Tag Archives: UK

New Year’s Devolutions

As another year draws to a close we are left to look back on the events of the last twelve months, and assess their impact on our lives. Unfortunately, however, due to my reliance on modern technology, I have no memory whatsoever of anything that happened before yesterday. Therefore, until we manage to invent some sort of collated, easily accessible database of news through which we can record our history as it unfolds, any attempt at such reflection is pointless.

Instead, I will attempt to predict what may lie in store for the duration of our next revolution around the sun, which conveniently gives me even more scope for absurd exaggeration and crude humour. To that end, here follows a synopsis of what we can expect in the year 2014…

To domestic affairs first, as Ireland continues its upward trajectory out of the doldrums of recession. Normality returns in increments as shoddily built apartments are bought by the thousand, helicopters are dusted off to head down to the Galway Races, and solicitors start snorting cocaine before midday again.

In politics, Enda Kenny finally gives in to pressure to reform the Seanad, and appoints David Norris to take charge of the transition. Unfortunately, Norris chooses to make no changes whatsoever to the political structures or powers of the upper house, deciding instead to use millions of euro of taxpayers’ money to build an exact replica of an Ancient Roman Senate chamber, complete with annexed bath house, and opulently furnished in marble and gold leaf. The Taoiseach defends the developments by arguing that attendance in the house is at a record high average of 11%, a vast improvement on previous years.

Unfortunately for many of our émigrés, next year will also see Australia suffer a severe economic crash akin to the one that sent them there. Thousands of young Irish people are left floundering in a sweltering, barren wasteland, with no employment and no money to get home. As the last remaining Aussies leave their shores en masse to seek bar work in London, our hapless emigrants are left to fend for themselves in the desolate wilderness. Rule of law breaks down and society devolves into a post-apocalyptic nightmare, like Mad Max with more swearing and Offaly jerseys.

In the US, troublesome Republicans once again force a shutdown of the government, which lasts for over six months. The leadership claims it is due to Obama’s wish to implement stricter gun laws, but House insiders maintain it is predominantly a backlash to the dryness of the muffins in the Congress cafeteria. The country is thrown into chaos as millions are denied access to essential services. A deal is eventually brokered after military cutbacks contribute to a worrying breach in security in an army base in Kandahar, in which an enemy missile lands inside the perimeter. After eliminating the insurgents responsible, the missile turns out to be a football that had come from a nearby playing field, but military intelligence verifies that the deceased 12-year old boys were ‘a lot more terrorist-y than they looked.’

More revelations are forthcoming in 2014 from Edward Snowden regarding NSA monitoring of internet communications. In a somewhat tragic twist, it emerges that an entire subsection of intelligence operatives, who had been tasked with examining comments on YouTube to seek potential terrorists, take their own lives in what seems like a ritual mass suicide by self-immolation. NSA chiefs announce their grief and shock over the lost lives, especially since the group had just started their first day on the project.

In Britain, police continue to crack down on abusive behaviour on social networking sites. This policy reaches its zenith when a student is imprisoned for three months for calling Harry Styles a ‘gobshite’ on Twitter. When the presiding magistrate orders everyone who retweeted the offending message to be given the same sentence, thousands of hardened criminals are released onto the streets to make room for the hordes of potty-mouthed youngsters. This results in an unprecedented crime wave sweeping across the country, which the government announces is ‘probably something to do with immigrants.’ The Daily Mail takes a different approach and blames the situation on Ed Miliband’s dad.

In international news, North Korea follows China’s example by expanding their space program. They spend months ferrying men and supplies to the moon, much to the concern of the international community. When it is revealed that Kim Jong-un has built an enormous moonbase, fears grow over what kind of terrible weapon he might unleash. This alarm is soon allayed, however, when it transpires that Kim was simply remaking the movie Moonraker, starring himself as James Bond, and featuring Dennis Rodman as Jaws.

The winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia, take place in February under the shadow of a decree from President Putin that absolutely no gay behaviour will be tolerated. Secret police are stationed around the ground to enforce the law, with security particularly heavy in the figure skating arena for some reason. Putin himself projects his usual uber-macho image by appearing at the games naked, save for the pelt of a bear that he had killed that morning, which he had come upon in the wild and hadn’t been tranquilised in any way, shape or form.

However, events take an unexpected turn at the speed skating track, when Putin’s attention is turned to a young Finnish athlete named Matthias. The Russian premier feels a strange sensation stirring in him as he watches the young man glide over the ice, his golden hair radiant, his enormous quadriceps rippling with every stride. To the alarm of his aides, Putin suddenly rushes onto the track, but trips on his bear suit and falls crashing to the ice. As he rises to his knees, a strong arm appears to help him up, and he finds himself gazing upon a set of chiselled Nordic features. Matthias lifts him into his arms and embraces him, and as the strains of Up Where We Belong begin to play over the PA system, the pair exit the arena to the cacophonous cheers of the assembled masses, and disappear into the setting sun.

