Sunday, 2 November 2014

Top 10 Public Information Films

Is JIIIMMYYYY  about to be sacrificed to Thor? Let's see....
Between the 1960s-1980s the UK must've been the most dangerous country in the world, because the (sadly demised) Central Office of Information had to keep producing films informing people of very specific dangers in their lives, known as public information films (PIFs).

Production of PIFs peaked during a time when the old "One Nation"conservative establishment, paternalistic socialism and deference to people in power was at it's final zenith.They're like time capsules because they tell you something about how people lived and the attitudes of the state, as well as being a rare bit of uncompromising frankness on television.

Their low production values and wooden acting gives them a sinister uniqueness that sticks in the memory (which is the whole point I suppose). I consider myself a PIF enthusiast – probably the closest thing I have to a weird hobby - to the point I actually own this and this.

There seems to be one for every occasion and every eventuality. PIFs were often frightening and hilarious at the same time, so there's no better time of year to post this.

10. "Green Cross Code - Be Smart, Be Safe"


Many PIFs drafted celebrities to teach impressionable young people how to stay safe. In hindsight they look like a roll call for knocks on the door as a result of Operation Yewtree, featuring upstanding citizens like Jimmy Saville and Rolf Harris.

This series features the likes of the late Alvin Stardust (whose death prompted me to do this post), Kevin Keegan, someone from a band called Mud and Joe Bugner. There's something ironic about a bloke who used to punch people in the face telling children how to stay safe.

This one underlines how distant celebrities are nowadays – especially sports stars. You can't picture Steven Gerrard giving kids a bollocking - "You don't wanna get fookin' twatted by a bus, la'" - after getting out of a £120,000 Range Rover.

9. "Don't Mix Crossply & Radial Tyres"


Someone – presumably making a getaway from Operation Yewtree – tries to take a sharp corner on an industrial estate in an Austin rust bucket. Except the fool had cross ply radial tyres on two axels....or something. In the end he just gives up and covers his face instead of actually trying to control the car. I know this is supposed to be a serious message, but it's more like Some Mothers Do Ave Em slapstick.

8. "Prams & Pushchairs"


Watching a baby get a face full of shopping is "every mother's worst nightmare". What's worse is that this is probably the most disproportionate PIF in terms of the level of fear induced vs the seriousness of the problem. The start is straight out of Edvard Munch's "Scream" painting. So you could say PIFs invented the "internet screamer".

It's also another example of how times have changed, as you rarely – if ever - see anyone leave babies unattended outside supermarkets today. Surely the bigger nightmare is the baby not being there when you come back?

7. "Take The Right Steps"


As you can tell, there are two broad groups of people that have to be patronised into not accidentally killing themselves – children and old people. Older people might have an attitude of "making do" due to shortages when they were younger, but even their thriftiness and ingenuity was considered a danger. Compo from Last of the Summer Wine narrates as - in unnecessarily violent detail – a "stunt-nan" (clearly a bloke in a wig) is sent crashing through a Welsh dresser, with a light bulb smashing on the fireplace, presumably to symbolise what would happen to their skull.

What a lovely way to send pensioners off to bed before "Closedown"....

6. "Charley Says – Strangers"


One of the more iconic PIF "characters" was Charley the Cat. That's probably because of the unnerving animation, which in this instance created an "otherworldly" nonce who had legs that bent outward at the knee. It was so burned into the memories of youngsters of that age it ended up being sampled on a Prodigy track.

Also, it flags up the hypocrisy (or fuzzy memories) of people who go on about how great things were in the "good old days" because there was no crime, no rampant child abuse and children played outside safe from everything. "Rolf Harris and Jimmy Saville will tell them what to do to keep safe!" Which leads me nicely into....

5. "Play Safe - Frisbee"


"That like a frisbee chucked into a sub-station you spurn me thus."

Not only would it have taken skill to get a frisbee where it landed, but it's a learning experience for both of them. She learns how to successfully manipulate men, "Go on Jimmy, do it for me!" (c/o Charlie Brooker); while he's pussy-whipped into returning the lady's favour in order to prove he's the big man (pounding something open with a large piece of wood being very Freudian).
I also like how the soundtrack towards the end is like one of those old "game over" tunes....

