Sunday, November 28, 2021

YOU WILL REALISE OUR AIM IS THE SAME [321]


It is well known that the line “infamy, infamy, they’ve all got it in for me,” from the 1964 film “Carry On Cleo”, was not written by its scriptwriter Talbot Rothwell, but was borrowed, with permission, from Frank Muir & Denis Norden and their radio series “Take It From Here” (1948-60), which included the prototypical dysfunctional family sitcom The Glums.

Of course, “Carry On Cleo” borrowed rather more than that, namely the leftover sets and costumes from the blockbuster historical picture “Cleopatra”, for which 20th Century-Fox had moved production from Pinewood Studios in Buckinghamshire, to Cinecitta in Rome, in 1961. 

“Cleopatra” would be released in June 1963, having first signed Elizabeth Taylor to the starring role in September 1959. Meanwhile, “Carry On Cleo” was shot in July and August 1964 for a release in cinemas in December of the same year. Ironically, “Carry On Cleo,” in both its thrift and haste, is actually closer to what “Cleopatra” was meant to have been.

The “Cleopatra” crew had left behind an opulent and elaborate group of interior sets, and a standing outdoor set that was overwhelming in scale, but were constantly deteriorating in the dire British weather, requiring daily touch-ups on paint and masonry, and tropical vegetation to be replaced for each day of shooting. When Taylor developed a cold, later a fever and meningitis, a better climate was required for all aspects of production, and with the 1960 Summer Olympics now over, Rome became a more favourable option once more. With the decision made to start afresh, the $600,000 set and other items were left behind.

"Carry On Cleo”, starring Amanda Barrie as Cleopatra, Sid James as Mark Anthony and Kenneth Williams as Julius Caesar, was concocted as a way of using what was left behind, injecting British bawdiness into more luxuriously appointed surroundings than normal. However, producer Peter Rogers and director Gerald Thomas approached the shooting of the film in the same manner as their other productions, using mostly medium and close-up shots that work for the comedic acting and dialogue, but making no use of their sets’ scale. Mind you, this was only the second “Carry On” film to this point to be shot in colour, and its poster had to be made less similar to that of “Cleopatra” to avoid legal action, so expectations perhaps have to be set accordingly.

However, "Carry On Cleo" was what "Cleopatra" was originally intended to be: a quick, $2 million, 90-minute romp starring Joan Collins, who had been tested extensively for the role, while also intending to get 20th Century-Fox out of a sticky position with their finances by remaking the script for the almost-entirely lost 1917 “Cleopatra”, starring Theda Bara. The ambition of producer Walter Wanger, following the success of “Invasion of the Body Snatchers”, and the subsequent signing of Elizabeth Taylor, caused the production to spiral into a $44 million behemoth that nearly sank the entire company, having been seduced by how much more they could have if they had bigger production values and bigger stars. The contractual obligation to use a widescreen film process owned by Taylor, Todd-AO, developed by her late husband Mike Todd, is one of the less likely sequences of words in the history of filmmaking.

A later film shot at Cinecitta, the notorious adult film “Caligula”, also had its set reused for a parody, “Messalina, Messalina!”, made by “Caligula” co-producer Franco Rossellini. The film was released in 1977, two years ahead of its target - like "Cleopatra", "Caligula", a film of similar opulence and reputation, had its own set of problems.

Saturday, November 20, 2021

AND THROUGH THE WIRE I SEE YOUR FACE [320]

In 2020, I bought a new television. My previous LCD TV, bought in 2011, was becoming clunky and slow in comparison for what I can now get for two-thirds the cost, in addition to a higher-quality LED screen. Connected to it is an Apple TV box, a Blu-ray player, and a secondary DVD player that allows me, living in Europe, to watch region 1 DVDs from the United States, a cheaper option than buying a Blu-ray player that covered this requirement.

 

However, I still expected to connect the DVD player via SCART, the only option available on it. What I had not banked on was the almost wholesale dropping of SCART connections from audio-visual (AV) equipment since I last had to buy a television. 

 

Known as Péritel in its originating country of France, and first appearing in 1977, SCART is the acronym of an organisation of manufacturers that created a shared AV connector standard, and the name of the connector itself. The intention of creating a shared standard was to simplify the connecting of different AV devices, whether they were analogue or digital, and to avoid incorrect connections. To that end, twenty-one pins were supplied to carry composite, RGB, S-Video and YPbPr component video signals, and analogue, optical or digital audio signals – your devices would then choose the best connection to make. SCART connectors also carry the control signals that allow, for example, a DVD player to be “woken up” from standby mode when your TV switches to its connection, and you could daisy-chain devices together.

 

This is something I did not realise until much later, because I did not know: for a long time, SCART leads were often the only connectors available to televisions in the UK apart from that needed for an aerial, and while we may be used to HDMI offering similar ease of use, HDMI is for transmitting digital audio and visual data, and not the analogue signals from older devices – there have been HD televisions and laser-disc players that used an analogue component signal of 720 or 1080 lines, but this was used mainly in Japan, where a version of SCART also gained traction, and was extremely expensive.

 

Where did this leave me, with my region 1 DVD player? There is a spare HDMI connector available on my TV, but the requirement to turn the analogue signal from the DVD player into a digital one that can be accepted by HDMI means that the cost of a converter was higher than I wanted to spend, while also requiring a power source to assist in processing the signal from analogue to digital. You can use the VGA connector that is now often included to turn your TV into a computer monitor, but while that will carry a component visual signal to the TV, it won’t carry the sound. 

 

In the end, I had to buy an adaptor to break out the composite signals from the scart lead to use the red, white and yellow AV connectors at the back of the TV. For the record, while SCART has not been a requirement on French TVs since 2015, which is perhaps what led to it being dropped elsewhere, the inferior composite signal and connectors created by RCA in the 1950s have apparently proved too ubiquitous on TVs worldwide to kill off.

Sunday, November 14, 2021

BLUE, BLUE, MY WORLD IS BLUE [319]


Sometimes, you only notice a trend when it has already fully established itself, leaving you to trail back to where it might have begun. My latest such realisation came in, well, the alcoholic drinks section of a local supermarket, one which still separates out the non-alcoholic versions of well-known brands into their own, comparatively tiny section.

I had been looking for Guinness 0.0, which is basically the standard draught Guinness with the alcohol filtrated out at the end of the production process, which has recently been reintroduced after a contamination issue led to its withdrawal in October 2020 after only its first two weeks on sale. I remember it tasted pretty much exactly like normal Guinness, if a little lighter, with notes of coffee – here’s hoping that wasn’t what was wrong with it.

The design of Guinness 0.0 cans is pretty close to those of the standard brand, except for stating “0.0” in large blue lettering, and blue bands on the top and bottom of the cans. The supermarket did not have it, but with the other non-alcoholic brands grouped together, I realised that similar design choices had been made on the packaging of other beer brands like Heineken, Beck’s (named "Beck's Blue"), Moretti and San Miguel, but also on Kopparberg cider, Freixenet sparkling wine, and Gordon’s and Tanqueray gin.