Technology giant Apple’s reputation takes a hit next year after it is discovered that its iPhone 6, and its iPad Extra Mini Micro, are in fact the same device. Their PR troubles continue later in the year as a 16-year old worker in one of the company’s Beijing factories hacks the official Apple Twitter account. His strongly worded criticisms of working practices and his uploaded selfie of the effects of an unfortunate smelting accident are Tweeted for the world to see. Unfortunately for him, his revelations are overshadowed by the release of the iPad Pico, a tablet roughly the same size as a postage stamp, which is later revealed to be simply an actual stamp designed to look like a tablet.

Social media continues in the new year in its quest to rid the world of unuttered thoughts, comfortable silences and the last remaining semblances of privacy. Google introduces a controversial new app in which a drone follows the user’s daily movements and updates their Facebook status and Twitter feed accordingly, with observations like ‘Sarah has just been dumped and appears inconsolable’, ‘Paul is masturbating over a fire he just started’, and ‘Sally is bleeding profusely from a head wound caused by my malfunctioning gears’.

As collective attention spans continue to plummet, the fad of six-second long Vines becomes passé. They are replaced by Stems, videos lasting just one second. The most popular of the year is of a 2-year old child from Kansas saying the word ‘jam’ in an adorable fashion, which is shared by millions. The child is later mentioned in Barack Obama’s State of the Union address, which prompts knowing laughter and warm applause from the crowd, followed by an eighteen-minute chant of ‘USA, USA’.

New varieties of the ubiquitous selfie become popular with the babbling, androgynous masses that populate the trendiest corners of the internet, where they smear digital pictograms of the tedious minutiae of their lives across social networking sites, and heap scorn on those of us born before 1994 that still use words like ‘trendiest’. These include the ‘elfie’, a festive self-portrait, the ‘farewellfie’, an inappropriate picture taken at the service of a deceased relative, and the ‘continental shelfie’, photos taken in the shallow waters of the glacially eroded coastal plains of continental land masses. Okay, that last one doesn’t really become that popular.

In Hollywood news, the most anticipated film of the year, the third instalment of The Hobbit, is delayed as director Peter Jackson falls ill during filming. The only director available to take the reins at short notice is Michael Bay, who selflessly offers his services. Upon its release, many critics question the wisdom of Bay’s changes to the original script, including casting Samuel L. Jackson as Gandalf, replacing the eagles with a fleet of Chinook helicopters, and even contriving an entirely new female elven character called Tauriel to spice up proceedings. Well actually, that was Jackson, but it was Bay who decided she should be played by Eddie Murphy in drag as the film’s comic relief.

Most of the criticism, however, centres on the movie’s antagonist, Smaug Mohammed Smaug, who is portrayed as an Islamic oligarch who uses his obscene wealth to arm a sinister band of Yemeni terrorists. The film’s denouement sees the dragon and his insurgent colleagues consumed in the hellfires of US Army drones remotely piloted by a ragtag bunch of wisecracking dwarf grunts, who are all played by Robert Downey Jr. Empire magazine gives the film five stars, their review simply consisting of the words ‘high-octane action’ repeated seven hundred times, followed by an exclamation mark.

In the world of music, Miley Cyrus continues her crusade against subtlety with her new single, Dark Room Full of Middle-Aged Men. The raunchy video becomes a viral phenomenon, and gives rise to a new dance craze among adolescent girls the world over, affectionately called ‘the Miley’. This is much like the Macarena, except with less smiling, and more penetration using household objects. Twitter is abuzz for months with trending topics like ‘doing the Miley’, ‘My tongue is a feminist too’, and ‘late night emergency room visit’.

In hip-hop news, Kanye West releases an experimental 3-hour long album featuring the sounds of his infant child’s bowel movements, set to a snappy bassline from a little-known 1970s adult movie about a Ku Klux Klan Grand Dragon who falls in love with a sassy waitress named LaQuanza. It sells eighteen million copies, and is hailed by music critics as ‘the seminal post-racial artwork of this, or any, millennium’.

So ends my forecast for the year 2014. Some of these things may come to pass; some will not; some may even look tame when reflected in the reality that comes to meet us. The future is a puzzling thing; no less a man than George Orwell had a great fear of it, which manifested itself in his works. This sense of foreboding is nowhere better illustrated than in an achingly bleak line from 1984: ‘If you want a picture of the future, imagine a boot stamping on a human face – forever.’

