Taylor Dinerman, a long time member of the Samizdata Commentariat, who also on occasion writes for some minor paper called the Wall Street Journal, has just published a book of humor shorts written during his New York Subway travels. I suspect more than one of our regular readers will enjoy it… and besides which, he needs the money to pay for the subway tickets and bar tabs.
This one, for Gordon’s gin.
The link may not work for everyone, so let me summarise the story. The scene is a garden party. A willowy wine connoisseur is holding forth with wine-connoisseur talk to a small group of guests. There is no evidence that his spiel is unwelcome to his hearers; one of them can be heard responding in kind. Then the camera moves to where a woman is talking to a man a few feet away. Both are drinking Gordon’s. The man, played by Philip Glenister who played Gene Hunt in Life on Mars, is more manly and less posh than the wine connoisseur. The woman overhears the wine man and praises Gordon’s gin to her companion in terms that are presumably meant to echo the connoisseur’s while being less pretentious, i.e. such as to actually make the audience want to drink Gordon’s gin. Meanwhile gin-drinking man has also been eavesdropping on wine-drinking man and starts to get visibly enraged. DCI Hunt usually had the excuse that a crime had been committed but this character simply doesn’t like anyone talking lah-di-dah in his hearing. Unprovoked, he loudly insults the wine connoisseur and finishes up with a disingenuous pretence that he does not know why everyone is looking at him.
The message is meant to be that drinking Gordon’s shows you to be plain-spoken and heterosexual. The message it sent me was that drinking Gordon’s makes you an obnoxious jerk.
The above was only the second most annoying advert of all time. There was a commercial many years ago, also for booze, that would have caused me to boycott whatever it was for forever if I could ever remember whatever it was. It might have been lager, bitter, or a mixture of water, urea, uric acid, creatinine and various organic and inorganic compounds. The advertisement was set in a gym. A young woman sprains her leg. A young man steps forward authoritatively, saying “let me look at that”, examines her leg and squeezes it here and there in a professional manner. She thanks him and says how fortunate it was that he was a doctor. “I’m not a doctor,” he replies with a leer and all his mates laugh at how he had managed to get himself a grope of someone in pain. Drink our Alcohol Product and you too will be emboldened to try this!
As I said, no moral. I just want whoever scripted these adverts (the “Bartle Bogle Hegarty Creative Team” for the gin one, apparently), and even more whoever paid for them, to read this one day and suffer torments. Well, maybe not actual torments. Not even one little torment, like an infestation of microscopic nanoyeast monsters making their ears smell of hangover. But definitely significant embarrassment.
Plebs is a sitcom set in ancient Rome. They showed the sixth and last of (the first?) six episodes of it last night on ITV2 TV, and they’ll be showing this again tonight.
I’ve been recording Plebs. In the opening scene of this latest episode, the three leading characters, Marcus (who wants to be more successful while still being nice about it, the voice of concerned normality), Stylax (more of a Jack the Lad type), and Grumio (their slave), are out and about in the town, watching the ancient Roman version of the media, i.e. people orating and/or selling in the market place.
Mad Soothsayer Woman: “The seas will rise up and drown the people living in the lowlands …”
Doughnut Salesman: “Doughnuts!”
Mad Soothsayer Woman: “… and the sun shall beat down and burn all those people living in the hills!”
Doughnut Salesman: “Doughnuts!”
Mad Soothsayer Woman: “And those people living on the lands that are neither high nor low will also die through a combination of burning and drowning! None of you are safe! The end is nigh!!!”
Doughnut Salesman: “Come get your doughnuts!”
Stylax: “So, when’s the world ending?”
Grumio: “I dunno, I were listening to that doughnut guy.”
Marcus: “Nigh, apparently.”
Stylax: “Alright, nigh. Hang on, doesn’t that mean soon?”
Marcus: “To the people that say it, it means soon. To everyone else it means you’re a nutter, talking shit.”
Grumio: “I’m going to get a doughnut just in case.”
Sam Leifer and Tom Basden, the two man team who wrote, produced and directed Plebs, are either climate non-alarmists themselves, or at the very least they reckon that a lot of us now are, and that we’re ready for comedy which takes the piss out of our mad soothsayer tendency.
My original title for this was: “Are the plebs starting to see sense about climate alarmism?”, but I reckon our plebs have been sussing this out for quite a while now. Britain’s telly comedians are following public opinion on this rather than shaping it. Until a couple of years ago or so, they were constantly going on about how stupid climate non-alarmists were. Then they went quiet on the subject. Are they beginning seriously to see sense?
I have been interested in Frank Turner, who is a popular singer, ever since he performed at the London Olympics opening ceremony, and a Labour MP got angry about that:
Turns out his libertarianism and belief in the power of the people to resist oppression aren’t of the leftist sort. They’re of the rightist sort.
Oh dear. Not allowed. Can’t be a popular pop singer and even think things like that, let alone say them.
