Snailing By

Apologies for the recent lack of updates from me, been working away on a thing for electric pavilion ( & as always, please feel free to post if you have a login, and feel free to ask for one if you don’t . . . )

Anyway, this week’s Orchestra Cube . . . after a slow start, where it initially didn’t seem like Peter or Jesse were turning up, actually turned out to be a really good one.

In wild scree

Team Brick did a crazy clarinet duet/battle with someone on a saxophone ( sorry name presently unknown to me )

Brick battle

And the whole Orchestra practised a trio of waltzes for the soon come waltz night, including a delightfully swayingly skewed version of Ronald Binge’s ‘Sailing By’ ( the tune featured nightly on Radio 4 before the shipping forecast – on a similar note see also ‘Rising Slowly‘ linked this week via tom ) .

Meanwhile in the wider world, but still bringing you news that’s not as new as it should be . . .

I don’t know where you stand on old Bristolian Banksy after Charlie Brooker & one time Bristol dweller Chris Morris’ TV version of Nathan Barley ( which I didn’t find as hilarious as hoped, but it does seem to make all that style magazine sanctioned stuff seem even more ridiculous than it was before, but then as it was all so obviously ridiculous already I can’t work out if that’s a good or bad trick, probably a good trick because it looks like it’s bad because it looks like it’s good because it’s bad, yeah? etc. etc. Oh dear. etc )

Anyways, as you may have heard, last week Banksy illicitly installed a piece in each of the following institutions : The Museum of Modern Art, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, The Brooklyn Museum and The American Museum of Natural History, then submitted the documentation . . .

He said he liked Toss

. . . to the Wooster Collective which was picked up by the NY times, and then spread all round the world ( last seen in Japan ).

He’s actually done it before to less hysterical acclaim, in The Tate and The Louvre – and Invader did a similar thing before that, also in the Louvre, about 7 years ago to even less reaction.

And I don’t think back in ’95, a full decade ago, my drop into the Renato’s wall of frame even made Venue.

Back soon with more of Yesterday’s news Today, I might even finally finish The Rotterdam Pictorial and get up the explaination of Peter’s orchestral hand signs . . .

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2 Responses to Snailing By

  1. Francis says:

    About Nathan Barley – I know it’s had loads of media coverage, but the following might be of particular interest. It’s a rare interview (by email) with Chris Morris and co-writer Charlie Brooker, from the Sunday Times (27 Mar 2005).

    Also below is Times TV critic Caitlin Moran’s entertaining, if factually flawed, column about the series’ allegedly male-centric approach. If anyone is interested, I will also post my (unpublished) refutation of her column.

    Interview: It’s hard to be an idiot
    Well dense? Chris Morris and his co-writer explain the sitcom Nathan Barley to Stephen Morris

    The first series of Nathan Barley clattered to a close on Channel 4 last weekend, and a quick perusal of the cuttings suggests that the series, written by Chris Morris and Charlie Brooker, has to date garnered more column inches than the return of Doctor Who. From wild adulation to astonishingly bad-tempered invective, Nathan Barley’s depiction of the excesses of wigged-out nu-media types more than made up for disappointing ratings with its disproportionate social impact.

    Online teen chat rooms spotting self-obsessed idiots refer to them instantly as “a bit of a Nathan Barley”, suggesting the phrase will join “Up to a point, Lord Copper” and “It goes up to eleven” in the rich pantheon of catch phrases that American college professors (and Barleys) like to call memes: sampled and sampled until those who use them aren’t entirely sure why. Others have sought to defend Barleyism, among them the anonymous correspondent who angrily found the truth a little close to home: “I am constantly quoting Robin from vintage Batman cartoons, which is a bit Barleyish,” he huffed in a BBC chat room, “but it can be funny (trust me on this one).”

    If the series has made it impossible to claim ironic ownership of kitsch, it will have performed an immeasurable service. From the early 1990s, the possibility of mutilating anything of value, then facing criticism with a sneered “whatever”, has become the dominant cultural discourse. At the same time, the series introduced two actors of startling skill: the stand-up comedian Julian Barratt, whose portrayal of the collapsing style writer Dan Ashcroft was understated and powerful; and a newcomer, Nick Burns, as Nathan, who brought an unexpected depth to a character originally conceived as the archetypal prat.

    Amid all the debate on the series, the voices of its creators have been hard to hear. Chris Morris and Charlie Brooker created the show out of a character on Brooker’s website, TvGoHome, but have said little about either their intentions or their response to the criticism. In a brief e-mail chat last week, however, they outlined their views with considerable aplomb. It was well bum.

    ST: “Some reviewers have said they were surprised they didn’t hate Barley as much as they were meant to.”