While I don’t think I’ve quite reached the depths of Orwellian cynicism just yet, it must be said that the pain in my face seems to be increasing exponentially with each passing year. Happy New Year you shower of bastards.

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Ode to Osama

In the wake of the recent Kenyan shopping centre attack, much opprobrium centred on the alleged role of a 29-year old British woman, Samantha Lewthwaite, or ‘The White Widow’, the somewhat derivative but admittedly catchy sobriquet bestowed on her. Lewthwaite was married to 7 July 2005 suicide bomber Germaine Lindsay, and is currently wanted by Interpol in relation to suspected terrorist activity.

After raiding her house in Mombasa, Kenya recently, detectives found a laptop that betrayed a long history of research into chemicals and bomb making. They also found a 34-line elegiac poem to the deceased al-Qaida leader Osama bin Laden, the full text of which can be found here.

This fulsome ode in honour of a murderous terrorist has, unsurprisingly, outraged Britain’s conservative media. As a response, and in order to evoke the average Briton’s take on such an unpalatable affair, the Daily Mail recently organised its own poetry compilation, accepting submissions from ordinary people around the country on the subjects of bin Laden, religious extremism, and modern, multicultural Britain.

Below is an extract from the collection of poems, with observations by the renowned Mail columnist Richard LittleEngland, an effusive, outspoken commentator known for his traditional values and moral fortitude.

~

Hello, and welcome to the inaugural Daily Mail poetry compendium. We’ve been inundated with responses from people who love their country and their way of life. Reading your entries has made me even prouder than usual to be British. Below is just a small flavour of the poems we’ve received, with brief analysis from yours truly, Richard LittleEngland.

(P.S. Don’t forget, my new book, No Thanks, We’re Full: The Real ‘Big Issue’ of Our Time is available to buy in all good bookshops from next Monday.)

~

There once was a menacing sheikh
Who had the inordinate cheek
To proclaim his disdain
With a couple of planes
But the Yanks put an end to his clique

Trevor, Middlesex

Excellent work, Trevor. He was a cheeky old sod alright, wasn’t he? I always think of limericks as the lost art form.

~

Go home ragheads,
We don’t want you here
20 quid to the airport?
I’ll get a white driver next time
But I still like curry

John, Barnsley

Well…that’s a courageous use of the free verse technique John, I’ll give you that. Moving on…

~

The fire of Islam
Hot embers slip through the grate
It’s smoky in here

Quentin, Cambridge

Nice haiku, Quentin. A bit highbrow though, don’t you think? Try not to show off so much.

~

The boy from Riyadh, a gun in his hand,
Knew no other course but that of martyr
The infidel had raped his land,
From ancient Maghreb to modern Jakarta

Armed by those he wished to destroy,
He held his hand and played their pawn
Within him burned a latent ploy,
He would enact before the dawn

And on young minds his words did prey,
His lecture holding them in thrall
Until he sent them on their way,
As New York summer turned to fall

But monsters thus are never born,
And not for nothing was his scorn

Rob, Edinburgh

Eh, I think you’ve missed the point here Rob. Don’t you love your country? Or are you a Communist? Come on people, let’s get back on message…

~

Muslims in my corner shop,
Muslims on my street
Muslims wearing silly dresses,
Muslims in bare feet
Muslims taking all our jobs,
Muslims on the social,
Muslims fucking everywhere,
Muslims by the bowlful,
Muslims.

Lee, Bradford

Great stuff Lee, that’s more like it. I especially liked the part about the Muslims.

~

Whence this veiled threat?
Kabul? Khartoum? Or simply Kaboom?

East, West, Yin or Yang?
Josiah, Sharia, Qu’ran or Kerrang?

We offend the effendi,
A jihad he had

Fat chance a fatwa
From distant Islamabad

Will Allah wither
Or whither Allah?

Sunni or Sunnah
In sunny Caliphornia?

Stephen, London

Eh…it’s a bit esoteric, isn’t it Steve? That’s not even how you spell California. You bloody public schoolboys are too clever for your own good. 

~

An angel’s smile is what you sell
You promised me Heaven, then put me through Hell
Chains of love got a hold on me
When passion’s a prison, you can’t break free

Osama, you’re a loaded gun
Osama, there’s nowhere to run
No one can save you
The damage is done

Shot through the heart
And you’re to blame
You gave Islam a bad name (bad name)
I played my part and you played your game
You gave Islam a bad name (bad name)
Yeah, you gave Islam, a bad name

Deborah, Swansea

Bravo Deborah, a tour de force. Although it seems slightly familiar to me, I hope it’s all your own work?