And just now, things on the Frank Turner front are getting rather interesting. NME have done an intereview with him. The NME website reports:
“David Cameron is a twat,” he says. ” He carries himself with the attitude that he’s Prime Minister because he thinks he should be, which is a deeply unpleasant trait. I wouldn’t vote for that c**t. But I’m amused when people spout that ‘Nick Clegg stabbed me in the back’ stuff, because the Lib Dems have always been a deeply unprincipled mish-mash of unrealistic bullshit. They’re all politicians at the end of the day – so fuck ‘em all.”
If that had been the only Frank Turner quote in this report worth requoting, that would have been today’s SQotD. But there is more. Turner also spoke about that Guardian piece (here‘s the link again):
The troubadour, who is set to release his fifth album ‘Tape Deck Heart’ on April 22, also spoke about his political beliefs, after apparently being “outed” by The Guardian as right wing last year. “That article was a misrepresentation of my politics, which are 100 per cent based in punk rock; freedom, independence, self-reliance and voluntary co-operation between people. Broadly speaking, I’m a classical liberal. What riled people was that I’m an economic liberal as well,” he said. Read the full interview with Frank Turner in this week’s NME.
Today, I intend to be doing exactly that.
“William Shakespeare evaded tax and illegally stockpiled food during times of shortage so he could sell it at high prices, academics have claimed“.
One many significant dividing lines between, on the one hand, enthusiasts for free economies and free societies, and on the other hand those who favour a large role for the state in directing and energising society, concerns where you think art and science come from.
Those looking for an excuse to expand the role of the state tend to assume that art and science come from the thoughts and actions of an educated and powerful elite, and then flow downwards, bestowing their blessings upon the worlds of technology and entertainment, and upon the world generally. Science gives rise to new technology. Art likewise leads the way in new forms of entertainment, communication, and so on.
While channel surfing a while back, I heard Dr Sheldon Cooper, the presiding monster of the hit US sitcom The Big Bang Theory, describe engineering as the “dull younger brother” (or some such dismissive phrase) of physics. The BBT gang were trying to improve their fighting robot, and in the absence of the one true engineer in their group (Howard Wolowitz), Sheldon tries to seize the initiative. “Watch and learn” says Sheldon. Sheldon’s attitude concerning the relationship between science and technology is the dominant one these days, because it explains why the government must pay for science on the scale that it now does. Either governments fund science, or science will stop. Luckily governments do now fund science, so science proceeds, and technology trundles along in its wake. Hence modern industrial civilisation.
If the above model of how science and art work was completely wrong, it would not be so widely believed in. There is some truth to it. Science does often give rise to new technology, especially nowadays. Some artists are indeed pioneers in more than art. But how do science and art arise in the first place?
Howard Wolowitz is the only one of The Big Bang Theory gang of four who does not have a “Dr” at the front of his name. But he is the one who goes into space. He builds space toilets. He was the one who actually built the fighting robot. Dr Sheldon Cooper, though very clever about physics, is wrong about technology, and it was good to see a bunch of comedy sitcom writers acknowledging this. After “Watch and learn”, Sheldon Cooper’s next words, greeted by much studio audience mirth, are “Does anyone know how to open this toolbox?”
→ Continue reading: Some thoughts about where science and art come from (and about why governments don’t need to pay for either of them)
This news item about the anatomy drawings of Leonardo da Vinci looks like a good excuse to go to Edinburgh in August:
In a series of 30 pictures, the Royal Collection Trust will show da Vinci’s distinctive anatomical drawings alongside a newly-taken MRI or CT scan. The comparison is intended to show just how accurate da Vinci was, despite his limited technology and lack of contemporary medical knowledge.
The Edinburgh Festival is mainly about the arts, rather than sciences, although in a way this exhibition transcends both. I hear mixed things about the Festival: it is, apparently, great fun but it can be a pain getting accomodation. My wife has never been to Scotland – an omission that needs to be sorted out soon.
And of course the da Vinci exhibition in this beautiful Scottish city is a reminder of the grand tradition of medicine in that part of the world.
I like two recent postings by Mick Hartley, both in connection with art exhibitions in London, Lichtenstein at the Tate, and Duchamp (and others) at the Barbican.
Of Lichstenstein, Hartley says, among much else that is worth reading in full:
So yes, it’s easy to see him as glib, compared to the great names of New York Abstract Expressionism, like, say Mark Rothko, whose brown and purple splodges of colour were seemingly dragged agonisingly from deep within his soul; who couldn’t bear for his Seagram works to be displayed in a restaurant; who finally killed himself in his studio. Compared to Rothko, yes, Lichtenstein does seem a bit of a light-weight.
Also, there’s the fact that Lichtenstein’s easy to get. Just about anyone can see what it’s about. And critics hate that. What they want is to be given the opportunity to demonstrate why they’re art critics and you’re just some dumb schmuck who doesn’t know much about art but knows what he likes. If they started lecturing us about how Lichtenstein is commenting on mass reproduction and popular culture, we’d say, well of course he is.
