Thursday, 25 August 2011

Why Pop Stars Are Like Shops

The concept that mainstream music artists are like brands is nothing new but these days I'm seeing a closer resemblance to supermarkets: they seem to be parred down to a handful and they're difficult to totally avoid. They are everywhere, whether we like it or not, invading our psyches via TV or Radio (unlucky if Radio 1 is the populist choice in your workplace, or it’s company policy to play MTV on the big screens during your bar job shifts). Sound bites and gossip about celebrities and pop stars constantly dilute the news and swamp the Internet. Pictures of half-naked socialites and details of film-star diets accompany headlines about rioting and war.

‘You can’t stop talking about me, tweeting about me' goads X Factor contestant turned UK chart topper, Cher Lloyd in her debut single ‘Swagger Jagger’. Well, in response I'd say, that’s because you're bloody everywhere, like Tesco Express. I didn’t pick her, I didn’t buy her single, I didn't google her but I still heard about her. So curiosity got the better of me and I did listen to her song and it was as bad as everyone said it was. I’m not what she might call a 'hater'; hate's a strong word and takes way too much effort but her song is as wrong as a tub of Tesco's pre-made sandwich filler. 

I consciously try to avoid 'the big four' and always Tesco since they plonked an EXTRA in the middle of our small seaside town. Instead, I aim to support small, local, independent shops when I can. The food is usually better and fresher. It's a pleasanter experience and great to see an employee being treated like a human being and not a corporate slave at the bottom of a capitalist pyramid. But now and again I just end up in a supermarket because I need a bottle of water, or it's Sunday, or 8 o clock at night, or I've only got £3.50 left until Wednesday. They are getting more and more difficult to avoid in modern life. They have driven out the competition and dominated the market with lower prices, big advertising campaigns and sheer prolificacy. Many people have become reliant on them for the majority of their weekly shopping. 
These days you can neither go to a large music festival without the headlining presence of one of the major music ‘brands’: Beyonce, J-Zay, Rihanna, Jessie J, Black Eyed Peas etc.

In some people's eyes the number of fans these artists have should reflect their talent. But really, it reflects their coverage, the influence of their sponsors and the clout of their advertising campaigns. They are just like the supermarkets that have the biggest presence. Not necessarily the best but people get used to going there. 

Have their fans really had a good look around? They might find there’s the musical equivalent of a local delicatessen or real patisserie down the road, run by some not so famous people who make a damn good musical croissant and will even give you the time of day and have a chat about what’s really going in the world instead of going on and on about their own sex lives, wealth and fame. 
Rihanna is not a great vocalist live; she sings along to a backing track, karaoke style, rarely finishing a lyric but giving it a lot of sassy attitude. It doesn’t seem to deter her fans. What she lacks in vocal talent she makes up for in plenty of costume changes, elaborate staging and headline-grabbing displays of apparent sexual willingness towards the audience. Unfortunately, one of her songs was drilled into my head. I'm afraid I caught myself humming S & M whilst doing the washing up. So the songs are catchy? Perhaps, but so are commercial jingles if you hear them enough times. I could just as well have been humming: 'Washing machines live longer with Calgon!'

So here are some more specific pop star-shop analogies:

Beyonce and J-Zay are Asda because Asda pretend to be a wholesome outfit with family values, providing low cost food to the hardworking men and women out there but actually they're owned by evil Walmart and are rapidly destroying the world and your health. Beyonce with her bum shaking and bling flaunting reminds me of the infamous pocket-tap Asda advert. Ching ching! Listen to that change jangle!

Lady Gaga is Morrisons, because the logo is lurid yellow like her hair and both have a penchant for pyramids. She could make a wonderful new dress out of scallops from their fresh fish deli. But be careful, she is secretly teaming up with Beyonce at Asda and poisoning you ala Telephone! 

Rihanna is Tesco because the good girl gone bad is the most openly amoral. Tesco had no qualms about saying no to a certain TV chef's free range chicken campaign. And Rihanna had no qulams about her S & M video being banned in several countries: "Controversy means more publicity and more success", she chirped in an interview after the Brit awards. Controversy is good for Rihanna business. Cheap chicken is good for Tesco business. Rihanna and Tesco appeal to the lowest common denominator in people; for Tesco customers it's cheap, battery-farmed chicken breasts and thighs. For Rihanna fans, it's just breasts and thighs. With her new single 'Cheers' she advises alcohol as a way of shaking off one's problems; "Turn it around with another round," she sings. Drinks manufacturers and supermarkets can only be too pleased about this endorsement. And since many in the US are living in tent cities due to the global recession, they have lots of problems to escape. 2 for 1 on strong lager anyone? The only way Tesco could be more like Rihanna was if the cashiers spoke over a pre-programmed backing script and never finished a sentence themselves.