~

And so ends our poetic celebration of Britain. Let this stand as a testament of our resolve in the face of political correctness and multiculturalism gone mad. Join us next week in the Arts and Culture section, when we’ll be seeking submissions of paintings and sculptures that capture the failings of the NHS.


Patriot Claims

Starbucks Ireland found itself in hot, mediocre coffee-flavoured water this week when it mistakenly asked its Irish Twitter followers to ‘show us what makes you proud to be British’. The backlash from the proud people of Ireland was, of course, as prompt and severe as it was inane and littered with spelling mistakes. I am still undecided as to who deserves my respect less: the computer monkeys at Starbucks whose historical gaffe must almost have had O’Connell and Parnell climbing down from their plinths to go up round the corner and crack some heads; or the pathetic group of 2,000 or so self-styled baristocrats who took time out of admiring their MacBooks to follow the pointless tweets of an enormous faceless organisation that serves hot drinks.

This indignation is no surprise of course; we Irish tend to be quite sensitive about these matters, our nationalism usually displaying itself most vehemently when the subject of old Blighty is brought up. In recent times, in particular, a veritable maelstrom of patriotic fervour seems to have gripped our stricken country.

On the one hand we have the defensive, jingoistic wailing of our socialist contingent, lamenting the loss of our sovereignty, our free water, and our jobs for white people to the maniacal fat cats in Brussels. In marked contrast to this we have also seen a much more positive exhibition of our national pride in the euphoria surrounding the impending European Championship. Tacky plastic referendum posters and tacky plastic tricolour bunting have been jostling for our attention, each intent on whipping up a frenzy of patriotism for very different reasons, the only common element being that they both look shite.

Patriotism can be something of a nebulous concept, ranging from the nostalgic fondness of an emigrant for the auld sod, to a convenient label to excuse the ignorance and xenophobia of the ultra-nationalist. Oscar Wilde labelled patriotism ‘the virtue of the vicious’; Mark Twain regarded it as an illustration of moral cowardice. Although it seems that those two spent most of their time sitting around thinking up pithy witticisms and probably should have left the house a bit more often.

While there are certainly elements of truth to their aphorisms, perhaps the most salient description was offered by George Bernard Shaw, who called it the ‘conviction that this country is superior to all other countries because you were born in it’. This summation captures both the simplicity and the illogical nature of the idea of patriotism.

In this country it is almost impossible to separate our supposed patriotism from a very childish, but deep-rooted anti-English sentiment. An immensely complicated relationship with our neighbours, which has been characterised for centuries by violence and bloodshed, has essentially been reduced to the ritual of celebrating whenever an English sports team loses. The less progressive among us, of course, still cling to a mountain of sectarian prejudice, as evidenced by the bile and invective spewed by many around the time of the Queen’s visit to our shores last year. Hatred and stupidity dressed up in a Celtic jersey does not equal patriotism, but it is unfortunately all too common a sight.

One major problem is that in the current strained economic and political climate, as has always happened throughout history, more reasonable and educated people are turning to the extremist fringes of the political spectrum. Anyone who has a functional cerebral cortex and has ever read a book, other than a pamphlet entitled ‘Methadone: The Easy Way Out’, should be absolutely ashamed of themselves for even considering voting for a party like Sinn Féin. It is when their exploitative, abhorrent republican propaganda begins to seep through to the minds of previously sensible people that you really start to think that evolution might actually be a bell curve, and that we are currently entering freefall from the apex of human civilisation marked by the discovery of nuclear fission, the moon landing, and the revelation that was Angry Birds.

Where flagrant, flag-waving patriotism is concerned, however, the Irish aren’t a patch on our star-spangled friends from across the pond. When it comes to national pride, and as it happens, most other things, the US is rather like that really loud, spoilt brat from your primary school class. He’s a classless, brazen little shit who has to be the best at everything and screams the house down if he doesn’t get what he wants. But you go to his birthday party anyway because you know there’ll be rice krispie cakes, and because his mam has huge cans.

The US is a case study in using the blind patriotism of its lower echelons to its advantage, particularly when it comes to supplying the fodder necessary to flex its military might. Naive, impressionable kids grow up taking the Pledge of Allegiance and being programmed in the ways of idolatry and worship of an intangible idea of America. The chimera of American freedom, under threat from the looming shadow of terrorism, is the product of one of the most successful propaganda machines in recent history, resulting in legions of young men and women who give their lives, and take plenty too, for something they can never hope to realise. This is the most profitable form of patriotism, and its proliferation is a sad indictment of the world we live in.