The shelves that inspired this article


While not a hard and fast rule – Budweiser Zero removes the red from the standard design to leave it in monochrome, and Carlsberg 0.0% outright replaces its green colour with blue – the use of blue highlights on existing branding, to emphasise the taste identified with the brand over the removal of a major element and selling point of that brand, is something that must have slowly sprouted over the last year, as brands latch on to a growing taste and trend. 


I rarely drink alcohol as both a preference and a rule, so the opportunity to avoid it altogether will make having a Guinness even more enjoyable, while I wait for Pimm’s to follow suit. Therefore, another interpretation of this use of blue is to indicate safety, that this drink you would only have in certain acceptable circumstances is safe to drink anywhere, at any time, without having to think about it. My reason for thinking this is intentional is having seen Heineken 0.0 on sale in a shop that otherwise did not sell alcohol, which was a high street branch of the newsagent-stationers-bookshop WH Smith – thinking about it further, the blue accents on the Heineken can made it fit in with the soft drinks stocked next to it.


Having said all this, I live in a country where the colour blue on food and drink packaging is more associated with a conspiracy theory that Walkers Crisps changed the bags for their cheese and onion flavour from green to blue, never acknowledging they changed it, when in fact they have always used blue, despite the majority of other brands use green.


Always read the label.

Saturday, November 6, 2021

LET YOUR JOURNEY START FROM HERE [318]


It is a fact of 1990s family life that some VHS cassettes were repeatedly watched until the tape wore out. My family had many: “Who Framed Roger Rabbit?”, “Back to the Future”, and “Fantasia”. All would be replaced as time and home video formats progressed, but one tape, which became lost within the family home, could not be replaced until the film’s eventual DVD release in 2006.

It turned out our lost copy of what was being called “Laputa the Flying Castle,” recorded from a TV airing on 31st December 1988, was from the first occasion that a Japanese animated feature film had been shown on British television. That this was shown at 9.25am on the populist ITV network, more known for cramming their Christmas schedules with Star Wars, Harry Potter and James Bond, is even more remarkable. If they ever did it again, I am not aware of it.

 

A story of mystical cities, escaping kidnap and airborne pirates, “Castle in the Sky” was directed by Hayao Miyazaki and released, in 1986, as the official first film from Studio Ghibli, founded on the success of “Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind” two years earlier. Like much of Miyazaki’s work involving planes, airships and other flying devices, “Castle in the Sky” has become widely influential as a classic of the steampunk genre.

 

The flying island itself is lifted in name and concept from Jonathan Swift's novel "Gulliver's Travels," while also influencing the plot of wanting to harness the castle for political, nefarious ends, before ultimately crashing to the ground. Unlike Swift's satire, Miyazaki's Laputa was old technology and reason, overgrown and reclaimed by nature, to be left alone - it is allowed to escape at the end, but irreversibly marked by human hands.

 

The setting of a small mining town was familiar to British audiences. Miyazaki visited Wales in 1984 as part of the film’s research, and his witnessing of the aftermath of the Miner's Strike influenced characters as well as architecture. A later noted steampunk work, 2004’s “Steamboy”, Katushiro Otomo's eventual follow-up to "Akira," was explicitly set in Victorian industrial Manchester. “Castle in the Sky” would later be shown in Aberystwyth in 2011, a charity screening to support relief efforts following the Tōhoku earthquake and tsunami, using its original Japanese soundtrack.

 

Despite The Walt Disney Company’s release of Studio Ghibli’s films on DVD, our lost copy of the ITV airing of “Castle in the Sky” would not truly be replaced until around 2018, my sister having sourced a copy of the Japanese DVD version originally released in 2002 – I immediately asked her to order another one for me. This was the only place we could find the English dubbed soundtrack prepared by Magnum Video Tape and Dubbing, for use in Japan Airways trans-Pacific flights, and later in American art-house screenings – it is a straight translation of the original Japanese, with music and sound effects left intact. Pazu, the boy who rescues central figure Sheeta from kidnap, is voiced by Barbara Goodson, now best known as Rita Repulsa from “Power Rangers”, while Sheeta, who possesses a magical crystal of the sort that allowed the city of Laputa to fly, is voiced by Lara Cody, who later dubbed voices for English-language versions of “My Neighbour Totoro” and “Kiki’s Delivery Service”. This was the version I remembered from my childhood, even if it is not the film’s own original soundtrack, but I knew I had the correct version the moment I heard Pazu deliver a lunch at work: “meatballs for the boss.” As Proustian as a madeleine biscuit, I’m sure you will agree.

 

It was important for me to have the version of “Castle in the Sky” that I remember, because that version was the reason one of my formative experiences of watching a film – I was five years old when ITV broadcast it – has led me to be spoiled when it comes to the expectation of what an animated feature film can accomplish in scope of story, technical detail and emotion. Arguably, only Studio Ghibli have matched it since, and only Pixar have come close.

 

It is already noted that the English-language dub of “Castle in the Sky” now most widely available, recorded by Disney in 1998, took liberties with the soundtrack that were later revised and scaled back on further home video releases. The original sixty minutes of synthesised musical score, reworked by the original composer Joe Hisaishi into a lavish, and overwhelming, ninety-minute orchestral performance, was restored, as were periods of silence that were filled in with background noise. However, the increase in Pazu and Sheeta’s ages, from pre-teen to mid-teen, and lines that made Sheeta a potential romantic interest to the airborne pirates instead of a mother figure, were retained, perhaps because James Van Der Beek and Anna Paquin would have had to be recast. The original changes were authorised by Studio Ghibli, but with this now also being the English-language track on Japanese DVDs, following a re-release in 2014, it leaves only the original Japanese soundtrack as being the “correct” version available. Perhaps this is how it always should have been, but accessibility doesn’t usually require a rewrite.

Sunday, October 31, 2021

AND THE FORESTS WILL ECHO WITH LAUGHTER [317]


“Death Wish 3” is a 1985 action thriller film starring Charles Bronson as grieving husband turned Rambo-like vigilante Paul Kersey. I’ve had a DVD copy of it on my chair to watch for some time now. In fact, there are two copies – it was so cheap second-hand that I didn’t realise I ordered two copies by accident.

I am used to dissecting films both here and in my education, and the act of looking for something to learn, or to redeem, from any film I watch, means I must have developed a higher tolerance for what the casual viewer would otherwise call crap. I am not going to say that of “Death Wish 3”: it’s competent, it’s serviceable, it’s under an hour and a half, and I watched it until the end. It’s a Cannon Group film from the 1980s, and that was all that was expected of it at the time – it was, at least, better than their film “America 3000” from the following year, which I have reviewed previously [link].

