Monday, 26 June 2017

The Pernicious Effects of Cuteness


Michael Brandow has a fine piece in Quillette lamenting the rise of cuteness and its pernicious effects on what we are.

Call me a sociopath, but I’ve always had a problem with things conspicuously cute. As a child growing up in the sixties and seventies, unlike most of my peers, I couldn’t help but see something creepy, even sinister in those smiley faces supposed to make us smile. The weird yellow circles with the arched mouths and dead black ovals for eyes, slapped on everything from school binders to rear bumpers and hippie asses, didn’t elicit the warm-and-fuzzy feelings intended, not for me. No more do those favorite emojis on social media today, really just variations on a smiley, make me trust the opinions they’re used to express.

No I don't like emojis either, not because they fail to convey what they are supposed to, but because they are so much more limited than words. Subtleties are lost.

Brandow also describes how Mickey Mouse changed from Walt Disney's original mischievous rodent to something far cuter and less threatening. 

The older Mickey’s ears were gradually ripped back to expose the forehead of a helpless infant. Eyes were swollen as large as any Margaret Keane puppy’s. The snout was crushed to be less wolfish than Wiley Coyote’s, more puggish like a pudgy angel’s button nose. The entire head in relation to the body was infantilized, an enormous bulb bolted to a diminutive body with long, wiry, mobile, unpredictable arms and legs reduced to the fat, dwarfed, lame stumps of a Teletubby or a French bulldog.

The whole piece is a longish but entertaining and interesting read, especially Brandow's references to supposed links between violence on the screen and social violence. He isn't buying it.

Violent crime did skyrocket in the sixties and on through the seventies and eighties, but could scarcely be blamed on Sylvester swallowing Tweety and belching a feather, the sort of gag promptly outlawed by the new cartoon police. Rascally behavior was in fact rising over the very decades when children’s shows were being mollified, apparently with opposite the intended effect.

Towards the end we have this observation about social media.

Behind those smiley faces, I’ll say again, is something grim, and learning later in life that it wasn’t just me, that icons are, indeed, open to interpretation, has been no solace. As an author and journalist, I remember feeling disappointed and demoralized to see intellectuals I respected, fellow writers, and heads of the few remaining serious, independent publishing houses, finally jump ship and hop in the clown car with the kiddies. After mocking the latest video games, they lowered themselves to Facebook, and worse, Twitter, a forum that reduces the most complex ideas to the slick, smug brevity of an advertizing pitch, where knowledge is vast but shallow, truth is based on consensus, and almost no one reads beyond the catchy one-liners, or a tangled mess of links added to reinforce gut feelings.

Sunday, 25 June 2017

Glastonbury grotesquerie

From somersetlive we hear that Shadow Chancellor John McDonnell has already identified who is responsible for the Grenfell horror.

The families who died in the Grenfell Tower fire were “murdered by political decisions", according to the Shadow Chancellor.

Labour MP John McDonnell was speaking at an event at the Left Field area of Glastonbury Festival today (June 25) when he made the remarks.

He was speaking alongside Jonathan Bartley and Faiza Shaheen at the event called Is Democracy Broken?

McDonnell told the crowd the families were “murdered by political decisions" in recent decades.

I suppose it is Glastonbury where nobody is expected to be rational or reasonable, not even the Shadow Chancellor. 

Thursday, 22 June 2017

Frantic Times

Round here everything goes eerily quiet in hot weather. During the recent spell we spent a large chunk of our time sitting in the garden, mostly in the shade and often with a beer. Retirement eh? I love it.

Meanwhile the mainstream media seem to be increasingly frantic in what feels more and more like a doomed battle for relevance. Hysteria rules but is anyone listening and more importantly, are their advertisers likely to remain on board? When will their advertisers give up on shouty newspapers nobody under fifty reads anyway?

The impression is partly explained by a series of major news stories from Brexit to Trump to the Grenfell horror, but not entirely. Great changes are abroad which are not encouraging. 