Although
passing 66,000 volts through his fragile body for that privilege would clearly be a great honour, there are very few women I would do that for.


4. "Protect & Survive – Casualties"


This is an odd one because it was never broadcast – for good reason. If you ever saw this on TV, it would be time to "place your head between your thighs and kiss your arse goodbye". The circumstances under which this would've been shown are scarier than the PIF itself (An anniversary nobody wants to remember). This is the last in a series of around 20 films produced to tell the population what to do if WWIII were about to break out – up to and including how to dispose of dead bodies, which would presumably family members.


"Protect and Survive?" More like "Hide and Die".

Protect & Survive was made all the more haunting by the deeply unsettling Kraftwerk-style synth ditty which accompanied this series as a "jingle".


3. "Electricity Kills/Fix Things Properly"


There are two things you don't muck about with whether at home or in the workplace : gas and electricity. A guy with magnificent sideburns tries to jam bare wires into a plug socket with....matches!? (I realise the economic situation in the 1970s was bad, but did anyone really do that?) Then, predictably, he's sacrificed to your Thunder Gods. This PIF could only be more 70s if a power cut saved his life, he wore a donkey jacket, didn't turn up to work because he was on strike, and it had more orange and brown.

2. "AIDS – Don't Die of Ignorance"


With the benefit of hindsight, campaigning and research, AIDS is no longer an death sentence (though still a very serious disease). But during the 1980s there were an awful lot of misconceptions about how you could catch HIV and who from. The UK Government didn't muck about, hiring Saatchi & Saatchi to produce this near apocalyptic PIF which didn't hold back.

Narrated by John Hurt, this became one of the most successful public health campaigns ever by putting the fear of God into people, made all the more relevant today considering the current worries over ebola (which is a whole lot more lethal than HIV). Due to the timing of the campaign, it also resulted in (for people my age anyway) an upsurge in those playground catch-22 jokes, "Have you got AIDS/HIV? Are you positive?"

1. "The Spirit of Dark and Lonely Water"


John Hurt did a good job above, but this is the most infamous example of using a classically trained actor (Donald Pleasance) to instill a sinister sense of foreboding and dread, making it scarier than many high-production horror films.

Considering children don't really pay attention to anything anyway, I'm pretty sure whoever made this realised children really would listen to the disembodied voice of the Grim Reaper implying that bodies of water are haunted by malevolent spirits - to the point that this PIF is often described as "traumatising a generation" (these things were usually shown between children's programmes).

If PIFs were an art, this is the Mona Lisa. It's absolutely perfect on every level in terms of cinematography and script, and it's arguably scarier than the thing it's warning you about.

Sunday, 19 October 2014

What's wrong with being sexy?


Progressive metal band, Mastodon, released a video for The Motherload recently (above) which caused a stir (what music videos are supposed to do) and has been decried in some quarters for throwing metal music back to a cock rock stone age. The song itself isn't bad.

Heavy metal music has always been macho, and is one of the few vestiges of an unrestrained "primal" masculinity in the arts.

Over the last decade or two that's changed, and crowds at metal concerts are often more gender balanced. Although the performers remain mostly men, there are women musicians who can out-metal the men : Angela Gossow (formerly of Arch Enemy), Anneke van Giersbergen, Lauren Harris, Sandra Nasic, Onielar (Darkened Nocturn Slaughtercult) etc....

The genre's emphasis has always been on authenticity and technical ability over being more aggressive or having popular appeal (visually or otherwise); so I don't believe it has as many barriers to entry for women as other genres of music.

One of the worst insults you can throw at a metal band is "sell out" because of that emphasis on authenticity. Some fans will probably consider a band a "sell out" if they don't live in a van and eat out of tins heated by candle.

Mastodon, as one of the biggest acts around nowadays, have subsequently been accused of becoming "too mainstream".