The reason I bought this film was hearing that, to make savings in the budget, a derelict hospital in the Lambeth area of London substituted for the New York projects. It works well enough, but only if you remember to look past that fact afterwards, just like seeing the respected actor and director Alex Winter – Bill, of Bill & Ted – playing a thug. Other than that, Cannon films were very much of their time: its ownership under producers Menahem Golan and Yoram Globus spanned the 1980s, and the lower-budgeted action-led films they are most identified by exist purely to thrill their audience. Their business model was to sell the film to distributors first, then use that money to make the film – delivering maximum bang for their buck was where the profit arrived.

Having said that, thinking about “Death Wish 3” is probably not what Cannon wanted me to do. The violence is glorified, and Paul Kersey is celebrated for his kills, and it is all sanctioned by the plot, Kersey having been given free rein by the police commissioner in the first act. The film is very fast, its story having been set up within the first fifteen minutes, and every scene feels like it was once longer, but then pared down to the bone by editor Arnold Crust, a pseudonym for director Michael Winner. The gang of thugs in this film feel like the most cartoonish pack of rats that could have been written – they only look like people, and having no motivation to write them like people makes Kersey blowing them away that much easier to cheer, if you find yourself doing that. Don Jakoby objected to the rewrites of his script, his name in the credit replaced by “Michael Edmonds”. 

The final ten minutes is one explosion after another, until the gang finally retreats after they see what we assume to be the burning corpse of their leader. The police commander tells Kersey he should go, buying him a few minutes – the credits roll fifteen seconds later, the music starting like the theme from “Seinfeld” later sounded. Wasn’t that show also about “no hugs, no learning”?

Perhaps the easiest gauge of “Death Wish 3” is to look up the sequel from 1987, “Death Wish 4: The Crackdown”. Without watching it, I imagine the same action formula would have been followed, but because Cannon had overspent on prestige productions that did poorly at the box office, like Franco Zeffirelli’s “Otello” (1986), so future productions would be limited to budgets of $5 million, half the budget of “Death Wish 3”. Cannon could afford Led Zeppelin’s Jimmy Page to write and perform the music for “Death Wish II”, then have Mike Moran re-record it with synthesisers for the next one, but the fourth film is down to mostly reusing recordings from previous Cannon productions. Remember, Cannon also slashed the budget for “Superman IV: The Quest for Peace” around this time, which I have also talked about [link].

I was about to write if there was anything I should take away from “Death Wish 3”, but its objective was solely to entertain me. I was diverted, so we’ll call it a score draw.

Sunday, October 24, 2021

YOU’RE STILL THE ONE [316]

Back in 2017, I wrote about BBC One replacing its channel idents with the “Oneness” series of group portraits, photographed by the artist Martin Parr [link]. I ended that article by saying: “…getting audiences to programmes do not rely on individual channels so much, unless you count the BBC iPlayer or Netflix as a ‘channel.’ For the BBC, Martin Parr’s new idents may be more important for the ’BBC’ on screen, rather than for the ‘One’.”

On Wednesday 20th October, the BBC unveiled new branding that placed their restyled logo at the top of screens, programme trailers and poster advertising, and their channel names in smaller letters at the bottom, underlining the inevitability of the move – all programme trailers end with “available on iPlayer,” placed prominently in the middle of the screen, just as “iPlayer” and “Sounds” replaced the “TV” and “Radio” categories on BBC Online. Long gone are the days of simple radio-like announcements over slides of upcoming shows. Moreover, the way the new logo is used highlights, at a fundamental level, the change in how we watch television over the last twenty-four years.

I have always changed my website’s logo and branding when it was needed, as proved by my 300th article showing five logos over five years [link], as I zeroed in on the most effective way of presenting myself and my work. Likewise, the BBC’s logo, a variation of three letters in three boxes since it was first introduced in 1958, has been modified as its uses have changed, from identifying a broadcaster to supporting the quality of British programmes sold worldwide, to being a mark of reputation to sell tie-in merchandise, to being a sigil for a British national identity portrayed through cultural soft power. 

As much as some people search for the opportunity to complain about taxpayers’ money being perceived to have been wasted on a logo change that is still superficially similar to the previous version, you have make changes when your current branding is found to have stopped working effectively. As stated by the BBC’s Chief Customer Officer, Kerris Bright [link], “Our research tells us that audiences think some of our services look old fashioned and out of date. They want a modern BBC that is easier to use and navigate to find the content they love and enjoy.” 

If people in its own country are saying that, then perhaps it was being said elsewhere. The latest BBC logo was introduced in April 2021 on an online streaming service aimed at North America, BBC Select, and on the Australian TV channel BBC Kids, six months before the UK saw it on screen. Because these are subscription services, their audiences are also, indirectly, paying for the new logo. Meanwhile, the latest Cadbury logo, using thinner lines and closer to the company founder’s original signature, was first seen on chocolate bars sold in Australia. 

A big feature of the BBC’s new branding, and one that has been introduced gradually for a couple of years, before reaching the logo, is the font. “Reith,” in its sans serif form, may not immediately be too different from the previous use of Gill Sans to the casual user, but the one-off cost of the BBC buying its own font, to use it as much as it wants, contrasts with the yearly fees to use Gill Sans, Helvetica, Futura and other fonts over the years. I could not find how much the BBC pays to use fonts, but I could also not find out how much Ikea saved in 2009 by switching their shops and catalogues from using Futura to Microsoft’s cheaper font Verdana.

 

The previous BBC logo was introduced in 1997. The logo that version replaced was deemed not to work when made smaller on screen – the lines under the blocks, and the spaces in the letter B, began to disappear. Its replacement was simplified, easier to reproduce and was more legible on screen.


What has changed since then is the screen. In 1997, people were still watching cathode-ray tube (CRT) televisions, beaming a raster pattern of electrons onto a fluorescent screen. LCD and LED televisions did become commonplace until 2006, when regular HD television broadcasts began in the UK. In 1997, the BBC still played their idents for their channels from laserdisc, with servers not being used until widescreen broadcasts began in 1998. They still only had two channels to worry about – the BBC News Channel began in November 1997, followed by BBC Choice in 1998. Aside from all this, watching television from a non-television screen only properly began when the BBC iPlayer download service began in 2005, only becoming a streaming platform in 2007, the same year Netflix began their own service – the flood of mobile, tablet and other connected devices began from there.


What made me realise this was using the BBC News app in beta mode. I knew about the new logo from the reports of BBC Select introducing it, finding that an upcoming update to the News app will use it. In using it, I found that the logo, placed at the top of my phone’s screen, placed its blocks further apart so they can animate more clearly: swiping down to refresh the page would stretch the blocks before reverting to their correct shape, and they would shrink to lines as I moved down the page, maintaining their presence as a constant reminder. 


I thought this animation was something cute at the time, because it is something you could do on your phone, but I didn’t think it would happen on television. With the blocks making the Channel 4 logo having been broken up and thrown about since it began in 1982, and with a new ident on ITV seemingly every week as part of an artist initiative, it is now time for the BBC to stop being defined by three static, immovable blocks. 