The sense of wanting to belong to a tribe is very much a human trait, and this explains our affinity with people of a similar culture. However, the fact that this is usually expressed most vehemently at a national level is peculiar. Even small countries like ours encompass countless disparate peoples, religions, personalities, beliefs, and anything else which may define us. To be grouped together due to geographical circumstance, and to have a collective identity and pride, is very much a phenomenon of the modern world.

As easy as it is to be sceptical of the uninhibited, zealous patriotism of others, there is something attractive in its ability to bring people together. Which is why, even as a devoted cynic, a disillusioned, lapsed patriot, and someone who can’t stand that overblown, tedious spectacle of overpaid ball-chasing urchins that somehow passes for a sport, I’ll still be cheering for the boys in green this summer. I might even have a chuckle to myself when the English team inevitably implodes and crashes out of the tournament. I guess old habits die hard.


Yacht a Girl Wants

Britain’s education secretary Michael Gove found himself at the centre of some controversy this week after suggesting that the Queen should be presented with a new royal yacht in honour of her diamond jubilee, a gift that would cost the taxpayers of Britain around £60 million. Quite apart from how ludicrous it is to consider such an ostentatious present in these frugal times, he also clearly didn’t think through how much effort it would require to wrap the thing.

Gove is just the latest example of a Conservative politician who is hopelessly out of touch with reality. The landed gentry image that the current crop of Tory ministers evoke isn’t that far off the mark; many of them are, in fact, extremely wealthy landowners. One imagines the life of a typical Tory like Gove revolves mainly around foxhunting, drinking brandy after foxhunting, and picking out new tweed jackets to wear while shooting the local urchins for sport. And also while foxhunting. Their home life is essentially like an episode of Downton Abbey, only instead of the frisson of unrequited love and stately elegance in the air, there’s just a stench of upper class disdain and an aloof ambivalence to the plight of anyone who doesn’t have a hereditary title. As well as the stench coming from the unkempt moat that was paid for by the taxpayer. Those things can be so hard to maintain.

However, this image is something that ‘Call me Dave’ is doing his very best to try to eradicate, by attempting to appear just as frightfully common as the rest of us. He’s stopped arriving at the House of Commons in that horse-drawn carriage of his, for a start. He now travels everywhere in a humble chauffeured Rolls Royce, which even has a sticker on the window voicing support for his local polo team, to show everyone how ordinary he is. He has also taken to wearing jeans around the house in the evenings, despite the jolly good ribbing he gets from his old Etonian chums at dinner parties, especially on Tuxedo Thursdays. He even went out to the supermarket to do his own shopping last week, but unfortunately had to return empty-handed after he saw someone in a hoody and got scared.

Perhaps the most ridiculous thing about Cameron and his ilk is that they seem to be unashamedly royalist. They just can’t get enough of archaic constitutional monarchies, they’re batshit crazy about them. The fact that the whole idea of a monarchy didn’t die out long ago along with smallpox, slavery and decent Robert De Niro films is a source of puzzlement, but not as perplexing as the fascination with the whole affair shown by the British, in particular. Any sensible person would treat such an uninteresting family of wealthy layabouts with mild indifference, but the fervour displayed by some royal enthusiasts lies somewhere between the shameless fawning of a screeching pre-pubescent girl at a Westlife book signing, and the obsequious, unquestioning adoration that one imagines may have preceded the consumption of all that delicious Kool-Aid at Jonestown.

The public histrionics that accompany the likes of last year’s royal wedding, or the death of Diana, show just how obsessed people are with the royal family. The Queen can’t even fart without some middle-aged woman from Wigan blubbering into a tissue and throwing roses out into the street at her for some reason. Oh look, it’s Elizabeth Saxe-Coburg-Gotha, she’s really rich and she owns all the swans. Who gives a shit?

Speaking of old Lizzie herself, surely there were some more interesting proposals put forward as to what to buy her to celebrate 60 years on the throne. If she were to get a yacht, Harry would have it written off within the week anyway after trying to invade France on it and crashing into the London Eye after a night out on the sauce.

Perhaps the Irish people could get together and present the Queen with a present to mark the occasion. How about offering to take Northern Ireland back from her? It would only be fair after the con that rascal Michael Collins pulled when he convinced the Brits they actually wanted to keep such a barren wasteland as part of their empire. Nobody had the heart to tell them all they’d get in return was an unruly shower of rally-driving, mural-painting sectarians and an astronomical annual social welfare bill. Come to think of it, taking back such a burden might be a bit too generous. Let’s just leave it until the next jubilee and then reassess the situation.

