Being Beta

Exercises in the higher banter with One of 26. Elsewhere called 'poet of adland'. By a whipple-squeezer. Find out why being beta is the new alpha: betarish at googlemail dot com

Monday, July 31, 2006

One hundred n.o.

And to celebrate, let us first salute the genius of Media Monkey embracing web 2.0 - hola MyMonkey!

And secondly, this month's 26 newsletter recommendations are here; and below.


'The Golden Gate'
by Vikram Seth (Faber & Faber, RRP £5.99 or £4.79 on Amazon)

A word to the quick in this faltering stanza;
In the space of the lines left here
Let me attempt to convince you of a bonanza
To be found in sheaves not so dear.
A novel in verse, startling and bold
First written in 1986, and yet not old
A meditation on what makes life pleasurable and true
At first appearance flighty, and yet you do
Soon discern the depths within
Characters well drawn, rounded
Musing on art, love and sin
In tetrameter well-crafted, not hounded
Into life by Vikram Seth, 'The Golden Gate' is to be praised
Buy it, and enjoyment will be raised.

'Words Fail Me' by Teresa Monachino (Phaidon, RRP £7.95 or £6.36 on Amazon)

This is a delightful look at some of the exasperating quirks of English. Monachino has collected some of those oddities that can baffle a non-native grappling with the language: why is abbreviation such a long word? Why does monosyllabic have so many syllables? There are things that will make you chuckle out loud, and the book is set beautifully, a delight to look at.

Sunday, July 30, 2006

On the missing narratives, when we say goodbye

Prompted by the UK departures, at least, of Top of The Pops and The West Wing. Neither farewell was particularly sudden, nor tear-jerking, perhaps except around the margins (and the resurections of the DJ dinosaurs of Smashie and Nicey Fab FM provoked tears of a wholly different kind).

We mourn the what might have been for those characters that we have come to love, and we feel jealous and excluded at the unwritten future to come for them (and perhaps angry at the scriptwriters for not doing more). Hence why actually the most exciting moment of the WW departure was the prologue to season 7 opener 'The Ticket', when we jumped forward a few years to the opening of the Bartlett presidential library, and saw CJ and Danny together, plus Toby at Columbia, Josh still about (which meant, no, he couldn't have won?) and so on.

The 'What's next?' that Santos said as he settled behind the desk in the Oval Office suggested that there would have been more than enough steam for the WW to take on the new presidency. But times have changed, and in a sense the show didn't; it never did fully adapt to the Christian conservatism version of Republicanism currently in the White House.

But we also mourn for when TV programmes that we have long-watched don't fully and faithfully reflect back to us the narrative of our lives that we have constructed with it.

The surprise with the long-predicted demise of ToTP was precisely that it had held on for so long. As far back as the 25th anniversary, it was thought that the dance music revolution had put paid to groups and bands and artists. Of course it wasn't the case, but something had broken down, and did so definitively when it was decided that music on TV wasn't a ratings winner in its own right, but instead that the audience could be thrown away in a a 'dead slot' against Coronation Street. Making people choose which aspect of pop culture they want to immerse themselves in is never the best of ideas.

What struck while watching this evening's hastily thrown together recording (and not one artist live - the inert opposite of what a good wake should be... actually what that should read is that not one artist had the good manners to say thank you and goodbye in person [Primal Scream being the hypocritical exceptions the previous week]) was how, in its deaththroes, ToTP had been reclaimed as the outpost of light entertainment that it always actually was.

Those of us steeped in music had always thought it was about something deeper or at least more important (because, y'know, this stuff matters). But as it turned out, we had been wrong: the show was actually about tinsel and glitter and balloons and wigs and embarrassed shuffling and end of the pier jolliness, and the music was a sideshow - at times centre stage - but never really all that important. Evidence? That every decade was afforded a round-up of music and artists, and the narrative of alternative, independent music (of whatever hue or genre) barely made it, until the later years, when of course, the counter-culture no longer existed. Let's put it this way: 'The Birdie Song' made it into the round up; Sham 69 didn't.