So my instant– and I suspect most people's - reaction to The Motherload video is that it's an absurdist parody that sticks two fingers up at the notion that metal videos have to be artsy, serious and pretentious; whilst filling the screens with arsequakes sticks two fingers up at those who've criticised the band for being too mainstream.


It reminded me of Chris Cunningham's masterpiece video for Aphex Twin's Windowlicker (above), which was supposed to parody RnB music videos of the late 1990s, but ended up being a very accurate vision of the future.

But, of course, people are very sensitive nowadays.

The Guardian, for example, seem determined to drag gender issues into areas where gender is often on the periphery and not entirely relevant to the issue at hand. I fully expect them to, at some point in the future, have a piece of the impact prostate cancer has on Lena Dunham.

There are areas where there's a genuine need to fight sex discrimination, but that's increasingly being conflated with social media justice warrior causes. It exaggerates hyped tittle-tattle, and does damage to more significant causes by deflecting attention.

It means we now have a Schrodinger's Cat situation where a woman showing her arse and moving it around a little bit can be - at the same time – either an empowering feminist statement or a further denigration of women.

I'll admit that I could watch slow motion footage of women's backsides all day, but it's insulting our intelligence to think that a bit of titillation (or arseillation in this case) would make anyone think less of women generally. Surely the best feminist statement is women doing whatever the hell they want?

Mastodon were having fun with it, and by the looks of it the dancers were too. I even used it earlier this week, because I have a sense of humour and can differentiate between genuine discrimination and something that might get up people's noses but isn't a "cause".

In terms of nudge-wink parody it's clear Mastodon didn't quite pull it off (heh), but it wasn't sexist.



Sunday, 5 October 2014

The pathetic lives of infomercial folk


I'm sure everyone reading this has tried not being an idiot today. Other people aren't so fortunate.

The people targeted by infomercials, for example, live in a terrifying parallel universe which is subject to renegade laws of physics and a mass lack of common sense.

They must be so baffled by the most basic aspects of daily life, that I'm convinced advertisers should stop trying to sell them cheap plastic tat, and instead aggressively advertise euthanasia services – for the good of humanity.

It's nearly impossible to put something in your mouth. Children haven't been taught to aim for the big hole at the front of their face, just the face generally. Milk's just too hard! (It's supposedly from a music video, but it's hard to tell).


The kitchen is one of the most dangerous rooms in the house (though in infomercial world every room is an equal death trap). Clingfilm can be a pain in the arse, but it's not weapons-grade material, and it's not a spider trying to trap you in its web:

Impatience and lack of hand-eye coordination is the bane of the infomercial dweller, rendering tasks that most of us wouldn't think twice about – like opening tubs - nearly impossible. There's got to be a better way!


Humans only have two arms, but many people forget this. I picture a wife looking out of the window at this unfolding piece of physical comedy, thinking, "I really want a divorce, but at this rate I'll be a widow soon enough. Maybe I'll get the fool to do some roof tiling?"


"Nevermind, I'll just take the dog for a walk without the inconvenience of actually walking the dog."



Nobody in this universe is hardcore enough to rock a skullet, so they had to invent a spray-on mullet instead.

It's not only the men. Painting nails is something most women seem absolutely determined to get right, but some women get so excited about that new shade of pink, they fail to coordinate their arms properly. Everyday is a winding road. Just stay! Where! You are!.....HAND!

Let's pretend Mr Skullet gets lucky and the babes really do come back. It's worth dealing with the consequences. Mr Skullet and Ms Spastic Triplegia's eye lock over the "As Seen on TV" section in Wilkinsons. Pretty soon, they're  exchanging glances over a bottle of disinfectant they mistook for wine (I'm sure there's a product to deal with that issue too).

They have a disappointing courtship. He finally reveals his Def Leppard was actually a Devin Townsend. She can't coordinate her arms to tug away as his 4 inches of blue steel, so decides to lie back and think of JML.

"Try something new in the bedroom, they said." "Liven things up, they said."

9 months later, they wish they had the abortion when they still had the chance. Abortion services are what I presume this one's for. (My favourite is the flounce on the stairs) :

And what if their bundles of joy leave their toys lying around? Well, if you have the leg strength of an ant - so you're unable to kick a lightweight plastic tonka trunk out of the way – this supposedly happens. It's like You've Been Framed : The Funny Edition.


