Saturday, September 13, 2008

Sex, Booze And Guns

Children who drink alcoholic milk called Kefir are much less likely to get food allergies, says the Society of Chemical Industry. The fermented cow-juice inhibits the allergen specific antibody Immunoglobulin E (IgE). Reading this oddly reminded me of the conversation I had with The Mighty P.P. about decency.

I was recalling how in the first dot com boom, in 1998, a venture-capitalised US start up, using the domain (it's no longer there) approached me to run their musical European operations. They had (don't they always) BIG plans to be the next big "content" channel. They offered me $50k p.a., a really nice place to live in California, shares in the company, and I was tempted. I was single, I was just coming out of my first sabbatical, and I was up for a change. This could have been it, so I researched the company and looked at what was on offer.

Pretty soon I realised a couple of things about this company which raised significant doubts about its long-term prospects. First, it was a put-together, top-down, formulaic affair, constructed by people with little or no knowledge of culture. This was evident by the fact that my would-be boss - in charge of the US - was possessed of one single claim to fame, viz, that he had sold Real Media to the US military. I searched in vain for some indication that he had editorial, journalistic or entertainment business credentials but found none.

Second, as I skimmed through the few deals they had in place, it was obvious that they were aiming this cultural offering right at the very narrowest, most conservative audience within mainstream America, and that this was not going to convince anyone outside of these communities, and especially not in Europe, used to art house radicalism and regular revolutions of the wheel which defy censorship. I remember having the nipple conversation with the lovely woman who was trying to recruit me.

Me: "The problem is censorship. For a European, a nipple or a bare bottom is quite normal and natural. In the States, it's indecency. How much leeway will I be allowed here?"

Her: "How do you mean? Are we talking pornography here?"

Me: "Um, no. Just the nipple. Not hard-core pornography. You know, like in paintings?

Her: "No I don't think we have those kinds of paintings here."

Me: "Ummm... you do. Maybe you haven't seen them? Paintings by Titian, for example, or any from the renaissance... you know, often they have religious or classical themes."

Her: "And these paintings show sex?"

Me: "No, just naked bodies."

Her: "I'm not sure about that."

Me: "It's just that we don't have any problem with these kinds of images. They have been part of our culture for hundreds of years and we can understand the difference between them and pornography."

Her: "I'm not sure that's a view we can take."

I decided not to take the job.

The Mighty P.P. is a British parent. He's fairly tolerant but he won't take shit, as we say in these parts. When it comes to drawing the line, he will do, but he rarely needs to - his kids seem pretty balanced. So, he was in the States, staying with some friends, and they were discussing alcohol. He said that he allowed his 13 year old to drink half a pint of cider (fermented apples) at a summer music festival. His American hosts were appalled by this - "Don't you know you can be locked up for administering alcohol or drugs to a minor?" - and so he ran through the arguments that supervised exposure is better than a ban, which fuels unguided experimentation, but they were having none of it.

As he told his tale, I recall being allowed the same indulgence as a child and smiled at the memory. I recalled my Italian friends calmly giving very watered-down wine to their five year old, just to make sure it was no big deal and that being left out didn't encourage over-curiosity. It had worked for them, they explained. Wine was food, was it not? A part of life which must be understood to be properly enjoyed.

So, The Mighty P.P. continued, he was staying with this perfectly nice, normal US family, and while they were chatting about these cultural differences, he heard sudden repeated shots and became alarmed. "Don't worry, that's just Tommy," he was reassured. "Tommy! Come here and show your AK47." Turned out that one of their two kids had a replica AK47 BB gun, and the other, a model Uzi. The kids, he was told, were encouraged to use these, and every so often, taken to a large canyon nearby, and given the real thing, with real bullets, just to make sure they could use guns properly. As the shots resounded and richocheted, a police car would sometimes turn up to check them out. Seeing a happy, gun-slinging, all-American family in action, the cop would simply say, "Be safe now!" and drive off.

Here lies an acute blindness on the part of the Great American Public, and some bizarre and twisted values. Sex, or more particularly, the public celebration of sexuality, is wrong and bad, and along with alcohol, drugs, gambling, part of the gushing font of liberal evil - but violence is absolutely wonderful. It's an embedded, condoned, feted part of the American psyche, this love of guns, and it goes to the very top - NRA being incredibly well-organised lobbyists - and down to the deepest roots of US family life.

I recall the murder rate on the Canadian side of the border being a hell of a lot lower than the American, with the same amount of guns available to both. I don't recall any children being shot to death in a schoolhouse by a nipple.

So complete is the conservative victory over the American mind, you'd think the 60s revolution, make love, not war, never happened.