The Black Eyed Peas are Spar because they're just, well, a bit shit and full of dodgy raw ingredients that's been over-processed and disguised by some sort of nasty cheese sauce. 

Ndubz is Iceland because I've never been there and probably never will.

Britney Spears is Woolworths, once full of cheeky pick-n-mix, fluffy hairbobbles and school uniforms, but now sadly dysfunctional.

Coldplay are Waitrose because they're all posh and piously sanctimonious with their Make Poverty History bracelets and responsibly sourced crayfish tails.

That leaves Sainsbury's and I'll have to give that to Jessie J because of the J and because she's British.  And even though Price Tag was an annoying song that grated on me for a whole working summer, it's much better to hear kids sing, 'It's not about the money,' than 'Sex in the air, I love the smell of it,' (Rihanna) so that's like sainsbury's commitment to Fairtrade bananas in my mind!

So remember to SHOP AROUND! Keep supporting the small shops. Keep listening to, tweeting about, talking about and sharing good music otherwise we face a dystopian future of only Tesco and Asda and only Rihanna, Beyonce or Gaga!! Arghh!!


Starsuckers.  A very interesting and well researched docu on the cult of celebrity. 

Jarvis Cocker- Running the World.  Jarvis' heartfelt bid for alternative xmas No.1 Excuse the language, but come on, that's what swearing is for.

Guy De Bord's Society of the Spectacle  For those who aren't familiar with this site and the themes within, it's a real eye opener..


Friday, 12 August 2011

The Aftermath: 'Us' and 'Them.'

Writing about the British riots makes me very, very uncomfortable.

I’ll tell you why, using a quote from award winning blogger, Laurie Penny:

“Most of the people who will be writing, speaking and pontificating about the disorder this weekend have absolutely no idea what it is like to grow up in a community where there are no jobs, no space to live or move, and the police are on the streets stopping-and-searching you as you come home from school.” 

I admit, I am one of those people. I also have no idea what it’s like to jump out of a burning building, be too terrified to leave my house, find my livelihood destroyed, be mugged in the street whilst bleeding, or lose a beloved son. 

 I have been in tranquil Devon the whole time.

I heard about the shooting of Mark Duggan over a week ago and thought ‘Oh, that’s terrible. His poor family. I hope the IPCC get to the bottom of it. More police corruption etc blah, blah.’ But I was busy seeing family so I didn’t give it much more thought. Then the riots started in Tottenham, and even at this point, I thought, ‘It probably won’t last long.’ It wasn’t until cars and buildings were on fire in Brixton, Hackney and Croydon that I, along with the majority of the population began talking, tweeting, facebooking or broadcasting about it non-stop.

It didn’t seem to make any sense. What did the death of Mark Duggan have to do with teenagers looting in disparate parts of London?

Someone posted the now  prolific, ‘Brave Hackney Lady' video on facebook: “You make me ashamed to be a Hackney person because we ain’t all getting together and fighting for a cause, we’re going down Footlocker and thieving shoes,” and I jumped to agree. As the images of burning homes and smashed up small businesses saturated the media, I was swept along with the consensus that this was ‘no longer about a shooting in Tottenham. This was hooliganism and opportunist criminality.’

I’ve always approved of political dissent, but this wasn’t looking like anything more than grabbing ‘free stuff’. The rioters appeared to be choosing targets out of greed, not for their political poignancy.

I couldn’t comprehend why the unrest had spread so quickly. I didn’t understand how these people had suddenly lost all inhibition and fear of the law. I was concerned the government intended to use the riots as an excuse to clamp down harder on civil liberties, Internet freedom and rights to protest.

But I was still completely ignoring the fatal shooting of a 29-year-old black man by police, and later, the beating of a 16-year-old girl by 15 police officers, when she was asking for answers about the incident.

I then watched a BBC interview with West Indian writer, Darcus Howe. The presenter was in the studio, Howe was standing in front of a burnt out building in London. The presenter asked "Are you shocked by what happened last night.” 
He replied “No, not at all. I have been living in London for fifty years. There are so many different moods and moments but what I was certain about, listening to my grandson and my son is that something very, very serious was going to take place in this country. Our political leaders had no idea. The police had no idea. But if you looked at young blacks and young whites with a discerning eye and a careful hearing, they have been telling us and we were not listening, what is happening to them in this country..” he’s just about to go on and tell us what has been happening to them when the BBC presenter interrupts him; "You say you’re not shocked by last nights events, does that mean you condone them?"