Although the bathroom contains other dangers, falling over there isn't any less painful than elsewhere in the house really - except the chances of you being naked when hitting the floor are much greater.

What other disasters await in the jacks?

Some people might get high off their own fumes, but what they may or may not realise is that they're leaving the house or workplace smelling like a dairy farm, and need to make a quick escape before someone with one of those divining rods matches the smell to whoever's arse dealt it.

Then there are those who simply won't notice because they're noses are blocked - perhaps through a large rock of charlie. There are low-tech, low-quality, potentially health damaging solutions for this too, as this robot demonstrates without frying its circuitry :


Last, but not least, everyone knows the importance of exercise to remain healthy. It's something that's even more important in the cruel world of the infomercial, where everything is out to get you and you need to put on your bravest face to deal with life's series of problems.

What's out there for the woman who wants to remain youthful looking, but doesn't have the time to move their face like a normal human?

I wish Threads really happened. :(



Tuesday, 23 September 2014

An anniversary nobody wants to remember

It's grim oop North.
(Pic : followingthenerd.com)

1984 was the peak of nuclear paranoia in the UK due to a frosting of relations between the US and Soviet Union. I was born around exactly the same time Ronald Reagan made his "Legislation to outlaw Russia" quip, and Two Tribes was UK number one. What would've been the regional command centre for South Wales is also about a 5 minute walk away from me.

Today marks the 30th anniversary of the first broadcast of Threads, which should probably be regarded as one of the most important productions in the BBC's history, and provided the best ever entry on IMDB.

Created by Barry Hines (Kes) and Mike Jackson (A Very British Coup, LA Story, The Bodyguard), it tells the story of an all-out nuclear war from the perspective of two Sheffield families – the working-class Kemps and the more middle-class Becketts ,who are brought together due to an unplanned pregnancy.

In the Threads universe, this is how World War Three starts and ends : The Soviet Union invades Iran following a coup, which makes the Americans nervous. After the US loses contact with a ship in the Indian Ocean, they put their forces on alert. It's later revealed that the US ship was destroyed, with the Soviets blamed.

The US sends troops into Iran, issuing an ultimatum to the Soviets to withdraw – which is ignored. The US uses conventional weapons to attack Soviet positions, but the Soviets defend themselves with a tactical nuclear weapon.

All hell breaks loose, and in the UK, troops are sent to Europe and emergency powers are passed by Parliament. Everything grinds to a halt, normal activities are suspended (including TV and radio programmes, which are replaced with Protect and Survive public information films around the clock), subversives are detained and there's the obligatory general strike from trade unions.

More clashes take place between American and Soviet forces, while the final emergency preparations are made in Sheffield – the last thing being the evacuation of fire engines from the city.

A day or so later, the Soviets and Americans launch a nuclear holocaust at around 8am UK time (to catch Americans off guard as it'll be ~4am in Washington)....

Threads is often compared to The Day After and the gut-wrenching animated film When The Wind Blows.

The makers of Threads must've seen The Day After and thought, "What a bunch of wimps! Let's gore this up a little!" because it makes The Day After look positively chipper, and is arguably the most realistic portrayal of a nuclear war ever produced - going as far as citing academic research from the likes of Carl Sagan.

The Day After stops after the attack, with people emerging from the wreckage with the hope of rebuilding. The hint's in the title.

Threads keeps going.

This is what the UK Government believes would protect you
and your family from 100 megatons of atomic doom.
(Pic : atomica.co.uk)

The official government advice to protect yourself from nuclear attack – as shown in Protect and Survive – is to take doors off hinges and hide behind them (piling furniture, pillows etc. against them) with enough provisions to last up to two weeks. Sort of like one of those Japanese pod hotels turned microwave.

Not only does Threads display, in quite candid fashion, how useless that advice would've been, it also underlines how a nuclear war could never be won and what happens when things you take for granted stop working - whether that's the taps, electricity, the shops or a political blogger at his wits end.