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Friday, September 12, 2008

Tits Out For Jesus

The enterprising Wing Tai company, a leading retailer, has been stocking a line of cosmetics including "Virtuous vanilla" lip balm and a "Get Tight with Christ" hand and body cream, featuring a picture of Christ flanked by two adoring women. BBC

Singapore's Christians seem to have misplaced one of the key messages of their middle-eastern import, Jesus Christ, son of God, who let's not forget, scandalised decent, law-abiding, clean-living, Roman-resisting Jews everywhere by hanging out with the lowest of the low, prostitutes, tax collectors, the sick, the grieving, the abandoned and the destitute, and preaching a doctrine of tolerance and forgiveness, with a spectacular "live and let live" death thrown in to top it all off.

This is not new, of course, and neither are contradictions within Christianity or any other religion. But there is something about people in groups which operates on a completely different level. At a certain point, individual rationality and compassion give way to the workings of the pack, and this goes for capitalists and Christians alike.

Greatly stimulated by this news, and hearing I have commissioned my own brand of miracle cosmetics, toiletries, sex toys and everyday household items, regular usage as per instructions guaranteeing your place in heaven, or your money back. Jesus, being good, wise and having a cracking sense of humour will laugh, especially at the artful irony of the cash/bliss juxtaposition.

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Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Annual Sex

Overpopulation is the reason why we as a species are out of balance with nature. It's really that simple, and I think we all know why, in our secret, greedy little hearts, that situation has arisen: sex.

Too much sex is killing the environment. No matter that we can use contraceptives, we don't, or at least, not enough of the time to prevent the messy collision of cells that generates another prototype saint or sinner, i.e. fellow human being.

Six billion is five billion too many. It cannot last, and it will not last. However, you can bet your bottom that once wars, famine, mass population movement to escape rising sea-levels and rampaging strains of obscure biological weapons, of which we as yet know nothing, escaping from a Hungarian or perhaps Chinese laboratory, enter the biosphere spreading hitherto untreatable diseases and havoc in whatever landmass they infect, leaving only a few scattered pockets of humanity living in the sad and useless remnants of the promised high-tech future that never was, that the remaining homo sapiens will still be obeying the biological imperative, having sex, and making babies.

I have therefore decided to promote a new paradigm which, if widely adopted, will at least start to mend the appalling exhaustion of the planet which is brought about by there being too many of us: ANNUAL SEX.

Annual Sex as a way of life will return sex to the special place it once enjoyed, a place of precious celebration and rare pleasure. Gone will be the daily exhortations to measure life success by this crude yardstick. Sex sells will no longer be the mantra of the mass market. Sexual rarity will increase value, bring peace to nations, and bring about cohesive societies. Nakedness will be no longer be taboo; gender relations will lose iniquity. Sexual stamina will be rewarded since no limit will be put upon the length of the single, annual sexual act. The entire world will once again love, live and breathe, secure in the knowledge that we are in balance with our environment.

All this will be brought about by genetically modified toothpaste.

Remember: you read it here first.

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Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Ryanair Schoolgirl Scandal

Budget airline Ryanair are refusing to apologise for an advert which shows a "provocative" model dressed in school uniform on the grounds that this is "censorship".BBC ARTICLE

This is an interesting moment because I am a big fan of sexual openness and expressive freedom, but I can hear the fnaar! fnaar! of popular protest resounding loudly up and down our prurient land, as people jump on the non-PC bandwagon to defend Ryanair's right to use the image.

It will be nigh on impossible to have a measured debate about this - in tabloid Britain, we either snigger or scream when it comes to sex. Rational discussion of the issues is rarely an option. I remember left wing MP Clare Short once wanted to ban Page 3 of the Sun newspaper, with its time-honoured bare-breasted working man's titillation, and how viciously she was derided for being an ugly and unattractive killjoy with no attention to her socio-political argument at all. She was victimised along traditional male lines even by women - but that should not surprise us, after all, look at Thatcher - for daring to question the traditional view. Yet, this tradition sustains perfidious prejudice and ongoing female disenfranchisement.

We decry the national lack of success in prosecuting for rape, yet we defend the continual objectification of ever younger women without conceding that they are intimately, causally related. More and more cases of long term systematic abuse of women (and children) come to light, yet we do not make the connection between this widespread behaviour and our ingrained and hardened attitudes towards women as sexual commodities. This is a massive failure of thinking on the part of our culture, and our nation.

My view is that this is a human rights issue, and the way to show that is to translate the image from sex to race. In racial politics, over 200 years, the arguments have been won. Even Australia is finally apologising for the appalling treatment of its Aborginal inhabitants. If this image used ethnicity to illustrate "HOTTEST" in a similarly seaside cartoon fashion, using a native black women with, say, a bone through her nose, it would never have got past the ad agency drawing board.

We cannot legislate for respect, but we can show it, and we can demonstrate it to our children. I say, ban the advert, and kick reactionary Ryanair into the 21st century.

