in an instant. (If you will forgive the pun). The decade of reckoning began with the MPs and their expenses. Then it was the turn of the press. What was hitherto done in secret is now vulnerable to the white heat of technology. More often than not, some petty, or not so petty, thief is captured on one of the 1.85 million CCTV cameras in the UK. The first thing the cops do in certain types of investigation is to look at computer history and mobile phone records. In my lifetime it took a man at the Post Office who had to run up and down banks of switching terminals, merely in order to trace a call in real time. If the perp hung up, it could not be traced. When Watergate broke, it was down to a lot of very non-technical detective work by Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein. There was no electronic trail, it was a paper-trail. Maybe the famous tapes were an early indication of just how important electronic media was going to be in exposing misdeeds.

There is a race, from both sides of the spectrum: governments are implementing more measures to enable them to access private data and at the same time, hackers and whistle-blowers are running rings around them by publishing the very types of data that your government wants to hide.

Neither will win. What has been entered on the keyboard may as well have been carved in stone on Mount Rushmore.

The question is, how to live with it, for surely you cannot hold back the tide? My guess is that we are experiencing a revolution that affects us in much the same way that the industrial revolution affected people in the 18th century. It is massive change at a rate which is impossible to assimilate in real time.

Presently, we are not dealing with this very well. The police are running around the place arresting 17 year-olds who get a bit mouthy on Twitter. For some reason, people are shocked that Prince Harry is a bit of a lad. The Americans want Julian Assange's head on a plate because he has published stuff that makes them uncomfortable. Celebrities are using their money to get super-injunctions, just so that we will continue to believe in their god-like purity. It is not as if any of the revelations, insults or secrets should be shocking or surprising. Real people in real life can be shits. If you lock up everyone who is a shit the streets will be very quiet indeed.

The technology will not go away, the genii is out of the bottle. Somehow, we need to learn how to deal with the information overkill and the rather glib reaction to it. Society has to become, either more tolerant, or more self-censoring.  I think we should embrace the monastic tradition and declare little to the outside world but a benificent smile and a desire to serve without earthly reward. 

Sunday, 19 August 2012

An Act of Vandalism

Two acts of vandalism this week:

Jesus entered the temple area and drove out all who were buying and selling there. He overturned the tables of the money changers and the benches of those selling doves. “It is written,” he said to them, 'My house will be called a house of prayer', but you are making it a den of robbers".

A sheer act of vandalism and disrespect for the Church and its authority. This man upset hard-working people who were going about their lawful business, just some beardy sandal-wearing liberal who dared to challenge the status quo. It is disrespectful to worshippers an must surely have upset some priests. Who did he think he was, for Christ's sake? (You know where this is going don't you?)


The other "act of vandalism" relates to a rather enjoyable story about Charles Saatchi. Apparently he cannot give away his £30 million "art" collection, donated by him to the nation. The collection, which includes such masterpieces as Tracy Emin's un-made bed languishes in limbo because no gallery wants to exhibit it. Even the Tate, who started the ball rolling over 30 years ago with a pile of bricks does not want it. I would be interested if anybody is prepared to defend this collection of rubbish. These works, when you strip away the hype, are mostly a cheap juxtapositional trick; e.g., put any old crap in a gallery and hey presto, it's ART! No it is not. Art is a struggle between the artist and their medium. It is a struggle to convey a certain feeling, set up by highly complex interaction of painted or moulded shapes. The worst thing an artist can do is to fake his own work and believe me, it is possible! At the bottom of anything that resembles real art is honesty and integrity. It does not matter if you like it, but as long as it sets up an interaction with the viewer that is more than just a shrug of the shoulders, then it can be said to be art. Work that is made, merely to elicit a shock or some other cheap response is not art. It is a turd on the pavement that will give you a similar feeling if you tread on it.

I like, Gilbert & George, Rothko and Pollock; hardly chocolate box stuff. (Stand in a room full of Rothkos and the energy coming from what is essentially some large blocks of colour is astonishing.) I admire the Impressionists for their ability to create feeling and visual pleasure by the use of carefully placed brush strokes that are more than the sum of their parts. To me, our greatest living artist is David Hockney. His ability to sum up the spirit of the age is genius. Anybody who has observed the work of Anthony Gormley must surely see how he has cornered the market in presenting sculpture in an elemental environment. It is the quintessence of the struggle between man and nature.

The last few decades of Brit Art have been acts of vandalism. Let us hope that we can close the book on this sorry saga.

(Sorry if this has veered off into pseuds corner with the Art bit, but the language of art narrative tends to need it if you are going to go further than "it's nice".)

Sunday, 12 August 2012

The UK Feelgood Factor

I was wondering what to write about this week. It seems that the country is waiting. Not for me, I mean,  but generally. London is waiting to get back to normal, whatever that is, and the papers are waiting for Clegg and Cameron while they go on holiday. I am waiting to go on holiday myself, hoping to have sorted out various minor ailments before departure. Parents are waiting for the kids to go back to school. I had an idea to talk about David Cameron but frankly, there is little to say. It is not as if he has said or done anything that is of any importance. Not one of his speeches has resonated beyond the room in which he gave them. He cannot say "the toff's not for turning", because he patently is. He could, in the context of the legacy of the Private Finance Initiative say, "Never in the field of public finance has was so much owed by so many to so few". But I doubt whether he would, given that PFI was a Tory invention, cleverly adapted by Labour to bankrupt the Health Service.