This type of either/or thinking seems so typical a trait of the BBC since the beginning of the ‘War on Terror,’ echoing George W Bush’s: 'You’re either with the terrorists or with us!'

When the interview isn’t going quite the way she'd hoped, the presenter accuses Howe of participating in riots in the 1980s:
“Your not a stranger to riots yourself, I understand, are you?” she asks as though addressing a naughty schoolboy. He counters, “I have never taken part in single a riot in my life. I’ve been on demonstrations that have ended up in conflict, and have some respect..” Howe is understandably incensed. 

No one with an ounce of empathy would condone the violence, the damage to people’s homes, or the three tragic fatalities that have occurred in Birmingham but perhaps we should cease the continuous ritual of condemnation, and acknowledge that these occurrences are ugly by-products of political unrest. Ugly by-products, the mainstream media has chosen to focus on for political reasons. 

"If you’re not careful, the newspapers will have you hating the people who are being oppressed, and loving the people who are doing the oppressing." – Malcolm X

In one NBC report, a young man in Tottenham was asked if rioting really achieved anything:

"Yes," said the young man. "You wouldn't be talking to me now if we didn't riot would you? Two months ago we marched to Scotland Yard, more than 2,000 of us, all blacks, and it was peaceful and calm and you know what? Not a word in the press. Last night, a bit of rioting and looting and look around you."

Around him were several young men being interviewed by news teams.

As a result of the riots, I am also aware that 333 people have died in police custody since 1998 and their have been 0 police convictions; a total of 400 people from black and ethnic minorities have died in police custody since 1990. I wasn’t aware last Thursday. My previous article on this blog is about the wrongful conviction of a man. A white, businessman. I spent weeks researching it. I have to ask myself, why wasn’t I aware?

"The people do not know, because they are not told." Hilaire Belloc, poet.

I am sorry for everyone who has been hurt. I admire the Londoners who took to the streets with their brooms to clear up. I salute the fire service. I praise the people who had a whip round and bought a present for Ashraf Haziq, the Malaysian student who was robbed. I appreciate the police for getting to grips with the situation and working through the night to keep the streets safe. I think the people who brought them tea are lovely. 

I do not salute the reaction by some of our population who are brimming over with vitriol and welcoming a police state. 
Noone can deny there has been a serious problem, but let’s not be too quick to put it down to greed and bad parenting. Let's not make this into an 'us'and 'them' moment in our nation. As in 'Us', the law abiding folk and 'Them,' the rioters.
It should be 'Us', the people, and 'Them', the bankers, politicians and corrupt sections of the police.
How many livelihoods and homes people have the bankers ruined and broken? How often have politicians and police abused their power?

If Britain is ‘sick’, we should ask why. If Britain is ‘sick’, one could say David Cameron is the nurse contaminating the patient’s saline solution with insulin. If this was just ‘mindless thuggery’ we must ask how, when and by whom were the lobotomies performed?

I went to school with some of the people throwing insults about ‘scabby chavs’ on facebook. Come on guys, most of us had at least one parent who gave a shit about us; we went to an exceptionally good school, surrounded by open space, where the teachers were compassionate and dedicated; we lived in a kindly community with nothing like the level of violence and fear the kids of Peckham or Streatham live with, and didn’t you shoplift an eyeliner from Boots once? Or a chocolate bar from Woolworths, ever? You just never know what you’d be capable of given different circumstances. 

"Nothing should be off the table." David Cameron

An authoritarian knee jerk reaction is what I feared; that there would be sufficient material in the media to disgust the nation in such a way that the majority would allow unlimited police power to protect themselves from the 'rioting' minority. Much like after the bombings of 2005 when Tony Blair announced "the rules of the game" had changed, Cameron is proposing a series of similarly draconian and impractical measures including shutting down the Internet in times of civil disorder!
What is the definition of 'civil disorder'? Could it be extended to talking in a bad way about the government? That is the sort of thing that has been attempted by Middle Eastern Autocracies in the face of revolts from their own oppressed people. Let’s not forget this minority were complaining about oppression in the first place.

First they came for the Duggans,
and I didn't speak out because I wasn't  a Duggan.

Then they came for...
The Hackney Lady was right. Let's get real.

'Anyone who sacrifices their freedom for security deserves neither.' Benjamin Franklin. 

Give Our Kids a Future! A North London Unity Demonstration 

London is Burning: Youth Demand a Future Protest and Meeting

Cameron's Law