The impact it made is perhaps best dramatically illustrated by the fact it wasn't shown again on UK television until 2003 – a gap of some 19 years. There's a pretty good reason why. And there's probably a good reason why it's not being shown again tonight, even if tucked away on BBC4 at the very least (as it was in 2003).

When you talk disaster films (Threads would probably qualify as such), we're all fairly used to the target being a big city like London, Tokyo or New York. Cities like Sheffield (and presumably, Cardiff, Swansea and Port Talbot) will have been targeted (and probably still are) for fairly innocuous reasons like having a steelworks and a military base.

Threads and The Day After finally made the powers that be realise that a nuclear war couldn't be survived by some DIY and a WWII-style "Blitz spirit". It's not a surprise that firmer commitments towards nuclear disarmament were made fairly quickly afterwards.

School, Mad Max style.
(Pic : via Blogger)

Returning to the plot, by the end, what's left of the UK – and probably a lot of the Western world – becomes a totalitarian military dictatorship where justice is administered at the end of a rope or gun barrel; where people are tilling the fields in collective farms; there's not much in the way of electricity or social structures like education and health – children reduced to grunting basic words and phrases from a battered copy of Words and Pictures; and if you don't work you don't eat.

So the cruellest irony is that the West becomes everything it built nuclear weapons to destroy....but worse.

The whole thing is available here.

Sunday, 24 August 2014

Top 10 Hair Metal Songs

I'm not feeling well. That's my excuse. Totally.
(Pic : whatculture.com)

Chicken pox is, as you would expect, surprisingly serious in adults (2014 : the gift that keeps on giving). Obviously I'm grumpy and irritable at the moment, but there are even worse side effects. The delirium caused by body temperature swings and corrupted flesh has obviously convinced me hair metal is any good.

10. Poison – Nothing But A Good Time
                        

If there's one thing you can say about hair metal it's that it's "fun". It's strange that such an upbeat song would start with "Not a dime, I can't pay my rent", but it perfectly captures the blue-collar weekend hedonism that was a signature the scene in the 80s.

9. Alice Cooper – Poison
                        

The last thing I need right now is a song about being painful to touch and poison running through veins. If I could run a cheese grater over me right now I would. Alice Cooper almost faded into obscurity during the early 1980s, but suddenly pulled a rabbit out of his hat with this one, which was a commercial success.

8. Mötley CrüeGirls, Girls, Girls
                       


I think this might be about strippers and a celebration of the female anatomy, somehow. A strip club is pretty much the only place you'll hear it nowadays. Now you could certainly say it's degrading but it's something of a signature of this particular band considering their reputation. And then you you realise Nicki Minaj is doing stuff like this.

7. Skid Row – 18 & Life
                      

Skid Row never really deserved to be associated with the fluffier side of hair metal as they were one of the more "serious" bands. This is a tale of teenage delinquency turned lifetime regret – not necessarily accidental murder, but the general cycle of poverty.

6. W.A.S.P – Wild Child
                     

A massive slice of hair metal cheese and, yeah, I suppose a guilty pleasure. Many people have often tried to figure out what the acronym W.A.S.P actually means. "We Are Sexual Perverts" appears to be the favourite. Something inside me really, really wishes for a "speed wobble" at the start of the video.

5. Twisted Sister – We're Not Gonna Take It
                     


"WHADDA YOU WANNA DO WITH YOUR LIIIIIIFE!?" Who cares what it means? I guess that's the point.

4. Mötley CrüeKickstart My Heart
                     

In 1987, the band's bassist, Nikki Sixx, was declared clinically dead after a drug overdose. In a last ditch attempt to save his live, paramedics gave him not one, but two adrenaline doses directly to his heart. The result was this uplifting celebration of sobriety.

3. Guns n' Roses – November Rain
                     

Apparently this took almost 10 years to write and perfect and feels like it lasts 10 years to listen to, accompanied by an epic video which is often considered to be one of the best. It's probably the last "great" hair metal hit.