Failing that, maybe something simple like the new iPhone would be a welcome gift, something to bring the monarchy into the digital age and allow the Queen to get into social networking. I can just see the status updates now: Liz checked in at The Royal Variety Show with Prince Philip and CharliePrinceOfWales69xx. ‘One is very bored with these performing peasants. But totally worth it to hear Phil’s comments about the Asian dancing troupe that was just on. Rofl! #LittleYellowBastards.’

Although the yacht idea will no doubt never come to fruition, the fact that a government minister even proposed it in the first place is an indictment  not only of a severe lack of judgement and common sense on his part, but also of a society stuck in the dark ages and still in thrall to its less than useless royal family. When the two most interesting things concerning the royals in the recent past have been jokes about Princess Diana and pictures of Pippa Middleton’s arse, perhaps it’s time to re-evaluate the importance of the British monarchy. Then the sycophantic royalists like Gove will just have to find another wealthy, tedious and completely redundant family to revere. I wonder if he watches Keeping Up with the Kardashians


The X Factory

The UK version of The X Factor returned to our screens this week, without Simon Cowell or Cheryl Cole, but replete with new, even more annoying judges such as ‘that girl from N-Dubz’ and ‘your one from thingy who isn’t Beyonce or the other one’. Cowell is busy overseeing the expansion of his brand across the water, where the show is replacing American Idol as the most important element of Midwestern American culture after Billy Ray Cyrus and calling Obama a socialist.

The phenomenon that is The X Factor has come a long way, and has really settled into a rhythm over the last few series. Each episode follows pretty much exactly the same script. First we have a hyper-edited intro set to an upbeat pop song by one of Simon Cowell’s bands, consisting mostly of fat contestants crying, flamboyant contestants flicking their hair, and close-ups of Louis Walsh’s tiny, dead shark eyes as he splutters his way through whatever icy put-downs the producers have assigned him this week.

This is followed by a slightly more substantial montage, usually backed by one of those six or seven classical music pieces that even poor people know from watching movie trailers, in which the most dramatic parts of the episode are shown to us before they happen. The pattern is identical each time: clip of a judge saying that a performance was amazing/average/a pile of steaming shite; close-up of a singer looking suitably proud/confused/incandescent with rage; stock footage of crowd reacting by cheering/booing/braying like a herd of wild donkeys.

The rest of the show unfolds mainly through additional montages, interspersed with about three minutes of actual auditions that showcase the different types of contestant. There are the token lunatics who try to stab the judges when they’re told they sound like a bag of cats, and don’t look much better. Then you have the bereaved middle-aged men with average voices whose sob stories are told to the camera over the dulcet tones of ‘Fix You’ by Coldplay, and who will receive pity votes and eventually finish in the top ten or so in an attempt to convince viewers that the producers actually have souls. Eventually, after toying with your emotions for three quarters of an hour, the show will finish with an unassuming young girl who has the voice of an angel, and an appearance and cultural background that will appeal to the biggest demographic. The crowd goes wild, Louis’s eyes actually become visible, and about seventeen more montages are needed just to close out the show in a suitably dramatic fashion.

Despite all the obvious manipulation I really have to confess a grudging respect for the show’s creators. It is quite possibly the finest example of exploitative theatre for the masses in existence. The beauty of it is that no effort is required. Thousands of people offer themselves up as contestants, to be judged, mocked, celebrated or whatever the producers decide they want to do with them. No amount of actors or scriptwriters could ever come close to emulating the depths of pathetic delusion displayed by the deluge of untalented people who genuinely believe that they have a shot at stardom. Or at least a shot at a Christmas number 2 and an appearance on next year’s Celebrity Big Brother, where Sylvester Stallone’s postman and Amanda Holden’s plastic surgeon will smile emptily at them and pretend to know who they are when they enter the house.

At this stage the entire programme is basically just a manufactured algorithm, in which just the right amount of variables has to be entered each week: crazy people, likeable people, poignant music, uplifting music, good judge, bad judge, pliable crowd, and the most important element of all, people at home wilfully being drawn in by the whole thing. The show is such a car crash of human experience that they even pull in the more discerning viewer who can claim to be watching in an ironic way, but is secretly hooked just like everyone else.

Shared experience is one of the most important facets of the human condition, and it is no surprise that something as all-consuming as this light entertainment show continues to grow in popularity. Everyone has an opinion on it, and it is something that everyone can experience together, whether it is in the form of criticism or adulation. There is also a perverse pleasure to be taken in watching people humiliate themselves, which is one thing that the show is never lacking.