Now, they rarely ever sit: they move in, they fall into place, they move up, down, in and out. Perhaps this could have been done fifty years ago, but when BBC One and Two had idents that were live feeds of clockwork models, it wouldn’t have been practical. It certainly does not feel like the logo of a corporation that is approaching its hundredth anniversary in 2022, but that is entirely the point: this will be the last BBC logo made for a regular television screen, if not for a linear television channel. Next time: holograms, probably.


There is a lot to be said for the triviality of a broadcaster changing its logo, as I have proved, but because of the unique way it is funded, the BBC belongs to everyone, and it represents us all to the rest of the world. I want it to look its best.

Sunday, October 17, 2021

IT AIN’T NOTHING BUT A HEART-BREAKER [315]


I think I am writing this one more for my benefit than for anyone else.

 

The term “culture war” was coined by the German physicist, biologist and politician Rudolf Virchow to describe the campaign of the pre-German kingdom of Prussia, under Otto von Bismarck to reduce the influence of the Roman Catholic Church in educational matter. Translated from the German “Kulturkampf,” the term was repeated in American newspapers, later applied to opposing values, whether they be conservative or liberal, progressive or traditionalist, or urban or rural. The increasing polarisation in American politics along these lines was described in sociologist James Davison Hunter’s book “Culture Wars: The Struggle to Define America” (1991), which returned the term to widespread use.

 

When “kampf” means “struggle”, a less charged word than “war”, the choice of one word over the other implies an intent to win outright. Concord is never an option, let alone an objective. If one side is described as a deranged, totalitarian illiberal mob, then the other side must be too. Does it ultimately matter? Not if either side think they are having a good war.

 

I don’t believe “culture war” was a term ever needed in the UK until its own politics and culture experienced polarisation through the Brexit referendum - “cancel culture” and “woke” have similarly only entered common use in the media in the last five years since then. However, all the terms are snappy, emotionally charged and easy to apply to a headline, alongside “feud”, “blast”, “hits out at”, “shame”, “mob”, “cult”, “shock”, “ban”, “axe” and “row”. Any issue can be heated like a microwave dinner if the right words are chosen.

 

My preoccupation on “culture war” as a term comes from being, as a transgender person, the subject of a culture war. I am not on either side of the argument, I am what is being fought over – my rights are under question. This culture war appears to have begun in the summer of 2017, when the UK government announced a consultation on whether people can self-identify as their correct gender, instead of going through the court-based system to obtain a Gender Recognition Certificate. 

 

It does not matter that this issue has apparently been resolved: the existing system is to remain in place, but applying will become online-based and substantially cheaper. It does not matter what my opinion of the issue is: if living your life authentically means you need to use whatever system exists, rather than waiting for enough minds to be changed so it can be replaced with one more dignified, you would do it – I know I did.

 

However, the opening of a government consultation on one specific issue became a wider argument on how a group of people should continue to fit into society – again, the Equality Act 2004 was not in question. The culture war that now exists seems to be more predicated on the use of words, from those that each side have for each other like “TERF”, “transphobe” and “gender critical”, to the checklist of what allows someone to be called a “woman” or a “man”, and whether you can change your sex at all. Framing this as a “culture war” implies that both sides are as strong as each other, but when the much of the reporting on the issue is on protecting the rights of celebrities like J.K. Rowling, Dave Chapelle and Piers Morgan to speak, it feels like the objective is to protect the most powerful people in the room - people who appear to be having a good war. Meanwhile, I need to be careful about how I speak in case it jeopardises any part of my life, from my job to friendships. 

 

The target of legislation is no longer the Equality Act, which already had regulations on access to single-sex spaces, to freedom of expression in academic institutions. My theory is this is more a symptom of tuition fees in universities, now over £9,000 a year, making students more into customers and stakeholders that demand more of their academic journey than I would have done when I started my degree twenty years ago.

 

I am not willing to engage in an argument over my own rights. There are enough books being published on the subject right now, such as “The Transgender Issue” by Shon Faye, and “Trans: When Ideology Meets Reality” by Helen Joyce. Both books were reviewed in the Culture magazine of “The Sunday Times” in August 2021 under the headline “Which side are you on?” With that headline, not mine.

 

Once again, I am writing here more for my benefit this time around.

Sunday, October 10, 2021

IT’S GOT NOTHING TO DO WITH YOU [314]

The original JPhone emoji set (1997)

As silly as it sounds, I decided I was not going to use emoji when I realised I didn’t know what any of them were supposed to mean. Their implementation as a keyboard on my phone, one that required me to select it over the regular English keyboard, made me think they act principally as pictograms, to use as word replacements – like a lexicon, but not like a rebus. Unable to find any kind of glossary, mainly because meanings applied to particular emoji are reached over time by consensus, rather than being prescribed, I decided I was better off not using anything that could cause confusion or misunderstanding – it is hard enough doing that using English words.

Mind you, I never used emoticons or Wingdings, both intended to add simple pictures to messages like adding a sticker, so I didn’t see the line that led to emoji. Wingdings was hampered by relying on both the sender and receiver having access to the same font, and emoticons were made less clear by having to be read on their side >:/ 8-> >:-( Analgoues to both systems are found in Japan, through kaomoji (“face character”, read in the same direction as text (ˊ•͈  •͈ˋ) ⸝⸝> ̫ <⸝⸝ ა), and in emoji (“picture character”, with no ties to emotion or emoticons).

With the latest Apple mobile system upgrade to iOS 15, I am now seeing emoji suggestions in their predictive text feature, and I cannot disable this feature, let alone the entire emoji keyboard. I know my mother only uses emoji other than a smiley face in text messages to me if they are suggested to her, like the fish that accompanied a mention of the McDonald’s Fillet-O-Fish. My biggest exposure to emoji has been on social media, where they are used to point, promote, and to clap between words to emphasise points being made. If I have ever used one at all, it may have been for effect, but it was too long ago for me to remember, and I can’t see any reason to start now.


Essentially, emoji began like Wingdings, as a proprietary font available only to users of a particular phone in 1997, the SkyWalker DP-211SW from JPhone, now SoftBank. A competitor, NTT DoCoMo, implemented their own emoji across their i-mode platform, beginning the mass usage that culminated in companies like Apple and Google supporting emoji in Japan first, and the need to attach emoji to Unicode, the international text standard, in order for the same images to be seen between different devices. This led to many pictures that existed in Unicode becoming emoji, including those previously added to the standard from Wingdings, Webdings and Zapf Dingbats.