Back in 1952  Frederik Pohl and Cyril M. Kornbluth wrote a science fiction novel called The Space Merchants

In a vastly overpopulated world, businesses have taken the place of governments and now hold all political power. States exist merely to ensure the survival of huge trans-national corporations. Advertising has become hugely aggressive and by far the best-paid profession. Through advertising, the public is constantly deluded into thinking that the quality of life is improved by all the products placed on the market. Some of the products contain addictive substances designed to make consumers dependent on them. However, the most basic elements of life are incredibly scarce, including water and fuel. Personal transport may be pedal powered, with rickshaw rides being considered a luxury. The planet Venus has just been visited and judged fit for human settlement, despite its inhospitable surface and climate; the colonists would have to endure a harsh climate for many generations until the planet could be terraformed.

Pohl and Kornbluth's fictional world is dominated by vast advertising agencies where governments are merely clearing houses for business interests. I read it decades ago when to me it seemed like an ingenious but fanciful attack on rampant capitalism, a product of its time. It doesn't seem like that now.

When we remind ourselves that the old mainstream media are struggling to survive in a world dominated by the colossal reach of social media and vast internet advertising businesses. When we add in global elites with no ties to time or place, when we add the growing power of international bureaucracies and their willingness to direct human behaviour - 

Well then - with a few modifications Pohl and Kornbluth's ghastly fictional future seems somewhat less fictional.

Tuesday, 20 June 2017

Damp spot

A pair of coots building their nest on Carsington Water. Their nest may be tethered to the bottom in some way but the essential feature is that it floats and that helps chicks survive. It's what coots do but unfortunately and with no wish to criticise the experts, this one seems a little flimsy. 

We watched while they busily added a fair amount of material, mainly lengths of weed and and what appeared to be waterlogged oddments dredged up from the bottom. The whole structure never seemed to inspire confidence though - they climbed onto it very gingerly. Reminds me of government projects but no doubt they know what they are doing.

Sunday, 18 June 2017

Broken Kindle

My old Kindle has given up - charge it up one day and the battery is virtually flat by the following morning. I could buy a new battery off the internet but that may not be the whole problem so I've decided to treat myself to a new one, a slimmer, lighter touchscreen version which I'll hate at first but eventually I'll get used to it.

The old Kindle lasted about five years which isn't bad considering how intensively I use it and how often I drop it. At the moment I'm enjoying a beautiful sunny morning in the garden while waiting for the Amazon man to deliver the new one. Only ordered it yesterday. Modern life eh? Amazing technology and amazing organisations all mixed together with amazing insanity.

Friday, 16 June 2017

Is Higher Education a Scam?

Some very interesting and uncomfortable points made by Peter Thiel. Higher education as a zero sum tournament for example - not something we are ever likely to see presented by the BBC or hear from mainstream political parties.

Thursday, 15 June 2017

Voting for bums

I voted for our sitting Tory candidate in the recent general election. Doing so went against the grain, but our MP seems to be a decent enough chap who does his best for the constituency. During the previous election he came to the door and seemed a little overawed by Sajid Javid who was also with him and did most of the talking.

During the run-up to the recent election I saw him walking the streets on his own and almost felt sorry for him. His is a thankless task from the look of it. I don’t think he’ll ever be a minister or see the inside of his party leader’s clique. 

As we know, Nick Timothy and Fiona Hill were key people heading Theresa May’s clique, a pair of political advisers nobody actually elected because that’s how things are done in our post-democratic age. It is obvious that these two were almost certainly more powerful than anyone you or I voted for. Most of us voted for one of the bums on seats or some poor soul who didn’t even get that far.

We have known this forever, particularly since Tony Blair’s political machine swept all before it. Now Nick and Fiona have reminded us that voting for a party is much the same as voting for its leader. Or rather it is much the same as voting for the leader’s clique. Conservative and Labour leaders both have their cliques through which things are done. If your MP isn’t in the clique then he or she is merely one of the bums on Parliamentary seats, at least as far as the real power is concerned.

That being the case, not voting at all is an entirely understandable attitude. For most of us it cannot possibly make a difference to political outcomes. The leader’s clique is democratically inaccessible and voting for bums on seats merely perpetuates that reality.