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Wednesday, December 05, 2007

Let's Talk About Sex

There is a bona fide 80s revival happening at last. Michael Jackson's Thriller is 25, padded jackets are in, and I'm just watching for an outbreak of big hair and ra-ra skirts among young women to complete the picture. Soon the miners will be on strike.. oh no, there aren't any miners left, are there? Thatcher had them all put to death.

But let's not dwell on the sordid - let's welcome the return of the Most Misunderstood Decade in Musical History. Beginning in post-punk, witnessing the rebirth of funk and culminating in worldwide rave, the 80s were a miraculous journey for music, resounding with the sudden impact of technology way before any of the other strings which make up our guitar-shaped culture - or as it was, a keyboard-shaped culture - as cheap Japanese drum machines and samplers found their way into bedrooms everywhere.

In 1983, Professor Perry and I constructed an audio sampler in a biscuit tin (Scottish Shortbread, nice and flat) powered by the marvellously rubber-buttoned lo-fi monster, the ZX Spectrum. A full second and a half of 8 bit audio was available in ear-crunching glory. I sampled the Flintstones and recorded a version of "I Wanna Be In America" which I gave on chrome cassette to my black, gay American friend Donald, who was working with me that summer at the Tate Gallery, London.

Donald was the most out of out gay men I had yet met. He was a solidly built, perfectly charming, erudite, politically savy New York Columbia graduate. He wore long dreads, half-moon spectacles, and black Vivienne Westwood dresses. The rather square management of the publications department were quietly proud of him, like a trophy of their liberalism as they hid behind their brown cardigans and corduroy slacks in an otherwise conservative decade.

Donald opened my eyes to the vices and schisms of North America like no other person I had met. He told me about clubs, music, fashion, art, and sex. This was in the days when AIDS was a looming shadow, sex was not a subject for open debate, but I was fresh from art school, where all subjecs were fair game, and Donald's carnal knowledge was wide-ranging. And so, the two of us would charm and entertain our fellow book and ticket-sellers for hours, expounding the techniques of troilism, the benefits of cocoa butter, and the fine art of fisting in measured, reasonable tones at a volume just below public, in order to retain our employment.

Although I learned a lot, I was unshockable, and we both took perverse pleasure in observing various members of staff getting very hot under their collars, eavesdropping on our wide-ranging discussions on carnal behaviour, mores and morality. Donald seemed surprised to have ever shocked anyone, and on the rare occasions when a less bold staff member would request an explanation or a change of subject, he would always apologise politely and attempt to ensure there was no repeat performance of offending someone's more delicate sensibilities. One female staff member later confessed to me that she had been driven to masturbate in the toilets, as a result of the salty conversations we were having.

At a stroke, my life was divided into before and after - my impression of the USA before Donald, and my knowledge afterwards. Sex was a fascination for us both, but more lastingly, he told me of the deep racism that scars the land of the free, and how that freedom does not extend equally to people of colour. He told me about the black man who attempted the simple act of walking across America barefoot, north east to south west, and how many times he was arrested for doing that, and how many times the police beat him up for doing nothing but walking in the wrong place without shoes. Actually, he was telling me about himself. He became sad, honestly recounting tales of oppression and brutality, but, still despite his Europhile nature, maintaining an American's peculiar pride in his own, flawed country.

You know how it is: disposable pop music defines your life without you having any choice in the matter. For all his sophistication, Donald had a uninhibitedly straight taste in music, and loved cheap pop songs as naturally as flowers. This morning when I awoke and considered the ongoing 80s revival, it was Donald and Salt and Pepa who came to mind, rather than any of the musical greats of the 1980s which became my personal touchstones. Let's Talk About Sex will always remind me of Donald. And right now, I can't get the song out of my head.

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Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Sex With A Bicycle

A 51 year old Scottish man has been found guilty of having sex with his bicycle and sentenced to three years probation and also placed on the Sex Offenders Register for three years.

If Robert Stewart had known of Flann O'Brien's famous book, The Third Policeman, he might have thought twice about this intimacy. O'Brien's treatise, expounded by Sergeant Pluck, was that the laws of physics and the leeching of the atoms of one thing into another caused profound changes to occur in the physical make-up and the behaviour of individuals and objects.
The gross and net result of it is that people who spend most of their natural lives riding iron bicycles over the rocky roadsteads of this parish get their personalities mixed up with the personalities of their bicycle as a result of the interchanging of the atoms of each of them and you would be surprised at the number of people in these parts who nearly are half people and half bicycles.

O'Brien described how certain people would be seen leaning against walls and if moved, would simply clatter over and lie without being able to get up again. On the other hand, bicycles after a lifetime of proximity to humans, would take on human attributes, and become unreliable, wayward, even drunk.

I wonder whether horrified Sheriff Colin Miller had thought to pass the same judgement upon the bicycle. After all, it takes two wheels to tango.

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Sunday, October 07, 2007

Autumn Haiku 7

running round the park
fitness, a modern virtue
Sunday morning sex

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