New emoji are added yearly, and Unicode’s emoji proposal guidelines [https://unicode.org/emoji/proposals.html] are specific in what must be excluded, like logos, exact images, or having meanings that are transient or very specific – openness to interpretation and usage is built into the process. Therefore, when the “Melting Face” emoji was included in Unicode 14.0 and Emoji 14.0 from September 2021, people jumped on it as a symbol for our current times, a kind of sarcasm as things fall apart. Indeed, Jennifer Daniel and Neil Cohn, who conceived it two years before, intended it as a kind of embarrassment, a Western version of when Japanese manga characters turn into paper and float away. It sums up my inability to use such an established communication system perfectly.

Sunday, October 3, 2021

BUT IF YOU’RE WILLING TO PLAY THE GAME [313]


Hello there. This is a video about my not having made a video in a while. I’m sorry about that, and while I continue to plan the next video, I thought I should reflect on how this happened.

The short answer is that life gets in the way, work gets in the way, and pandemics, when they happen, get in the way. Everyone has had some sort of upheaval recently, and while we wait for things to settle back down again, especially at work, you want to take more time to relax.

Another problem for me personally is finding the perfect formula for making videos for YouTube. You can’t expect everyone to be interested in the same subjects as yourself, and you shouldn’t be disappointed if not everyone engages with what you have made. At the same time, when something does hit, it will be without explanation: my video about why BBC radio had no news bulletin on Good Friday 1930 only had four views in its first two weeks, but has had over seventeen thousand since. It may be because that fact has been repeated enough times that people need to check it, but there aren’t many facts left that haven’t been endlessly explained in a video. What else is there to say when everyone has already said what you we going to say

Where does that leave me? I have concluded that style is what will make for a good video on YouTube. Having good content is an objective, but presentation is more important in getting that content seen. Finding the best way to achieve that takes time, but I think I have a plan now. If engagement is what drives business on YouTube, regardless of whatever the content actually is, then you should keep refining your style until something clicks, or someone clicks. By the way, like, comment and subscribe, as they say around these parts.

There will be a new video – give it a month or so – and it will be titled “How to win a song contest, apparently”. I won a song contest, you see.

Thank you for watching. As ever, find more nostalgia culture crisis at www.leighspence.net.

Sunday, September 26, 2021

AND WE’LL HAVE FUN FUN FUN [312]


My parents still listen to BBC Radio 1. They always have done – they have been listening to it since they were children, in fact since the station began in 1967. They still listen because they have never had a reason to change the channel - they want to hear new music, they don’t want to hear the same songs played all the time, and it’s one way to keep up with the grandchildren.  

However, for a radio station formatted to play the most modern pop music, and current pop hits, their target listener age of between 15 and 29 means my parents should have moved elsewhere even before its dramatic realignment towards a younger audience not fully served by BBC radio, from 1993, away from catering to practically everyone. But just because a station needs to move with the times, it doesn’t necessarily mean its listeners’ habits change.

 

There was a time in British music history when the top 40 chart was king, and its main outlets were “Top of the Pops” and Radio 1, which had been introduced as a legitimate outlet for all-day pop music, after the closing of a legal loophole outlawed offshore pirate stations. Before then, pop music was only heard in snatches on the BBC Light Programme, for which any music only formed part of its schedule, while Radio Luxembourg was only heard in the evening. Commercial radio of any type only began in the UK in 1973 and, even then, obligations to provide non-music programmes were only dropped in the 1980s. 

 

For a very long time, Radio 1 was the only game in town, from playing the most popular songs by day, to breaking new artists through live and recorded tracks in the evening and at the weekend. But the shows that were attracting audiences of up to 20 million into the 1990s were those playing music that now could be found elsewhere, including on MTV. Furthermore, through old Radio 1 DJs remaining with the station like Alan Freeman, Simon Bates, and Dave Lee Travis, people listening to the station as teenagers continued through their thirties.

 

The station’s current focus on current music is what has helped to distinguish it from commercial radio, for which most stations have no commercial impetus to play anything over than proven hits, often classic tracks first championed in previous decades by Radio 1. The BBC committed in its most recent Annual Report to measuring the overlap in its hundred most played tracks with commercial radio stations, and the breadth and depth of artists and genres it plays. 

 

The moment at which it was proved that pop music had essentially moved on was when the band Status Quo issued two writs against the BBC – one was for damages, following their decision not to play their latest song on Radio 1, and the other was to instigate a judicial review over the song not being played on a radio station that still claimed to play songs in the top 40. The song was a cover of the Beach Boys’ “Fun Fun Fun,” performed with the Beach Boys, a song that wouldn’t have been played by Dave Pearce even if his job depended on it. 

 

This happened in February 1996, following the Britpop boom, and one year after the chart battle between Blur’s “Country House” and Oasis’s “Roll With It” – I swore it happened in about 1993 or so. “Fun Fun Fun” entered the chart at number 24, when another Oasis song, “Don’t Look Back In Anger,” entered at number 1 – the rest of the top 10 included “Children” by Robert Miles, “I Got 5 On It” by Luniz, “Spaceman” by Babylon Zoo, and the Lighthouse Family’s “Lifted”. “Fun Fun Fun” left the Top 40 chart the following week, meaning it no longer qualified for “Top of the Pops” either. The writs were settled privately and confidentially, but I don’t think it was in Status Quo’s favour.

 

I stopped listening to Radio 1 in 2012, when Chris Moyles left the breakfast show – my musical tastes had developed away from the pop chart, which even the BBC played elsewhere, on Radios 2, 3 and 6 Music, the latter of which began in 2002 to provide a space for rebroadcasting the archive sessions recorded for Radio 1. Usually, if I do hear Radio 1, it is because my parents have the radio tuned to it.

Saturday, September 18, 2021

WHAT AM I TO DO [311]


It takes inspiration and vision to turn an error into a moment of serendipity, but instances of an error supplanting that which didn’t need replacing are rarer still. It was harder than I expected to compile a list of cases where a fix occurred where there wasn’t a problem, but I found more examples than I expected.

 

The following is a list of items, and people, that received their names by accident. In all cases, they were already known under a different name when the accident occurred. A decision will have been made to keep the mistake made, or no subsequent attempt was made to correct the mistake.

 

1) Cilla Black: Best known as presenter of ITV entertainment shows “Blind Date” and “Surprise Surprise,” and for her initial career as a singer – the best-selling song by a female artist in the 1960s in the UK was her version of “Anyone Who Had a Heart” – Cilla Black was born Priscilla White, first performing under the name “Swinging Cilla” at the Zodiac Club in Liverpool, following a few unplanned performances at the Cavern Club, where she worked in the cloakroom. Her surname was flipped into negative in 1961 by the local music newspaper “Mersey Beat,” a name that turned a scene into a genre. Its publisher, Bill Harry, made the mistake. Cilla Black signed with manager Brian Epstein in 1963, having seen her perform with The Beatles, and then on her own.