More fool me? Well, yes of course. But British pop consumers always knew that ToTP was the yardstick - if your band got on there, it was an illicit thrill, a frisson that somewhere else on the isle were people who liked what you did. Now of course with interweb thingy, you can find those people in a snap. But back then, Ride appearing meant that, gosh, at least 70,000-odd other people liked them too. An unrealised community, linked by lights, and wires.

And the demise of the show doesn't quite ring true. As we were reminded the show and its format has been sold to well over 100 other countries. How come in those far off places music on prime time TV is not in declining health? And if public service broadcasting cannot encompass popular music on terrestrial TV, then maybe the age of PSB is well and truly over.

Anyway, what is next? Well, the teaser promos that More4 ran for Aaron Sorkin's new project, Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip, and the promised appearances of gilded members of his semi-regular repertory company, suggest a new Network or an old Larry Sanders. And while music on prime time is no more, music on TV at every other time is more and more and more. It just won't be a part of everyone's larger narratives as it once was.

Music and grand stories, the bonds that help to hold us all together, lost a little strength this weekend. And so popular culture becomes narrower, and we lose a little more of ourselves and become more atomised.

Monday, July 24, 2006

Commercial: Of three brands, two tickets and one exasperated punter

The mission: to book two tickets to see ‘Frost/Nixon’ at the Donmar Warehouse, in the next few months. And to try and do it in 15 minutes, before ‘The Daily Show’ on More 4 starts.

The early stages: find the Donmar Warehouse site OK, and manage to check out ticket prices – think I’ll splash out on the stalls.

So, to try and book online: I can’t book from the page about the play, so I need to find the tickets link in the navigation below. On the far side of the screen is a link for the Ambassador Theatre Group website. Well, there’s nowhere else to go, so I guess it’s here…

A new screen, which doesn’t look like the ones I’ve been in before. But I can see the name of the play, so that’s OK. Go in, and select the date I want. It’s saying there are limited tickets. Well, I’ll still have a look. I have to click an additional link to do so; why can’t I do so automatically. Oh well, let’s see.

Well, there are two types of tickets: I want two… but now I’m told that it’s sold out for this night. Why didn’t it tell me this earlier?

Repeat times three, and finally I find a date where I can get some tickets. OK, I’ll seize those, and enter my Maestro card details…

Arrrgh! The screen now tells me: “There’s been an error with your payment (card has not been authorized). Please call our helpdesk on 020 xxx yyy. Your booking reference is….”

Hmmm, so what next? Can’t dial a number that has x’s and y’s in it. OK, I’ll give the box office a phone, they should know what’s going on. They do: they can see me on the system, the tickets are reserved are in my name. “There’s a problem sir: we can’t process your payment. Ticketmaster won’t let us into the system. Why don’t you call them? Here’s their number and a booking reference.”

Riiiiight. Where did Ticketmaster come into it? Never mind, let me pick up the phone… OK, that’s a really complex IVR system. And no, they don’t have a button for this particular case. So I’ll wait; and wait; OK, here we go…. “Well, we don’t know why they’ve put you through to us, but let’s see if you’re on our system…. No you’re not. Oh, you booked in the last 20 minutes? Well, why don’t you try calling back tomorrow, and we’ll see if the payment’s been processed then.”

Next day: OK, give Ticketmaster another call. Get confused by their phone system again. Get through to someone quite quickly. I explain the problem again. A long pause. “Well, let’s see, but I don’t know why they put you to us…. OK, we’ve searched on your card, and your name, and the date of the play, and we still can’t see you. And as we haven’t taken your money, and as no money’s gone out of your account there’s nothing that we can do. Why don’t you try the Donmar again?”

I do that. This time I’m straight though to box office, and sharp-toned lady who doesn’t want a problem caller like me on a Friday afternoon. “I can see you on the system, but I won’t be able to take your payment without cancelling your reservation and then rebooking you. Hold on….. right there we go, it’s done.”

So: two tickets finally got, after three attempts, engaging with three different brands, and missing ‘The Daily Show’. Nixon wasn’t as elusive, I’ll wager.