The X Factor is about as artificial and contrived as an entertainment show can be, and every part of it is made specifically to exploit and to manipulate. The feelings it elicits in people, however, when witnessing the full range of desperation, sadness, delight, despair, viciousness, generosity and cruelty of humanity, all pre-packaged in a neat little bundle, are as real and tangible as can be. If you think you could never do as the Romans did, and watch the bloody and barbaric sports of the Colosseum, stick on the telly this Saturday, have a look at the judges seated in front of an audience baying not for blood but for humiliation, and think again. I’d rather be thrown to the lions than that lot.


The Kids Aren’t Alright

After nearly a week of wanton destruction and violence, the riots that spread across England have come to a close. At this stage the young criminals who’ve been vandalising their own communities have probably run out of glass to smash, or trainers to steal, or perhaps just run out of energy considering most of them probably exist solely on fast food. They’ll still kick in a McDonalds window if they get the chance though. If you’re wondering what that smell is, it’s the concept of irony being set alight and kicked to death by a group of thugs from Birmingham. Only after they stole his trainers though.

Aside from piles of rubble and hilarious photoshopped scenes from the riots, the one thing we have an excess of in the wake of the past week’s events is questions. What made thousands of kids angry enough to set fire to everything in sight? Why was David Cameron on holiday when his crystal ball had told him there’d be riots when he was away? Where can I get that slick grey hoody that guy with the handful of iPods was wearing?

Over the last number of days there has been much written in the media in an attempt to answer the question of why this happened. Russell Brand wrote an interesting article in The Guardian which criticised the portrayal of the rioters and looters as animals and monsters, and he makes a good point. It is natural for people to distance humanity from terrible acts but if societal problems are ever going to be tackled successfully, they must first be understood.

The youths committing these acts have the same capacity for violence, greed and stupidity as the rest of us. They also share our capacity for kindness, empathy and all the other traits that were displayed by those who rallied together to clean up their communities after they had been devastated. Which of these qualities come to the fore in a young person is dependent on millions of variables, and it is their development and growth and the experiences they have that will ultimately shape them. Calling them monsters is a cowardly way of avoiding the fact that massive sections of western civilised society are breeding grounds for young men, in particular, full of hate and malice.

Kevin Myers wrote an article this week in which he noted that the vast majority of the rioters were Afro-Caribbean. He went on to cite the lack of father figures in the lives of these young men as a contributing factor, given the massive amount of single mothers in the areas affected. He also recognised that it was a failed immigration policy that resulted in the breakdown of community in these areas, and led to disenfranchisement of massive groups of young people.

There are many other relevant factors that affect these groups of people and cause violent tendencies, such as poverty, peer pressure, lack of education, boredom, alienation from society, early exposure to criminality, to name but a few. Myers is absolutely correct, however, in his assertions that a lack of parental control and the unbelievably poorly conceived immigration policies of successive governments have greatly contributed to the situation. This is true not just in Britain, but across the world.

Of course, because Mr. Myers has a history of making somewhat incendiary and controversial comments, and because we live in a society so laden with sanctimony masquerading as political correctness, these comments have been branded by many as racist and offensive. Apparently just noticing that the rioting crowd was predominantly ethnic, something that is demonstrably true, is now in itself a racist act. What a pathetic world we live in where adults cannot even discuss issues with clarity, never mind attempt to solve our society’s ills, without having a label thrown at them to discredit their argument.

What we must not do, however, when asking why this happened, is confuse explanation for justification. Nobody needs a father figure to tell them it is wrong to steal from a kid lying at the side of the road with a broken jaw. No amount of government money spent on playgrounds and youth centres will stop a certain element in society from taking any excuse to get out in the streets, burn down people’s homes and livelihoods, and throw rocks at the police. And no policy changes from the Tories, who everyone seems to be singularly blaming for this crisis despite the fact that Labour were in power as these young people grew up, will change the fact that some people do not want to be educated, or informed, or bettered in any way. They are quite happy to simply remain as they are and continue to blame everyone but themselves.

The only thing more depressing than watching the horrific scenes of the riots on television, and seeing the fear on the faces of the innocent people affected, is listening to the debate that is ongoing in their aftermath. Because it is abundantly clear to anyone listening that nothing is going to change. If there is one universal truth about our species, it is that we do not learn from history. This is the society we’ve made for ourselves, and it’s one we’re going to have to live with for a very long time.


The Hour of London

Celebrations were held in London this week to mark the fact that only one year remains until the 2012 Olympic Games are upon us. Next summer will see the city play host to the world’s most eminent sporting event, with the best athletes from around the globe coming together to compete.

