Wednesday, February 25, 2004

Laugh until you cry

We’re a Will and Grace type household. I don’t mean Emma’s a firebrand redhead and I’m a gay guy, except; Emma is a firebrand redhead of course. Specifically, we’re Jack and Karen people, I don’t mean Emma’s a feisty lady with an acidic tongue and I’m a gay guy. Except Emma is a feisty lady with an acidic tongue… Ooh ducky…

Anyway, Fraiser, Friends, Will and Grace, (I should, given my age and social status, add Sienfeld, except I’ve never really seen it) – I like quality American comedies.

In Vegas we got an insight into how Americans make their TV. Deep inside the MGM Grand Sara spotted a small booth with a couple of men in it. The sign outside invited people to ‘sign up’. I went and bought a cool CBS Sports T-shirt, Sara asked what it was they wanted people to sign up for.

It turns out it was they were testing pilot TV shows and were looking for people to give them feedback. Hoping to see the first episode of “My Mom’s Made of Mince” or “Our Neighbours, The Elks” we put our names down.

It turns out we were to watch Mystery Girl (which has worrying amounts of coverage throughout the web), this is a cross between Sex and the City, and Ally McBeal – a quirky former It Girl becomes a writer for a fashion magazine and subsequently uses her It Girl training (an in-depth understanding of fashion labels) to solve crimes. Oh, and she makes friends with her agoraphobic shoe making neighbour.

Yes, really.

In the final scene after she’d solved the murder, and got her front page story Mystery Girl’s impressed boss turned to her and smouldered “But can you do it again?” to which she turned to camera and said “As long as celebrities keep behaving badly.” Before putting her pencil in her mouth seductively.

It was as bad as it sounds; throughout the show we had keypads on which there was a dial and a display. The default display read ‘50’, if we were enjoying the programme we were expected to turn the dial up (Maximum 100), if we were getting bored, we turned it down (to 0). Every second of our enjoyment, or otherwise, was being captured.

By the end of the half hour my dial read ‘6’, Emma’s read ‘4’, Christ, even my TV obsessed younger sister would have only marked it around a 78.

What struck me about the process was what this did to the programme making. Whenever something visually interesting happened I automatically turned the dial up, any extended dialog, I turned it down. As Homer might say; ‘BOOOORING’.

Assuming I’m reasonably representative of the average viewer (apart from not being American, obviously), what this means is according to their research, there should be more visual impact and less blah. Which, of course, would mean something like The Office wouldn’t get out of the starting blocks. It means that TV will only be made if there’s plenty of bang in the buck. Stories, dialog and interplay are simply not commercially viable. The hollowed out characters in Mystery Girl were testament to this.

I understand that Corporate America needs to reduce the risks that creativity offers but we’re all going to end up pretty numb if we continue to follow this path – all we’ll get is a procession of Benny Hill type shows. All the while there is less and less chance another Office, or Monty Python, or Vic and Bob, or Little Britain, or League of Gentlemen reaching our screens.

God bless the BBC, that’s what I say.

Monday, February 23, 2004

Viva Las Vegas, obviously

The Rough Guide gives you some very simple instructions about Las Vegas; if you want to go and look for the hidden city, the one the guide books don’t tell you about that the locals frequent. Don’t bother, it doesn’t exist.

It’s a refreshingly honest place. Turn up, spend money, have fun, go home. We are not here to enrich your soul or enlighten your being. We are bigger and stupider than anywhere in the world.

On average each of the 29 million visitors to Vegas loses $688 gambling. Each slot machine makes on average $250 profit a day, and each table $2500. The hotels are vast complexes which are pumped full of pure oxygen to keep gamblers awake, there are no exit signs or clocks, and drinks are served free to keep the punters’ gambling creative. Wadda place.