Saturday, July 22, 2006

What happened while you weren't looking

1. Roger Silverstone, convenor of the media and communications department at the LSE, died suddenly last weekend. He was one of pioneers and foremost practioners of the academic study of the media (note: not the study of how to join the media), and was one of the giants of the field. There will be a memorial service in October. An obituary can be found here. A tribute I paid is as follows:
I just wanted to record my shock and sorrow at the news of Roger's passing. It was only a few weeks ago that I saw him in fine fettle, with customary elegance chairing a session of Meet the Media.

Although not directly taught by him, I benefitted from his thoughts and ideas: my copy of 'Why Study The Media?'was one of the more regularly-thumbed tomes during my year on Houghton Street. And rarer still, time in his lectures was neither inert nor wasted: with lightness, charm and good humour, he guided us through the wider edges of the theory and practice of media, treating his subjects with seriousness - never a misplaced reverence - and insight. It was a pleasure to be in those lectures with him.

His leadership of the department, as it became under his stewardship, was always visible, but despite the pressures on his time one got the feeling that his door would always be open if you needed to talk over an essay, a thought or an idea.

He will be greatly missed, and my condolences to his family and friends.

2. Thanks to Ms OHB for the piece about Gregg Toland, cinematographer on Citizen Kane, from The New Yorker of 19 June 2006. The following is excellent advice, which I think should be taken by all:

The following year, he [Gregg Toland] heard that Orson Welles, who was twenty-five, and already a highly regarded actor and stage and radio director, was planning to make his first feature film. Toland sought the boy wonder out. "I know nothing at all about filmmaking," Welles admitted when they met. "That's why I want to work with you," Toland replied. "That's the only way to learn anything - from somebody who doesn't know anything."

3. Martin Kettle, in his column last Saturday, had two biting paragraphs, which act as a very accurate summation of the political febrility in the UK at the moment. Early in his piece he writes:

And yet, as the finer details of the loans-for-peerages scandal and of John Prescott's embarrassing rodeo ranch getaway begin to blur in the memory over the summer, one simple verdict deserves to remain. It was delivered on the Today programme on Thursday. And it consisted of Lord Falconer telling John Humphrys, after a long and repetitive line of questioning: "This is playing games. This is embarrassing for both of us."
Which is stinging enough. But he concludes with the following:

France is bored, announced Alphonse de Lamartine shortly before the revolution that carried away the last French king in 1848. An editorial in Le Monde presciently repeated that phrase in March 1968, and a few days later the streets of Paris were full of barricades and rioting. Today there is something of that mood in British political life too. Britain is bored. There is a yearning for a different kind of politics - or perhaps for no politics at all. That's why I say be careful what you dream for, lest your dreams come true.

4. Anthony Lane of The New Yorker is in fine fettle at the moment. As evidence, witness his elegant meditations on Mission: Impossible iii and Pirates 0f the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest.

Thursday, July 13, 2006

In flew an essence

Observer. Another list. Albums. This time those that are most influential. Twopenn'orth here, and below. I think 'Music For Airports' should definitely be there as well. What's the modern R'n'B one? 'Off The Wall' is disco, so... 'New Edition', maybe?

Just three:

My Bloody Valentine - Loveless. Effectively innovation in guitar-driven 'pop' music ended here, the omega to the alpha begun by Hendrix. It's no coincidence that every major guitar music scene since has been backwards looking in inspiration and intent - you can't go anywhere else after this album. The avant garde spirit in music alighted elsewhere, within the manipulation of breakbeats primarily.

The Velvet Underground - The Velvet Undergound and Nico. Because the cliche that it sold nothing and yet everyone who heard it started a band is true. Because high art and low culture didn't elide again so elegantly for years. Because (as a trip to see Tom Stoppard's 'Rock 'N' Roll' will confirm) it is the misfits that create the spaces of freedom in which we can revel.

and most importantly:

Frank Sinatra - In The Wee Small Hours of The Morning. Because the very idea of an 'album', and an album as a concept, a collection of songs that can be thematically linked together, started here. And it essayed the fact that the best pop music would be first, foremost and most directly about and related to the verities of love, in whatever its forms.