The modern Olympics have changed drastically since the first tournament was held in 1896, now basically consisting of massively expensive and ostentatious opening and closing ceremonies, with a few races thrown in here and there for good measure. Next year’s opening ceremony will be overseen by Oscar-winning director Danny Boyle. Perhaps the ceremony will be based on one of his films: an extravagant, futuristic celebration based on Sunshine? A Trainspotting-inspired journey through the darker recesses of urban British counterculture? Or maybe a return to the zombie-infested London of 28 Days Later, complete with Thriller-esque choreography? Whatever he decides to include, it seems the ceremony is in safe hands. Let’s just hope it doesn’t last for 127 Hours. Or star James Franco.

The Olympics used to be all about the events, and for the purists there is no better example of the famous adventurous Olympic spirit than the 1900 Games held in Paris. The Games were held for over five months, and along with the usual sports like athletics, football and gymnastics, certain events were trialled over the course of the Games that failed to become official Olympic sports. Among the stranger contests held this year were firefighting, hot air ballooning, delivery van racing and poodle clipping. The most bizarre, however, and certainly one that wouldn’t be allowed today, was live pigeon shooting. Nearly 300 pigeons were killed in the event, with the winner reaching a tally of 21. Pretty impressive considering Dastardly and Muttley couldn’t even get one.

Of course the 2012 Olympics will feature some ridiculous events too. Dressage, for instance, essentially involves a group of insanely rich toffs who are all related to each other trotting around on their horses. The medal is then awarded to whichever of them looks the most upper class. There is also the rhythmic gymnastics section, in which artificially shrunken pre-pubescents pretend to be cats and roll around with ribbons and balls and other feline accoutrements. Whoever comes fourth in gruelling events like the marathon each year must be really pissed to see one of these tiny cat-people come away with a gold medal after playing around on the floor for a while.

The Olympics these days is more about personalities than anything else. Firstly there’s athletics superstar Usain Bolt, the chicken nugget-powered fastest man in the world over 90 metres, at which point he slows down and moonwalks the rest of the race just to mock his inferior opponents. Secondly, adopted American son and über-celebrity David Beckham, who has stated he wants to play for the British football team in 2012. Maybe if they win they’ll finally give over about 1966. Let’s just hope it doesn’t go to penalties. And thirdly, eh, that Canadian curling guy. Yeah, him.

Aside from these few colourful characters, the inevitable bone-crunching falls in gymnastics, and the excitement of watching the hammer and the javelin in the hope that someone gets nailed in the head, there is very little of interest in the Olympics. A West African will run really fast and win the race. A Bulgarian bloke called Artem with no neck will lift slightly heavier things than anyone else and win a medal. And whatever Belgian cyclist has pumped himself so full of drugs that his heart beats about 700 times per minute but not so full of drugs that his calves explode, will win the cycling events. All very predictable and not very exciting.

What the Olympics needs is a breath of fresh air, something to reinvigorate it and make it compelling viewing once more. While going back to some of the events of the 1900 Games is probably not the way to go, there may be some inspiration to be gleaned from going back even further, to the Ancient Olympic Games.

Traditionally the last event of the Ancient Games was the ‘Hoplite race’, in which competitors had to compete in full body armour, including helmet and shield. This would certainly make the 800 metres a bit more interesting. Or the Olympic boxers could take their example from the Greek competitors who weighted their leather gloves with metal. Hitting a man when he was down was perfectly legal, however if you went too far and killed him, he was automatically declared the winner. Bit of a Pyrrhic victory really. One tradition that isn’t likely to be revived, however, is the nakedness of all competitors in the Ancient Games. Although it would probably make beach volleyball even more popular with male viewers.

Maybe all the Olympics needs is a new image. Its motto, ‘Faster, Higher, Stronger’, isn’t exactly awe-inspiring. How about ‘5 Rings to Rule Them All’, or ‘The Olympics – Drug Free Since, eh, the Last Olympics’. Although the way things are going, in a few years the motto will probably be ‘The Olympics – Silver Medals for Anyone Who Isn’t Chinese’.

The 2012 mascots are similarly disappointing. The puzzlingly named Wenlock and Mandeville sound like gay lovers from some rejected BBC period drama set in the stables of a stately home. They don’t even look particularly athletic, seeing that they are supposedly made of steel. The whole cycloptic thing they have going on can’t be much good for their depth perception either. They’d never get out of the blocks in the delivery van race, and as for poodle clipping, forget about it, they don’t even appear to have fingers.

Despite the somewhat faded grandeur of the modern Olympics, I will still no doubt be glued to the television for its duration. It only comes around every four years, and is the pinnacle of achievement for the athletes who have trained so hard and sacrificed so much to be there. Which is what makes it all the more enjoyable when they fail spectacularly. Now I’m off to find some pigeons. I reckon I can beat 21 before the day is out.