I’ll get round to all the various things we did and saw in good time, but in short…

Stayed at the Luxor, shopped at Caesars Palace, took part in some viewer research for an appalling comedy drama pilot show on UPN, went on the rollercoasters on top of the Stratosphere and New York New York, ate at the Bellagio Buffet, gambled a little, saw the Bellagio fountains visited Elvis-a-rama and saw an Elvis impersonator, ate a dozen Krispy Kreme donuts, saw Lance Burton’s magic show, the MGM Lions and Siegfried and Roy’s Tigers, had taxi rides with one driver who wanted to assassinate the president, and one who thought it was funny to hoot his horn at an old woman crossing the road in an electric wheel chair. Took advantage of the outrageously good exchange rate and bought a stack of CD’s and trainers, saw the gondolas on the second floor of the Venetian, had burgers in the Mandalay Bay resort, but not the Rossini burgers, the one with truffles and fois gras, because they were $60…

But we didn’t get married much to the chagrin of everyone who called, emailed and texted within hours of us getting home. Sorry.

Saturday, February 14, 2004

Above the below

When I went to bed last night I managed to concoct a theory to do with eggs, potatoes and my current situation. Something about there being a basic human need to trade. If I have a potato and he has an egg, but I want egg and he wants a potato, we trade. That’s it. And if that were the only reason for working, to trade to satisfy a basic human need, everyone would be traders and most jobs would be redundant.

Politics, accumulation, and power are the real reasons people in the modern world work. Satisfying the basic human need is actually a tiny proportion of anyone’s spending. Therefore the angst that has resulted from the political shenanigans that have been going on is what I’m really being paid to suffer.

Just to clarify, I haven’t been sacked, or anything like that. Materially nothing has changed; I still do the same job for the same salary. It’s just according to these job ads my salary, which on Thursday was a good one for the company, now equates to a relatively junior role. Which doesn’t change my material well being, just dents my ego. Which is all rather meaningless in the great scheme of things. I’m sorry to bore you with it.

Right, that’s that. We’re off to Vegas on Sunday for a week in the stupidest town on the planet. I’ll see you all when I get back.

Friday, February 13, 2004


Yesterday I earned a good salary in a challenging, stressful but enjoyable job. Today I don’t. The job section of our local paper is advertising four jobs at our place. One of the four is a ‘Head of’, just like me. The job reports to the big boss man, like me. It requires an MBA or equivalent, like me. It offers a salary 30% higher than mine.

What does this mean? Am I being screwed? Am I on my way out? I have no beef about people earning more than me, but salaries quantify your worth to the company. I thought I was part of the solution, a new wave of creative and dynamic individuals hired to turn the company around. Now what? I’m part of the problem? Is a new new wave coming in to solve the problems created by the old guard? Even when this particular member of the old guard has only been in place a year and has never been told they’re going in the wrong direction?

The whole thing smacks of gross incompetence, a common theme at our place, people who earn good money and live good lives making isolated decisions without any consideration for the wider picture. I doubt anyone has even considered what the 30% differentiation communicates to the interested world. Good money does not equal good people.

But why should other people be allowed to make you feel like this? I don’t need more insecurities, I struggle with the concept that my friends hang around with me because they like who I am and not because of Emma or Spankee or a circumstance they’ve found themselves in, I don’t need people to make thoughtless and arbitrary decisions about my worth and value. The calculation is too hard for me as it is.

So what now? I’ll challenge the logic, I’ll apply for the jobs (I’m more than qualified), I’ll make their lives as uncomfortable as possible. And then what? Well, they may tell me to fuck off because they do think I’m an incompetent prick. So in the interim? Beer, flying out to Vegas on Sunday and listening to Public Enemy.

Fuck em all.

Wrong time to blog, I know.

Sunday, February 08, 2004

Ball control

To suggest Championship Manager is a popular football management simulation game is like saying your fingers are the frilly things that make your hands look pretty.

The current 4th edition is exquisitely detailed, so much so that there’s a story that Leeds United once tried to buy a fictional Championship Manager player that had been planted deep inside the game.

Personally, I favour Championship Manager 2; partly because the gameplay is less comprehensive so processing power can be handed over to the Angolan 4th Division as well as La Liga. Mostly it’s because years ago I went from managing Oxford in the 2nd division to the European Cup Final with Everton. The game took place in front of my dad’s Amiga at four in the morning, and as we figuratively lifted the trophy I realised my parents were probably upstairs fretting as to why I hadn’t spent my teens experimented with recreation drugs.