 

2) Ovaltine: To my knowledge, I have never drunk Ovaltine, but only because it sounds like I would still prefer hot chocolate. A flavouring product made of malt extract, whey and sugar, with cocoa for taste, Ovaltine is added to milk to make what is traditionally a bedtime drink in the UK, alongside the similar Horlicks. The drink originally also contained eggs, and is still known in its birthplace of Switzerland and elsewhere under the name Ovomaltine. However, the name change for the UK was made long before eggs were removed from the recipe – it was a spelling mistake on the trademark application, contracting the name down.

 

3) Lew Grade: A talent agent and TV executive whose companies, ATV and ITC, were associated with everything from “Crossroads” and “Thunderbirds” to “The Muppet Show” and “Jesus of Nazareth”, Lew, Baron Grade of Elstree entered showbusiness as a professional dancer. Born in Russia as Lev Winogradsky in 1906, moving with his family to the UK at the age of five, “Louis Grad” was the name he danced under, until a typing error in a Paris newspaper report added a vowel. The name “Grade” was also used by his brother Leslie, also a talent agent, and passed to his nephew Michael, who later ran BBC One and Channel 4. However, Lew’s other brother, Bernard Delfont, originally also a dancer, continued to use his own stage name to distinguish himself from his brothers.

 

4) “Ye Olde…”: This is a case of a term being used for effect, when everyone knows it is wrong. The English language as written in the years until the post-Tudor period continued to use the letter “thorn” where we would use the two letters “th”, making “the” into “þe”.  The first printing presses often substituted the thorn for “y”, which more closely resembled how most people wrote it, especially when Gothic type made it resemble a closed þ. Now, the y sound of “ye” is deliberately, and incorrectly, used and pronounced retroactively to evoke an old-time period where it was never used.

 

5) The Hindu-Arabic Number System: The Persian mathematician Muḥammad ibn Mūsā al-Khwārizmī wrote a treatise in around 825 AD titled, in modern English, “On the Calculation with Hindu Numerals”. Three centuries later, it was translated into Latin as “Algoritmi de numero Indorum” – “Algorismus on the Indian Numbers” – giving the author a Latinised name. Alongside the work of the Italian mathematician Fibonacci, the treatise served as the introduction of “Arabic numerals” to the West, e.g. 0 and 1-9, but it became known as “algorism” or “algorithm”, using the “originator’s” name to describe a type of arithmetic, instead of just using a word like “arithmetic.” As this number system became dominant, to the point of no longer needing a distinguishing name, the word “algorithm” would later be applied to definitions relating to computer instructions.

Sunday, September 12, 2021

A FIGHT FOR LOVE AND GLORY [310]

Warner Bros. 2020 logo redesign by Pentagram

Watching Warner Bros’ latest film “Space Jam: A New Legacy” at the cinema was an interesting experience. With a story based within the company’s computer servers, I needed the cinema-sized screen to catch all the references to the company’s characters from their films and “properties” in the crowd watching the climactic basketball match between LeBron James and the program running the show, “Al-G Rhythm”. 

The film has received negative reviews for the general product placement of, well, Warner Bros. itself: it is strange to see a family film sprayed with characters and locations from far more adult productions, like “Mad Max: Fury Road”, “A Clockwork Orange,” “Game of Thrones,” Pennywise from “It”, and Vanessa Redgrave’s Sister Jeanne des Anges from Ken Russell’s “The Devils” – I sincerely doubt the latter would get as worked up over basketball than what goes on in their own film (really, look it up).

 

As a film fan and student, I believe Warner Bros. is the Hollywood studio, shaping the art form, staying on top of it for a hundred years, and preserving its past, even if through mergers and acquisitions: the new “Space Jam” film features MGM’s “The Wizard of Oz” and Tom & Jerry alongside Hanna-Barbera characters, including The Flintstones, and RKO Radio Pictures’ original King Kong. The breadth and scale of Warner Bros. today is belied by only just mentioning Looney Tunes now, followed by DC Comics, HBO, CNN, and “Friends”. 

 

It is meant to be distasteful to bring business into art, but the history of Warner Bros. is the exception that proves the rule: “The Jazz Singer” is not known as “Warner Bros’ Supreme Triumph” for nothing, not least because the studio proclaimed the film as such upon its release in 1927. Far more than making “talking pictures” viable commercially, through Al Jolson’s effortless use of his established catchphrase “you ain’t heard nothin’ yet,” the notion of what a ALL FILMS made before or since “The Jazz Singer”, and the idea of film itself as a medium, will feature a soundtrack of some kind, whether one is added to a “silent” film, or even when a conscious decision is made to be “silent” for any length of time, for Warner Bros. and Western Electric developed the Vitaphone sound-on-disc system to provide musical accompaniment and sound effects in all cinemas, even those that could not afford its own band or orchestra.

 

For a company only properly incorporated in 1923, and having only built their studios in Sunset Boulevard in 1918, Warner Bros. had enough cash from the box office of “The Jazz Singer” to buy up a brace of music publishers, suddenly a necessary part of film production, and the Stanley theatre chain, which came with a one-third ownership of a far bigger film producer and distributor: the current Warner Bros. studio in Burbank, California was built by First National, whose name continued to be used for some time. These investments helped to pioneer both the musical film genre and the initial use of Technicolor, and to allow a switch to comedy, horror and gangster films when audiences’ tastes changed.


However, the content-rich current state of Warner Bros. is precisely down to the corporate upheavals in Hollywood that took place following the anti-trust lawsuits that separated cinema chains from film producers, the rise of television, and sheer bad luck. Its massive purchase of the Turner Broadcasting System in 1996 reunited Warner Bros. with the pre-1950 films and cartoons it sold in 1956 to support itself at an uncertain time, but this also came with the pre-1986 MGM film library, RKO’s library from “King Jong” to “Citizen Kane”, and all of Hanna-Barbera’s cartoon series too. Ted Turner built up this collection to provide content to his TV networks, from Cartoon Network to TBS and TNT, but he sold on the MGM film company because he overextended himself, despite keeping the rights to their films. Similar divestments by Warner Bros. in previous years included Nickelodeon, MTV and VH1, along with their cable TV network that built these channels, and the computer game company Atari.

 

Watching “Space Jam: A New Legacy” made me think I was watching a film studio writing a love letter to itself, albeit one I’ll happily act as a co-signatory. What I think the scriptwriters could have done, considering the film is mainly set in a virtual reality run by a computer algorithm, is they could have made more of the connection with “The Matrix”, especially with Warner Bros. releasing the fourth film in the series this Christmas.

Sunday, September 5, 2021

HAVE NO FEARS, WE’VE GOT STORIES FOR YEARS [309]


This is how I unintentionally used “The Simpsons” to increase my brain power.

It is January 1998, and the Video Home System (VHS) is still at large, the first DVD player having only gone on sale in the UK six months earlier. I am a great fan of “The Simpsons,” then in only its ninth season, which is airing twice a week on BBC Two. We didn’t yet pay to have Sky One, but blank VHS cassettes were still widely available and absurdly cheap. I could just record the show when it aired, and watch it whenever I like. People streaming “The Simpsons” on Disney+ take note: this is how things used to be.