But a quote caught my eye, from none other than Alistair Campbell:

I think these Olympics could be one of the most significant events of our lifetime. They are changing the way British people think about themselves and about their country. We have shown we can do big things well. We have shown we can succeed at anything we set our minds to. We have changed the way many overseas think about us.

Now, I am not a fan of the man, but he has a good point, pregnant with prescience. I have barely seen or heard five complete minutes of this sporting occasion, but I am obviously aware of its impact on London and the rest of the UK. Interestingly, there were no big-hitting security alerts, no terrorist attacks and no strikes. People appear to be waxing lyrical about it and nay-sayers like me are likely to be lynched if we criticise it.

When Campbell risks a smack on the cheek from futurity, with his hostage-to-fortune assertion about the games being "one of the most significant events of our lifetime" it makes you wonder. Public outpourings of emotion, whether they be in Nuremberg or Wembley do resonate down the decades. Live Aid changed the way we think about raising money for charities and became a model for dozens of clones. It could be argued that Cameron's commitment to increasing overseas aid is a reflection of the political and social ethos that was prompted by, not only Live Aid, but by Live 8 and "Make Poverty History". I am not recommending it, just observing it.

As for Alistair Campbell, could he be right? Will Britain ride high on the momentum of public cheerfulness and will it lead to a better self-image and, more importantly, a better image abroad?

Sunday, 5 August 2012

Good Fascism, Bad Fascism

Can anybody explain to me the difference between the scenes depicted in Leni Riefenstahl's 1934 film Triumph of the Will and the opening ceremony of the Olypnics?

Albert Speer's son, Albert Speer, also an architect, believes that architects are not social engineers. He is misleading of course when it comes to the minutiae of designing buildings; the concept of "defensible space" is just one example. But in terms of overall vision and intent, architects are generally just executives who carry out the will of their sponsor.

A while ago, Bryan Ferry got into trouble:
 In an interview with a German magazine, he described Albert Speer's buildings and Leni Riefenstahl's movies as 'beautiful'. The tabloids savaged him and he apologised, explaining that his comments had been taken out of context and that they did not mean that he approved of the Nazi regime. (Telegraph).
There seems to me to be a bit of doublethink going on. You can debate the beauty or otherwise of Speer père's work, but you can hardly call bricks and mortar Fascist. In this respect, context is everything.

That is not what people believe. They generally believe that if you get offered an apple by Hitler, it is a bad apple, but if you get offered an apple by Mother Theresa, it is a wonderful apple.

If I described the opening ceremony of the not to be mentioned event, as a "Cathedral of Light", a triumph of will, a celebration of physical perfection and dominance, can you really, with hand on heart, tell me you know if I am talking about Nuremberg in 1934 or London in 2012?

A bit of a stink

The Twitter situation continues to make headlines (see below). As if the police did not get the message from the judiciary about the slender chances of convicting noxious use of the platform, another Twit was arrested, a 17 year-old, for making unpleasant comments, this week. It gets worse; a granny in some cafe was allegedly accused by the waitress of being stinky. The granny was so upset that she dialled 999 and the plod duly came out to the restaurant to remonstrate with the waitress and the management.

I wonder how the police have the time to do this. Shouldn't they be looking out for real criminals? Of course, as far as I know, no crime had been committed. The only way you could get nicked these days for this sort of thing is to publish a criminal libel, that is, communicating to a third party a libel about another which alludes to a criminal offence. Of course, if you come from certain minorities and feel in any way slighted, the cops will be all over you with condescending bounty. Had this granny some sense, she would have either put up or shut up. If she demonstrably did not smell she could have sued the cafe for slander. Of course, this option would have cost her money and the chances of winning would have been slim indeed.

This is play-ground stuff. He hit me, Miss. She pulled my hair, Miss. I am unsure why some people have lost the ability to stand up for themselves and must, at considerable waste of time and resources, use 999 as a first resort, but I have a theory.

People lack meaning in their lives. There is no focus. Most have a second-hand set of experiences gained by watching television. Deep down they know this is not real, but it makes them delude themselves for a moment that, having watched a program about Norway, they know about Norway.

Norway and Women who stink? It's all part of the simulacra; copies of copies of life which suppress the ability to think. What you end up with is shock and surprise. People are now so far removed from reality that almost anything can bring on an attack of the vapours. People buy chicken in Tescos, but it it does not convey the reality of animals whose existence consists of being injected with antibiotics, caged in squalor, so that their short, uncomfortable life can end in a shrink-wrap package with a picture of a jolly farmer on them.

People object to fox-hunting but that merely shows how arbitrary they are about animal suffering. If they really cared that much the meat industry would have collapsed long ago. It did not, because the comfort zone of dissonance is sufficient to protect them from anything that smells bad.

When the veil is lifted, for a moment, perhaps in a cafe or a public encounter, is there any wonder that the reaction is utter shock?