    Chris Morris: “Well, if they found they didn’t completely hate Barley, why conclude that they were meant to? Alan Partridge was an arsehole, but how many times do you hear people say, ‘I’m worried I don’t hate him enough’? No matter how heinous someone’s behaviour, if you make them a comic character, you can’t expect people to hate them. Jack T Ripper effectively blew up the planet — do you hate him? “When people say ‘love to hate’, they actually mean ‘love to be appalled by’ — if they truly hated them, they’d never repeat a catch phrase.

    “Nathan is not al-Zarqawi. He’s a cocky tool who tries too hard. If you really expect that to summon the full force of your hatred, I’d say you were mentally ill. In a sitcom, you travel with the monster — you don’t just see them from the outside. Even on Charlie’s original TvGoHome website, which has a much more exterior viewpoint than a sitcom, the sheer level of psychotic rage spewed at Barley is part of the joke — it’s implicitly unreasonable.”

    Charlie Brooker: “The fury vented in the TVGH listings was so patently over the top, only a bastard couldn’t have felt slightly sorry for Nathan even then. Nathans in general don’t strike me as nasty or scheming — they simply display a rather irritating enthusiasm for life, or rather a version of life that’s essentially an imaginary movie starring themselves in the lead role.”

    ST: “Some people seem unable to watch the programme without going into neurotic convulsions over whether it is a sitcom or a satire …”

    CM: “A sitcom isn’t usually the right tool for satire… When you watched I’m Alan Partridge, did you really go, ‘Thank God they’re exploding the hideous world of the local-radio DJ in temporary accommodation’? Or The Office, ‘At last someone’s rodding the paper merchants!’? You can have incidentals that are satirical — background jokes, peripheral characters — but mainly you’re concerned with the psychological flaws of your lead.”

    ST: “Great sitcoms always have tragedy somewhere at their heart. Do you see tragedy in the characters in Nathan Barley? Is there hope of redemption?”

    CM: “Hmm. Not sure how much tragedy there is in Porridge, Yes, Minister or Seinfeld, but both Dan and Nathan have access to desperation. Nathan is certainly headed for a massive crisis — possibly as soon as his next birthday (he is 26), when a party photo reveals a receding hairline, he finds his string vest riding up on his belly and he is struck by his first true insight into his own uselessness. Twenty-seven is the most common age for men to commit suicide.

    “For Dan, with his greater self-knowledge, redemption hovers just out of arm’s reach, and I suspect he will make increasingly desperate lunges for it. One reason we couldn’t hate Nathan is because, beneath the honking idiocy, he is desperate. He cares too much what people think, so he can’t be effortlessly cool — he can only try to appear so. And that’s very hard work: studied nonchalance is driven by a turbocharged insecurity. That’s enough empathy to understand his motives, but not enough to excuse him. The pursuit of approval usually ends in disaster.”

    CB: “I think Nathan will end up going crazy, simply because he’s got so many inconsequential choices to make, all of which involve the way he’s perceived. Look at the way mobile phones are marketed — apparently, when you buy one, you’re buying something that will “express who you are”, something others will judge you by. If that’s true, society might as well drown itself in a bucket and have done with it. You should only judge someone by their mobile phone if they’ve hand-painted a swastika on it. But even though you know the whole notion of that is ridiculous, the terror’s going to be bubbling away somewhere in your head next time you’re in Carphone Warehouse looking for a new handset.

    “Extrapolate from that one example to cover virtually everything you can think of, from the type of trousers you wear to your views on globalisation, and you’ve got a world full of things for Nathan to take sides on, but never personally analyse. His brain’ll revolt in the end.”

    CM: “And you can score Nathans in Manchester, Hastings — I’ve seen a pair in Whitby, and they hadn’t just been blown off course. The world of nu-media gunslingers with nothing to say, and every conceivable way of saying it in a world of gadgets, bars, clothes and mock attitude, is a repeat module in cities across Britain … the Hoxton label is not ours: it’s the London media’s.”

    Girls last laugh
    Caitlin Moran
    Male comedy writers can’t seem to create funny women, which may be why viewers in their droves are deserting Nathan Barley

    Nathan Barley has shed half its audience in six weeks

    THE second-most anticipated sitcom of the decade, after Ricky Gervais’s soon-coming Extras, is Nathan Barley, but it has tanked badly on Channel 4. Now nearing the end of a six-week run, Barley has dropped from 1.2 million to 0.7 million viewers and failed to register in Channel 4’s Top 30 programmes.
    Losing almost half your audience after three episodes is surely a carelessness on a par with losing both parents, although some of the defections can be put down to cunning scheduling by ITV. They put a season of Bond films on opposite it and posed, for many, the ultimate Friday night dilemma: satire or Halle Berry’s tits?