That’s one mark against the man. Another may be that, despite all the attempts to portray his art as somehow critical of the popular culture of the times, and by extension of the rampant greedy capitalism of post-war America etc. etc. together with the sexual stereotypes of those ditsy romantic blondes and macho soldiers from the comic books, it’s fairly clear that Lichtenstein, far from mounting a biting critique of US imperialism, was in fact celebrating rather than condemning the sheer vibrancy and energy of the visual world he lived in – of New York in the Sixties. Of course he maintained an ironic distance, but he was no revolutionary, no radical subversive – except in the sense that he saw popular culture as a suitable subject for high art.
The Lichtenstein exhibition is a popular hit, but, Hartley reports, the Duchamp etc. show is provoking no such mass enthusiasm.
In 1917, Duchamp grabbed a urinal, signed it, and stuck it in an exhibition, to the delight of art critics ever since. Says Hartley, at the end of his Duchamp posting:
The logical conclusion to this line of thinking would be that if anything can be art if its maker wishes it to be art, then anything or everything can be art – and we don’t need artists any more. Curiously this is an argument that artists themselves seem reluctant to make.
So yes, the urinal was funny; yes, it was subversive; yes, it was probably the kind of kick-up-the-arse that the art establishment needed at the time. But can’t we move on? It’s not as if the art establishment now isn’t in need of a kick up the arse. But it’s not going to come from repeating the same old tricks of 100 years ago. The urinal lovers now are the art establishment.
For fans of Juche (and who reading this blog wouldn’t be a fan of Juche), Michael Malice, a libertarian who is a professional ghostwriter, has a new kickstarter project: “Kim Jong Il: The Unauthorized Autobiography”, as taken almost entirely from North Korean propaganda pamphlets.
“Kim Jong Il: The Unauthorized Autobiography” Kickstarter Page
It is always interesting that when newspapers cover Chinese news, mentions of history’s most prolific mass murderer just get reported baldly without much comment:
Players won points for acts of selfless Communist spirit and the winners were greeted, on screen, by Chairman Mao in Tiananmen Square. Points were deducted, however, each time a player had to be taken aside by his local Party secretary for a “corrective chat”.
- China embraces online gamers
Yet somehow if a German videogame maker (let alone a government sponsored one) were to feature that also-ran mass murderer Adolf Hitler ‘greeting’ players on screen in a video game, I suspect the reportage might be… a tad different.
Not that I intend to die, but when I do, I don’t want to go to heaven, I want to go to Claridge’s.
- Spencer Tracey, quoted in the TV show Art Deco Icons, shown on BBC4 earlier this evening.
One new expression I have seen in recent months – ahead of and after last November’s US elections – is “low information voters”. It got my interest because it seems to be used, in the main, by right-of-centre commentators regarding what they assume are people who vote not by carefully weighing the policies and presumed philosophies of candidates such as Mitt Romney and Barack Obama, but on trivia, such as whether a candidate looks or sounds “nice” or “nasty” or suchlike. Such voters, the argument goes, hardly watch any current affairs TV or read the serious parts of the media; they prefer game shows, talent shows, chat shows, and other dreck. And the assumption is that voters have chosen Barack Obama for largely trivial reasons. (This sort of way of explaining the issue is, needless to say, fraught with the risk that the person who makes it can end up sounding like a racist.)
One way of interpreting this is to suggest that such voters are more rational than the wielders of the term “low information voters” give them credit for. The voters may have figured out that policy will not change much regardless of whom they vote for, and so rather than spending their non-work hours fretting about fiscal cliffs, impending societal collapse and the affordability of the Welfare State, they watch junk, worry about trivia and don’t bother much with things such as defence policy or debt-to-GDP ratios.
The problem, though, is that even the “junk” can be saturated with statist undertones. Take the “celebrity culture” – all too often, a celeb who is held up as a figure of pity or ridicule might play the “victim” card and the narratives that infuse their lives often convey a sense of life in which people are not really responsible adults, or for that matter, youngsters who want to become adults. And so the daily diet of stuff conveyed to “low information voters” adds to the sort of culture in which support for Welfare States takes hold. (This is the sense in which obesity can be seen as a sort of Welfare State consequence, not an argument you tend to hear from the nanny-Left.)
One way to combat this is to stamp your feet and complain. That seems to have limited success. Another is to try and figure out how the sort of culture that might appeal to “low information voters” can be changed in ways that encourages a rather better set of outcomes. Take the huge popularity in the ‘States of people such as Oprah Winfrey. Say what you like about her shows, but anyone wanting to connect with the public should study her success. And that surely ought to include libertarians. Hence the importance, also, of making great movies and TV shows that are fun, diverting and also positive. Yes, we can bleat about the influence of “liberal Hollywood” and its non-US equivalents, but in this day and age, with a more fractured media and entertainment world, does it really make sense to despair?
Which is why, by the way, I think America suffered a grievous loss when Andrew Breitbart died last year. Because he understood this sort of issue instinctively. But America is a Protean place – and there plenty more like him, I am sure.
So on that positive note, a belated Happy New Year.