In the real world, Jamie Brooks is a prodigiously talented Oxford United striker who two days before a trial with Arsenal was struck down with a debilitating illness called Guillain Barre Syndrome. It nearly cost him his life, and may yet cost him his professional football career.

I’m currently playing Championship Manager 4, and as usual I’m managing Oxford. I’ve let my heart rule my head and let Brooksey rehabilitate on my weighty wage bill. He’s been permanently injured for two seasons, commanding a status of ‘Out for several months with a viral infection’.

During a mammoth session on Sunday a message popped up to say that Brooks was finally available again, apparently (and this is genuinely what it said)…

“Jamie Brooks has resumed full training after his bollock fell off.”

Thursday, February 05, 2004

Cooler shaker

There’s something hypnotic about hitting your fridge with a hammer. However rather like dabbling in crack cocaine you really don’t know you’ve gone too far until it’s too late.

I don’t mean thumping a hole in the door to reach the cheese, I mean hacking away the build up of ice. We have huge icebergs packing every crevice and corner of the fridge, our claw hammer lies wantonly on the floor. Pasties and Chicken Kievs whimper quietly deep in the depths of the cold wasteland. I must retrieve them, this I must. I haven’t gone through the filament yet, but I will. Oh yes. I will.

Tuesday, February 03, 2004

I'm lovin' it

We've all done it haven't we? Those cripplingly embarrassing moments which come back to haunt you from time to time. For me, it was accidentally buying my Grandma a three pack of tanga briefs for Christmas. Even now I can't pass a Marks and Spencer without maniacally swatting imaginary flies from around my head.

Poor old Justin, he's 'accidentally' exposed a Janet Jackson booby (or as it's called in Thoroughly Modern Milly - 'a front') during the Superbowl half time show. How lucky she taped what appears to be a small cog from a dishwasher onto her nipple beforehand. How strange that the costume, which looks like it would otherwise withstand a nuclear assault had a weakness around the right cup area. What tough luck, normally when he tries to undue a woman's bra he's all fingers and thumbs.

Whether this was a carefully staged part of the show or not, it doesn't surprise me that the Superbowl needed a bit of spicing up. American Football is the most cripplingly boring game you can hope to watch. Especially as its sold as a sport hell bent on excitement, power and aggression, or at least that's what all the adverts with rambo-esque musical montages of NFL heroes screaming "Let's hurt them bad" would have you believe.

I understand the game - you have six goes (or downs) to move the ball ten yards, if you move it ten yards you get another six goes. If you don't move it ten yards the other team gets the ball. The objective is to move down the field and into the End Zone for a touchdown, worth something like 5 points. It's played in four quarters of fifteen minutes - one hour in total.

I watched a Superbowl final once. During the eighties Channel 4 was more than the visual Guardian it's now become. They used to cover obscure sports like Sumo and Kabbadi, their NFL coverage in particular was exciting and new. 'My team' the San Francisco 49ers reached the final and my A Level timetable meant that I couldn't watch the Sunday night coverage and sleep a little later and get in for Sociology or some such on Monday morning. It was mind crushingly dull, for three hours large men shoved each other and the ball moved inch by inch in one direction, then inch by inch in another direction. In between were endless adverts, or Channel 4 would cut back to the studio where Englishmen with feint American accents would talk about offence and dee-fence.

The half time extravaganza was lavish and expensive, but the sound was ropey and the singers clearly miming, not something that matters when your in Row 4,768 of Candlestick Park. The game ended with a last second touchdown, except in American sport, the last 30 seconds can last up to twenty minutes. It was, apparently, the most exciting Superbowl ever.

Last night I watched the build up, diddy Dermot O'Leary (an NFL fan, apparently) sat next to a monster with a jerry curl afro and nodded along to useful insights like "It's the team with the best team spirit that will win". I watched an hour, which allowed me to see the captain's toss the coin for kick-off (only America can have 6 captains on each side), I also got to see the first twenty seconds of the game. Then I went to bed. Bored.

I woke up this morning to read that New England Patriots had won in a 'thriller' but I now know that it was probably anything but. Anyone who did endure the whole thing would have been thanking god for the right nork of a troubled musical dynasty's favourite daughter.

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