Wednesday, July 12, 2006

Design lines

A sneak, partial preview of some of what you might see if you are in the vicinity of Truman's Brewery in Brick Lane around the time of the London Design Festival. Not at all of these are expected to make the cut, but hopefully one will. Thoughts on the debate they might spark are also welcome.

Design isn't everything; it's the only thing

Where there is error may we bring truth. Where there is doubt may we bring faith. Where there is despair may we bring design.

I can resist everything except design


This is design calling

A little design is a dang'rous thing;

The road of design leads to the palace of wisdom.

Design is the art of the possible

Uneasy lies the designer that wears a crown.

"Someone said 'design is more important than life and death to you' and I said 'Listen, it's more important than that'."

Design without responsibility - the perogative of the harlot throughout the ages.

There are no second acts in designer's lives.

Why have a hamburger out when you've got a designer at home?

Friday, July 07, 2006


A swirl of thoughts on, for and about today, generally prompted by the repeat of the excellent BBC documentary, 'Nine Days That Shook London'.

1. London effectively has a new brand essence: "The product of London is multiculturalism and youth". That's pretty good; and inspiring.

2. Despite appearances to the contrary, the New Labour administration hasn't quite lost all its fabled facility for spin and media management. The absorption of Bob Geldof into the G8 fold, the portrayal of achieving more limited goals than the World Development Movement/majority of the Make Poverty History coalition were asking for as a success, and the use of Live 8 as a tool to help in the London 2012 bid, point to a sophisticated, multi-channel strategy which covered a variety of audiences and messages. Alas, how far away it all seems.

3. My one abiding memory of last year was of sitting in The Hope on Wandsworth Common, as the rain slated down, watching the small TV high in the corner as ITN News gradually forwent calm facts for mounting hysteria. It should be taken as a good sign that, through the silvery cloud and threatened thunder, sunlight is glinting today.

4. There are two emergent themes rising from the discourse of remembrance over the last few days. One is indicated through the use of words like 'devastated', 'never the same again' - and yet, in the very same breath there has to be an acknowledgement of the resilience and the fact that, actually, little has changed. One can sense a media class frustrated that, by and large, Londoners have not gone back to Diana-style street emoting, and instead are following the dictum: Keep calm; carry on.

The other is that, despite today, 7/7 has become a 'shadow' event, one that has not gripped the wider imagination as much as other comparable events of terror or violence in London's past. Catherine Bennett remarked yesterday about the lack of a celebrity glare on fundraising for victims and survivors; there is a gnawing sense that people who were involved but not injured killed (the 'mass forgotten') have been given a raw deal in terms of compensation, or more importantly the public discourse of attention and healing; and Joe Kerr's harsh words that not a single member of the Westminster tribe came to visit his wife while she was in St Thomas' Hospital damn a political class that don't even want to contemplate the idea that they might have even the smallest speck of blood on their hands. The Economist this morning suggests that is in part the reason as to why there has not been a full public inquiry, which has of course, contributed to this 'shadow' status.

5. Apt sounds: as the memorial garden at King's Cross was opened just now, sirens blared in the middle distance. We continue, the city continues.

6. Ken Livingstone's words in Singapore last year become ever more important, both as part of a/my personal narrative, as to why I/we are Londoners and proud to be so; but also as a distillation of what the city is:

I want to say one thing specifically to the world today. This was not a terrorist attack against the mighty and the powerful. It was not aimed at presidents or prime ministers. It was aimed at ordinary, working-class Londoners, black and white, Muslim and Christian, Hindu and Jew, young and old. It was an indiscriminate attempt to slaughter, irrespective of any considerations for age, for class, for religion or whatever.