Much has already been made about how “The Simpsons” was one of the first TV shows for which recording the episodes was the only way you could take in all of the jokes, with background signs and sights gags often worked on as much as the main plot by the show’s writing staff. Its thick animated lines would not lose detail when recording onto a VHS cassette, which only achieved pictures of 230 lines of resolution in Long Play mode, as I worked to stretch six hours of recording, and sixteen “Simpsons” episodes, onto an E-180 tape.

However, being a British “Simpsons” fan also means there are jokes I am not likely to get. The 1990 episode “Homer vs. Lisa and the 8th Commandment” – the one where Homer steals cable television, and Lisa refuses to watch – the sound of a TV show is heard: “We would get there quicker if I borrowed Dad’s car.” “I don’t know, Davey…” If the Christian animated series “Davey and Goliath” had ever aired on British television by that point, I would never know, and it must have been on some satellite station we could not see.

This was where online resources, such as they were at the time, proved valuable. Before the World Wide Web made the internet more accessible, message boards allowed people to communicate in text form. One such Usenet newsgroup, alt.tv.simpsons, formed just after regular “Simpsons” episodes began in 1990, began compiling crowd-sourced reference and episode guides into HTML format at The Simpsons Archive (www.simpsonsarchive.com, running since 1994).  With far fewer competing web pages than now, and with Google not being founded later in 1998 – the search engine of choice, Yahoo!, was a curated guide with a search engine attached - you really needed a website that could prove it was authoritative and comprehensive

“The Simpsons” eventually became abasis for making web searches. Anything I didn’t “get” could be looked up, meaning I might laugh if I saw the reference again, like the reference to the 1986 charity event Hands Across America in “Brother, Can You Spare Two Dimes,” or the real-life existence of all the baseball players in “Homer at the Bat”. Naturally, if something in the next article proved interesting, you may want to find out more or, when films like “Psycho,” “Citizen Kane” or “A Clockwork Orange” are quoted often, you find the original films to watch on their own.

This established the pattern I use for recalling facts – one piece of information will remind me of a reference made to a similar fact, or word, or number, picked up elsewhere, building into a web. Mnemonics and learning by rote don’t really work with me, although remembering having tried to learn something may make it easier to remember what I was trying to recall. If all else fails, I can look it up again, because I know where to look.

Now, practically everything is available at once, including every episode of “The Simpsons,” a show I made more of an effort to watch when it was more scarce than twenty years ago, both in appearances on TV and in number of episodes, and which has now referenced so much that people think it is predicting the future when history repeats itself. Perhaps it will end when there is nothing left that isn’t worth knowing.

Sunday, August 29, 2021

BUT I DO KNOW ONE AND ONE IS TWO [308]


There seems little point in posing a maths question if the intention is to trip someone up, especially if you create doubt over whether a right answer is possible. 

I had previously seen the following example spread widely in 2019, and it has reappeared many times since: 8 ÷ 2(2x2) = ?

 

But this one has also appeared: 5 + 6 x 4 = ?

 

There is one very clear reason why the answer to the first question is 1, but this same reason is why the answer to the second could be either 44 or 29.

 

BODMAS has been taught in British schools since the 1920s, prescribing how you should solve maths problems: Brackets, Orders, Divide, Multiply, Addition, Subtraction. Known as PEDMAS in the United States because of the alternative use of parentheses and exponents as mathematical terms, these abbreviations were created in the hope of becoming acronyms ingrained in the heads of schoolchildren – I think they eventually got there.

 

When I originally saw 8 ÷ 2(2x2), I knew the answer could only be 1, because brackets were used: 8 ÷ 2(2x2) = 8 ÷ 2(4) = 8 ÷ 8 = 1.

 

However, 5 + 6 x 4 could be answered linearly or using BODMAS, creating two different answers:

 

Linear: 5 + 6 x 4 = 11 x 4 = 44

 

BODMAS: 5 + 6 x 4 = 5 + 24 = 29

 

This is usually the end of it, but I realised it was never really explained at school why this rule even exists, and it is down to how much each mathematical operator changes the eventual answer. Multiplication and division are simply adding or subtracting one number many times, so it would make sense to act upon those first, but you should always simplify by answering brackets first – writing 5 + 6 x 4 as 5 + (6 x 4) also makes clearer what is meant to be happening. 


Left to right: Casio SL-310UC, Canon LC-83M, HP 35s

 

However, while BODMAS confirms that multiplication should be done before addition, dividing does not need to be done before multiplying, or subtraction before addition, so trying to create an acronym creates a misnomer as well. Calculators that implement BODMAS are programmed to multiply or divide, whichever comes first in the equation, followed by adding or subtracting, again whichever comes first.

 

But you can even get a different answer based on the calculator you use. I tried this with a Casio SL-310UC, a basic calculator, and the answer produced was 44, because it calculated each segment of the question as you go: pressing the multiply button after entering 6 produced the answer “11” on screen, before entering 4 and pressing the equals button. 

 

Meanwhile, the Canon LC-83M, a 1980s slide rule calculator, only produces an answer when you press the equals button, down to the “Algebraic Operating System” displayed on the case. BODMAS is built into the calculator, guaranteeing the answer of 29 in this case.

 

To make things extra complicated, the HP 35s, a sophisticated programming scientific calculator, can produce both answers. In Reverse Polish Notation, you enter your numbers first, then enter what you want to do with them, building numbers in a stack – this relies upon the user to remember BODMAS to multiply the 6 and 4 first, instead of starting with the 5 and adding the 6. Changing the HP 35s to the standard Algebraic function used by the other two calculators, BODMAS now automatically applies, producing the answer 29.

 

With calculators now mostly bought for use in schools, adherence to BODMAS is expected, along with the ability to enter equations exactly as they appear on the page. Knowing what you are entering is more important than knowing how the calculator processes it – most instruction manuals therefore add a disclaimer confirming the manufacturer does not take responsibility for any answer generated.

Sunday, August 22, 2021

MADE TO MAKE YOUR MOUTH WATER [307]


I recently added YouTube Premium to my list of subscriptions. Google has been testing a cheaper version of this package in some European and Scandinavian countries, foregoing music streaming and offline downloads for its major appeal: watching videos without advertising. Predicting this will be a success that will later be extended to the UK, I decided to take the month’s free trial, knowing that, at £11.99 per month until further notice, it will become my most expensive subscription, more than Netflix, “The New York Times” and Microsoft Office 365.

What I had not expected was how calm I would feel. I no felt tense when an advertisement appeared between a cut, or in the middle of a sentence, and I no longer needed a trigger finger ready to skip past ads. Subscribing proved to be a release.

 

Television streaming services offer similar upgrades as carrots to the user. ITV, the UK’s biggest commercial television channel, allows viewers to pay £3.99 per month to remove ads from its online service – Channel 4 charges a similar amount. Services offering content at a premium in the US, like HBO Max, Paramount+ and Peacock, will offer a cheaper service if you are prepared to accept advertising, while Tubi makes it as clear as possible why you can access them for free.