    Still, this ratings loss is a sobering drop-off for a project by Chris Morris, a man who, since he intoned, “These are the headlines — I wish to God they weren’t” in The Day Today, has had one of the most loyal fanbases in comedy.

    Why has Barley done so badly? Some have posited the theory that it’s because the whole idea of the show — satirising media-crazed Hoxtonites with unbearable hair — is passé, as Hoxton is over. But frankly, saying that Hoxton is over is exactly the kind of thing that people from Hoxton would say, and therefore all grist to Barley’s mill.

    Hoxton, like the poor and Duran Duran, will always be with us. Several of Nathan Barley’s phrases have already crossed over into what passes for conversation among young people (“Keep it chopped out!” “Keep it futile!” “Awesome Welles!”), and the casting is, in itself, a work of quiet genius, particularly the Mighty Boosh’s Julian Barratt as the persistently compromised Dan, the fatally underused Richard Ayoade as Ned and Charlie Condou as the Jefferson Hack-like Jonnaton Yeah?.

    But Nathan Barley is unfocused, both structurally and in its satire. Personally, I suspect that as Chris Morris — along with his co-writer Charlie Brooker, who originally created the Nathan Barley character on his peerless website TVGoHome — did their reputed three years of research on Hoxton, they found that Hoxtonites’ main obsessions (new technology, unlistenable music, the boundaries of acceptability, silly slang) were, in fact, pretty close to many of their own. It’s difficult to find any other way of explaining why the character of Nathan Barley, who was, in his website incarnation, a wholly irredeemable sh**stain with all the morals of a bubonic flea, is now a loveable dandy buffoon with his heart in the right place.

    The lack of focus is equally puzzling. As anyone who remembers Channel 4’s brilliant documentary on the style magazine Dazed and Confused can testify, the most fertile area for a Hoxtonite satire is the workplace, with all its backbiting and unbelievable, gravity-reversing stupidity. Most of the best bits of Nathan Barley have been set in the office of Sugar Ape/Suga Rape magazine: people riding tricycles, shouting “It’s well Mexico!” and wearing tiny top hats.

    But perhaps mindful of treading on the monolithic toes of the The Office, of which Morris is apparently a great fan, Nathan Barley withdrew from the workplace and focused on the relationships of world-weary media-wannabe siblings Claire and Dan Ashcroft, who are supposed to represent the horror a “normal” person would experience on venturing to Hoxton.

    The problem with this is that one half of this partnership, Claire Ashcroft, is one of the worst TV characters this century. The woman has been landed with the unenviable role of having to provide the moral compass for a whole series. While all the other (male) characters are getting good lines, wearing silly hats, exhibiting multidimensionality and generally lining themselves up for a mention at the Comedy Awards, Claire Ashcroft has nothing more to do than display exasperated disapproval at the boys, slam a few doors and sigh like a punctured haggis over everything they say.

    It’s notable that the only other female character in Nathan Barley, the receptionist, has a role similarly disapproving of this silly, shallow, male media world — and this despite the fact that three of the most high-profile style magazine editors of the past ten years (Rachel Newsome at Dazed and Confused, Avril Mair at ID and Sheryl Garrett at The Face) have been female. This insistence on female characters who, in a perpetual male-loathing strop, do little more than re-enact severe PMT symptoms is a terrible waste of script-space.

    To be honest, I’ve seen the character of Claire Ashcroft before. I’ve seen her fill both roles of the miserable, furious women in Closer, pop up on UK Gold as Joy in Drop the Dead Donkey and Kochanski in Red Dwarf.

    When it comes to writing lead roles for young females, there appears to be a glitch affecting ostensibly liberal, middle-class screenwriters in their thirties and forties. They tend to create brunettes with nice tits who are articulate, cynical, good at pool and into Elvis Costello — and then, in a moment of self-realisation, fear that they’re engaged in little more than an upmarket version of the scene in Weird Science where the teenage boys creating their ideal woman on a computer give her breasts the size of beach balls.

    Scriptwriters tend to decide to cobble on the additional attributes of misandry and fury, ostensibly aimed a world of letches and boors but actually aimed at her creator for perving her. Of course, all this oddly fusty insistence that women are too sensible to bother with funny lines does solve one mystery — it’s suddenly easy to understand which half of Nathan Barley’s audience had abandoned it by episode three.

  2. mr_h says:

    Sorry for the delay in this comment appearing, Francis – it got caught by the spam filter!
    Please do post your “(unpublished) refutation of her column” if you still would like to 🙂

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