Sunday, 31 August 2014

The traditional broadcast model of advertising – one way, one-to-many, read only – is being superseded by a vision of marketing that wants consumers to spread the word themselves. But what are the implications of moving from being passive advertising targets to being “advertisees” – responsible for being marketed to?

Read my article in the Baffler here:

Sunday, 17 August 2014

Even prison is fun if it comes with jokes about Netflix

A bombardment of twee 
disguised as an issues drama
Growing up one of my favourite films was Trainspotting. The wit, the snappy cutting, the MTV aesthetic – it was heroin as pop video. ‘Just choose life...’ The blu-tacked face peered down from my bedroom wall. If there was anything I aspired to, back then, it was to become a drug addict.

It was a trend that persisted throughout the iconic films of the 1990s. Oldman in Leon, Keitel in Bad Leuitenant, Thurman in Pulp Fiction: charismatic stars taking drugs in designer colours to cool soundtracks. It was enough to make any teen shoot up.

It was only later I began to wonder if it really appropriate to film narcotic addiction like you’d shoot the titles for a Blur video. Legalise them or not, drugs do change lives, especially young ones. Had Trainspotting done for drugs what Tarantino did for guns? In other words, should coke and heroin abuse really be made to look cool?

Which brings me onto Orange is the New Black, which has been airing for a while here. It’s the witty gritty tale of a woman imprisoned for a brief contact with a drug dealing girlfriend a decade ago, and it has some good points: it has a bisexual lead, which is good to see; it’s wittily and snappily written, fluidly filmed; it’s entertaining pizza television.  

So what’s wrong? And how’s that any different from the rest of the focus-grouped and test-screened U.S. sitcoms, which are generally pretty watchable in a time-wasting kind of way?

Here’s what’s wrong. A series about prison life – about damaged lives, violence, trafficking – doesn’t need to be fun. It doesn’t need to be sassy, or smug, or snarky. Sitcom values aren’t appropriate for this topic. How funny is a colonic strip-search for prisoners who are actually forced to undergo them, rather than the attractive actresses pretending to for a few takes before they waft back to their trailer? Do we really need to raise a smile about starvation, racism, sexual abuse? Do we need this stuff enacted by a shiny cast of mostly beautiful people who help to make prison look kind of fun – Scrubs with shower jokes?

And boy, is Orange twee. It’s so aggressively twee that it’s like having a Belle & Sebastian vinyl reissue smashed across your face while someone waterboards you with organic smoothies and forces an ironically undersized Minnie Mouse T-shirt down your throat. Cool, gentle, new-age, indie boyfriend? Check. Cool, gentle, new-age, indie soundtrack? Check. Cute scenes of lying around in bed checking photos and Netflix on Apple tablets? Check, check, check. Prison or not, Orange is fodder for the iPad bourgeoisie. 

The thing is, I can take twee. I can: I just need it to be quarantined. I need twee to be kept in its own little twee-hole, cute and pink and curly – and I need it to stay there. When twee embraces social commentary (black people! human rights! prisoner abuse! #wereallydocare) it feels tonally jarring – like Heat magazine doing a segment on Catholic paedophilia. I get that this is the kind of class slumming the show is gently mocking – we’re as complicit as the lead character in finding out what prison’s “really” like – but this is TV wanting to have its cupcake and eat it, to be both thoughtful social commentary and iPod froth at the same time. I don’t buy it.

I’ve been briefly imprisoned myself (only a few hours, but I can garuntee – those few hours really mark you) and had DNA swabs in my mouth and all the other routine invasions of the body modern policing rests on, and let me tell you there’s nothing funny about it. Orange is the New Black is a smart, smug, sassy, snarky, sarky piece of moving wallpaper, but it won’t be going up on my wall. I wonder how many prisoners’ll get the chance to watch it.

Monday, 4 August 2014

European legislation threatens to create a new legal industry for dismantling the searchable past. But the web itself is already a gigantic memory hole, burying history beneath endless screeds of white noise. In the heated attention economy, perhaps a greater plight is faced by the millions striving to be searchable but ultimately lost in the long tail?