 

But for me, the placing of the ads was what mattered more than their presence. In the UK, rules governing the number of minutes for ad spots per hour, and the number of ad breaks per hour, are extended to online streaming services, but because YouTube is still mostly thought of as social media to some extent, only the content of ads played on it are governed, not their frequency. With YouTube coming from a country that abolished all limits on television advertising, except around children’s programming, in 1984, interruptions as frequent as I experienced is more likely to be tolerated in the US than in the UK and Europe, perhaps explaining why the cheaper Premium trial is happening in this part of the world.

 

This may be where the problem I had with the placement of advertising, and the relief I feel upon its removal, remains as my problem: as much as I view it as a kind of public access television, YouTube is not offered as this, despite the professional nature of much of the content uploaded by people who make their living by it. They will reap the benefits of ads that were not skipped by viewers, ads that cannot be skipped, and by YouTube extending “mid-roll” advertising to any video longer than eight minutes. I know money has to be made, as proved by the proliferation of sponsorships within the videos themselves, regardless of any ads outside of them, I just wished the following passage from Ofcom’s code on advertising placement could be taken into account, especially when I make another video for them: “Television broadcasters must ensure that the integrity of the programme is not prejudiced, having regard to the nature and duration of the programme, and where natural breaks occur.” 

Sunday, August 15, 2021

THAT LEAVES EIGHT HOURS FOR FUN [306]

The Trial (1962, dir. Orson Welles)

These are the thoughts of someone who never switches off.

Work has been pressured lately, making me less creative. My approach to the growing piles of work has always been head first, and even as I can realistically only do so much, I am resigned to feeling like I am running out of time. With priorities chopping and changing, planning your day is an aspiration, not an expectation – you find yourself asking for help more than you feel you should.


Taking your work home is worse. I recently had a literal nightmare about facing the prospect of creating dummy files on our company database for new recruits to train on the following week – having that nightmare helped finish the job. Dipping back into work after you are meant to have finished, to tidy both your to-do list and your mind for next time, is too easy if you have the ability to access work from home.

 

While the phrase “work-life balance” appeared in the 1970s and 80s, its basis as a concept can be traced back to Lillian Moller Gilbreth, a psychologist and engineer who ran an early form of a management consultancy firm with her husband Frank Bunker Gilbreth. Lillian Gilbreth herself is credited for improvements to work buildings and homes like the pedal bin, wall-mounted light switches placed at the entrance of a room, and for pioneering the now-standard layout for kitchens, including the optimal height for work surfaces and appliances, down to the shelves inside refrigerator doors. In short, your work and your home must fit around you because of the work of the Gilbreths.



Gilbreth Inc. was involved in completing time-and-motion studies, but their methods were geared more towards a human approach to solving problems, rather than just how quickly a job can be completed regardless of the psychological cost to the worker, as characterised by earlier time studies by Frederick Winslow Taylor. The Gilbreths’ innovations in redesigning machinery and environments to improve efficiency and reduce worker fatigue formed the basis of ergonomics, although their focus on finding the single best way to complete any given tasks is at odds with the more holistic approach taken by quality management today. 

 

But the Gilbreths achieved a work-life balance by mixing them together. They also intentionally had a very large family, as detailed “Cheaper by the Dozen” and “Belles on Their Toes,” two books written by their children, later becoming films, that detailed how their parenting style acted as a test bed for their work.

 

What I have to remember is that your job is not the same as your career, unless your profession matches up with it exactly. The only thing stopping me from describing my profession as being a writer is myself. What I would like to be my job should not be treated as a hobby in the meantime.

Sunday, August 8, 2021

AND NOW THE WORDS JUST SLIP AWAY [305]


Is it still possible to ignore something until it goes away? The expectation these days is to react, fight, stand your ground, voice disapproval, and close the other side down.

As someone whose school years were not the best of their life, I believe the bullies did win after all, or at least everyone chose to adopt their tactics. But the bullies receded eventually, perhaps bored or no longer fulfilled, because I ignored them as much as I could. It takes as much effort to say nothing as saying anything at all.

 

But bullying makes news, hectoring makes news, provocation makes news. Anything written on Twitter by Piers Morgan is routinely written up by newspapers, including the one he used to edit, the “Daily Mirror”, legitimising the way he uses it, if not condoning it.

 

This playbook appears to have been used by the television channel GB News, which has generated an immense amount of heat, but very little light, since it launched on Sunday 13th June. GB News courted pre-launch comparisons with the rabid Fox News Channel, touting items on Andrew Neil’s flagship 8pm show with titles like “Wokewatch” and “Mediawatch.” These were initially addressed by Neil’s programme on the channel’s launch night, talking about how the channel would “lend an ear to some of Britain’s marginalised and overlooked voices” and speak up for “their voice has not been heard in the mainstream media.”

 

Online traffic about the channel, which includes boycotts of advertisers and poking fun at numerous technical errors suffered, is led by controversial statements made by presenters, particularly former talk radio “shock jocks” Nigel Farage and Dan Wootton about the England football team “taking the knee,” the Royal National Lifeboat Institution rescuing refugees at sea, “doomsday scientists” running a “Covid scare campaign” that “terrified the public into supporting lockdowns,” and anything else that speaks to how a culture war is being waged by “woke” people. Eschewing traditional news bulletins for leading with conversation, the subjects discussed are few and repetitive.

 

In itself, GB News is rather boring to talk about, for the extent to which its tumultuous launch and continued existence has been taken apart in numerous news articles and opinion pieces, there is really nothing left to say about it that hasn’t already been said, because everyone has said everything about it from the moment the channel was first announced. The broad narrative of overambition and hubris – its viewing figures are currently in the tens of thousands, below what it needs to prove its viability – also invites comparisons with the launch, collapse and overhaul of TV-am when that launched in 1983, suggesting not only that the crisis at GB News, whose director of programmes at launch has already left, suggests not only that the current problems experienced by the channel were not only expected, but forseen. TV-am eventually became more popular, but only by changing itself almost entirely.

 

Since Sunday 13th June, I have watched a total of three hours of GB News – one was the opening launch programme, followed by bits of other shows, including a Sunday morning with the deliberately provocative title of “The Political Correction.” The repetition of talking points became boring, and seeing a parade of mid-shots of people talking is visually uninteresting, not helped by having a studio set with black walls and no windows. 

 

So, I ignore the channel, and ignore the discourse surrounding the channel. Its viewing figures confirm I cannot be the only one. I am not interested in what the presenters have to say on the same few topics, especially as its competition, as a politically right-leaning channel, is most national newspapers, talk radio stations, and vast sections of the internet. It can only make noise to attract attention, and can only provoke a reaction by creating heat. I already learned to avoid things like that.