That isn't an ideology, it isn't even a perverted faith, it is just an indiscriminate attempt at mass murder and we know what the objective is. They seek to divide Londoners. They seek to turn Londoners against each other. I said yesterday to the International Olympic Committee that the city of London is the greatest in the world because everybody lives side by side in harmony. Londoners will not be divided by the cowardly attack. They will stand together in solidarity alongside those who have been injured and those who have been bereaved and that is why I'm proud to be the Mayor of that city.

Finally, I wish to speak directly to those who came to London today to take life.

I know that you personally do not fear giving up your own life in order to take others - that is why you are so dangerous. But I know you fear that you may fail in your long-term objective to destroy our free society and I can show you why you will fail.

In the days that follow look at our airports, look at our sea ports and look at our railway stations and, even after your cowardly attack, you will see that people from the rest of Britain, people from around the world will arrive in London to become Londoners and to fulfil their dreams and achieve their potential.

They choose to come to London, as so many have come before because they come to be free, they come to live the life they choose, they come to be able to be themselves. They flee you because you tell them how they should live. They don't want that and nothing you do, however many of us you kill, will stop that flight to our city where freedom is strong and where people can live in harmony with one another. Whatever you do, however many you kill, you will fail.

Tuesday, July 04, 2006

Grist. Mill. Liberalism: Consumption

Advance notice of an interesting book due in 2008 by Neal Lawson, examining our relationship with shopping and consumption. I've posted some opening thoughts on the related blog, and naturally, below.

I think the topic that Neal’s writing about is one that is ripe for discussion. It does seem that after nearly 20 years of a new sort of consumerism, it is right to look at the impact that it has had on, not just the state and the public sector, but in the widest sense, the ‘common weal’. I work in branding and marketing, but before there are any brickbats thrown, if you ask a lot of practioners within advertising, there is a growing concern at what they do, and the wider impact that it might have.

I’d echo Daniel Soule’s call for looking at how people are using the tools of consumerism to re-engage with civil society, but I think that points to the key issue: how far and to what extent is there actually a demand for public services to be delivered in a manner and to a service standard that it is believed that only the market or the private sector can deliver?

It seems that notions of a common good, public goods, merit goods ie those which we all benefit from consuming even if we can’t afford to consume them through our own means, is being left behind. While appreciating that technological developments can change those definitions (broadcasting was a public good once), I think we need to critically examine the idea that: not all goods and services can be bought in the same way as we do when we go to the supermarket.

We also need to consider the idea that seems to have sprung up that a vote is the eqivalent of, and of the same value, as making a purchase. Because it means that the idea takes hold that, if a party or government does something that I don’t like, then in some way my consumer rights have been violated, and I want my money back thank you very much. Collective decision making cannot last long in that sort of mindset.

Neal, I think it’d also be interesting exploring Bobbit’s idea of the ‘market state’, and whether it is actually the very process of ’shopping’ is that which will validate the state as one of a number of competing service providers in the future.

One more thing: it’d be interesting to do a comparison with the 18th century, and what society was like then. The period was of course the birth of the consumer society in the UK, and I’d wager that there were similar tensions and concerns as to what negative effects such displays of vulgar ostentation might be having. The main difference is now, of course, that more of us can afford to participate.

Monday, July 03, 2006

Reportage/Tour: Notes from Future Cheer (London); Brighton Centre, Brighton

Cheerleading 06 07 003
Originally uploaded by SgtRock333.
To Brighton, and after a delightful picnic at the back end of the beach (where we avoided the mass of bodies, and instead observed the delightful summer sport that is Aussie Hunks Unsuccessfully Chatting Up Eastern European Hotties), we headed inside for Future Cheer 2006. As newbies, we were unprepared for what was to come. Below, some contemporaneous notes made while the competition reached its climax.

* 5.11pm: The first sighting of pom-poms

* This is a very democratic sport, in the sense that all shall - and indeed must - have prizes. Testimony to this is the dizzying number of categories that one could compete in, including: youth, junior, senior and pee-wee stunt groups; senior stunt groups all girl elite; mascots; and university all girl advanced elite. But it also democratic in the sense that all body masses and shapes can and do participate. In fact, to put it crudely, the thunder-thighed are necessary, as support and foundation for the more vertiginous pyramidal lifts attempted. And, as if to confirm this, one of the younger members of Little Stars has only one hand, and is yet as vigorously running and dancing as her team mates.

* It appears that there are three main elements to any routine, used sequentially or, more often, broken apart and then recombined:

1. 'free' rhythmic gymnastics, mostly manifesting in cartwheels, springs, rolls etc
2. lifts/throws/spins of team members (generally the smaller/younger thereof)
3. simple choreography, sometimes accompanied by a chant of sorts.

The best routines achieve a harmonious balance of these three elements. Standouts included ADA Allstars, whose hip hop derived dancing stood out from the rest of the competitors' power-pop driven exuberance. In this, being too cool for school was definitely an advantage.

* Men as members of teams, as opposed to dads/boyfriends/chauffers/cameramen (and they aren't leching, btw) are definitely thin on the ground. A co-ed section of the competition has only 5 teams going through. Men in routines appear to be given the same tasks as other members, but with an added emphasis on lifting and throwing.

* Team names generally don't break the conventions of US sports franchising: all stars, saints, eagles, as well as some cats (tomcats, pussycats, vixens), a phoenix, an xtreme, a mustang and for those of you of a star-gazing bent, a zodiac and a galaxy.

* Our adopted team, the London City Stars, stole the show in terms of choreography; slightly odd/worrying to report that they were a notch towards 'sexy' in the midst of chaste routines. (Our other team would be the Silver Valley Vixens, because they wear polka dot headbands and hair ties. If only they had some Pipettes in their mix.)

* Naturally, this is all Americana in microcosm, from the names, to the uniforms, to the permagrins and the locus on entertainment. But what is interesting, at least from up here in the cheap seats, is the absence of all out, gung-ho competition. Everything is achieved in the best possible taste, in the most marvellous of spirits; and one that strikes as being quintessentially English (including the lack of sleaze). Even to the extent that there was a girl brandishing a trumpet in lieu of a klaxon.

* And there is danger: one jump into its routine, one of the seven men in the AEC Eagles (the Man U of UK cheerleading, I am reliably informed) is medic-d off after an awkward landing and a nasty sprain. An unsettled hum filled the hall, only dissipated when the Eagles plus injured party came back strongly with the most ambitious series of lifts and sparkly red knickers. He grimaced and rough-housed his way through the routine, collapsing at the end, in pain and oxygen debt. The cheers they received gladdened the heart: truly, there is no animus here, especially as we all applaud each others' towering ambitions in lifts, throws and spins.

* Potential collective nouns for cheerleaders: a cheer, a squad, a pom-pom

* If something in a routine does go wrong, ie a landing not nailed or a person not successfully lifted, the sub-group in a team attempting the move does (must?) freeze, as if the space-time continuum on that corner of the mat has been suspended. They wait, millisecond into demi-second into second into two seconds, until the cue in the soundtrack means that they can spring back to life, and action.

And then you realise that at certain moments you are actually watching human firework displays: the rising and falling of bodies is explosive and eye-catching against the purple and black backdrop, the synchronicity with the music making a riot of movement.

* As ever, when experiencing a new sport/subculture for the first time, one immediately wants to become a conceptual innovator. And after some consideration, it's clear that to revolutionise the sport (hey, lets not be modest here) one would need to try using one piece of (ideally hip hop) music rather than a mix, and strip back the numbers within a team while attempting the same number of lifts. And maybe wear uniforms made of natural materials. The maths is hard to fight against however. Generally more bodies leads to better routines.

* And now it's... Team USA! They are technically very good and very (crazily) energetic, a flail of hair, legs and - surprisingly - the only team immodest enough to show off their midriffs. And their mums make up the second biggest entourage. And during the awards they dance to every single piece of incidental music, before walking off with the top prize, There's a whiff of cultural cringe about this.

* A totality of vision, encompassing the athletic and aesthetic.

The weekend's most charming piece of vocab

Bronfman means 'whisky man' in Yiddish

according to a profile of Edgar Jr in The Observer. Isn't that sweet?