2. Van Halen – Runnin' with the Devil
                    

This was produced in 1978 – long before "hair metal" really came into being. Van Halen obviously laid a lot of the groundwork for what was to come. Despite the controversy the song's title caused, it was about how the rock and roll lifestyle can catch up with you and is superficial. It's actually kind of funny, ironic and cool that David Lee Roth was working as a paramedic in the 00s.

1. Ratt – Round and Round
                   


This one has the right mix of cheese, sleaze and catchy hooks. It also has one of the strangest music videos of the period - a dinner party where everyone has dead eyes and communicates in one word grunts and hand/head signals. Precisely how Ratt got into the attic isn't explained, but if Ratts were playing in my attic I'd be going up there with a meat cleaver. Turns out the butler did it.

Sunday, 17 August 2014

Top 5 Robin Williams Films

(Pic : Al Jazeera)

2014's turning into an absolute fucking corker!

Bill Hicks died on my late mother's birthday 20 years ago, now Robin Williams died on mine which makes this, admittedly, rather funny in itself. If I didn't have such a black sense of humour I probably would've gone the same way a long time ago. To round off the death of laughter I was also a huge Rick Mayall fan. Based on that family track record, if you're a legendary comedian I would be wary of December.

The manner of his death was obviously a great shock. There's been enough said on that and I don't want to go there myself.

Anyway, Robin leaves one hell of a legacy behind and will probably be remembered as one of the greatest and most prolific comic actors of the last century. Just take a look at this list. Everyone will have their own favourite works, so it's worth noting my own appreciation....the one's I've seen anyway.

5. Bicentennial Man (1999)

                                

Based off a Pinocchio-type Issac Asimov novella, this is one of those films I like but every else seems to dislike. It's sentimental to the point of visual diabetes, but trying to turn a robot into a human sounds like something I would try to do and there's something appealing about an inter-generational love story. Not only does the suit that Robin had to wear look unbelievably uncomfortable, but he managed to do quite a lot with a poor script.

4. Hook (1991)

                      

A sequel to Peter Pan sounds like a really bad idea, but I think they managed to pull it off. If it didn't have big personalities like Robin and Dustin Hoffman aboard though it would've sunk without a trace. I suppose Robin was a big kid at heart, and this film – a celebration of the freedom of youth and the child's imagination - has become something of a cult classic amongst people my age despite the bad reception at the time.

3. Good Will Hunting (1997)    
  
                      


Eccentric and troubled genius with trust issues is told to pull his head out of his backside and allow himself to be saved by love. The real world doesn't work like that, of course, and if it wasn't for the incredibly high quality of the acting and script this would've been as sentimental as Bicentennial Man. In terms of his acting ability this was arguably Robin's best performance and showed off his range (comedy, improv, drama, tragedy) perfectly.

2. Good Morning, Vietnam (1987)

                     


It's unclear how much of this was actually true or not, but as the old saying goes, "The first casualty in war is the truth". The US military is, of course, serious business and won't tolerate comedy of any kind. Who best to stick it to the man than a comic actor with NO INDOOR VOICE. Apparently the every single one of the radio broadcasts was ad-libbed by Williams demonstrating his quick comic mind. It did have something of a bittersweet ending as I suppose you could say the "bad guy" won.

1. Mrs Doubtfire (1993)


                    

The role Robin will be remembered for. It's still funny now and seems to get funnier every time I watch it. Divorce is obviously another very solemn and serious topic, but what the hell? It's not perfect script or story wise and is very, very silly – I mean getting divorced because of a party!? Also I didn't get why the Miranda character didn't cotton on to the impersonations over the phone despite being formerly married to a very talented voice actor. Durrr! Though I suppose in the end it was all a mask, wasn't it?


Sunday, 3 August 2014

Blessed are the Peacemakers

A serious game on a serious issue - all the more relevant at present.
(Pic : peacemakergame.com)

The Arab-Israeli conflict is one of the few topics I won't touch on "the other blog". There are plenty of good reasons why.

It seems you can't express an opinion on it unless you fanatically back one side over the other in the PR war. Even hinting that either side might be in the wrong or in the right - under differing circumstances at different times - makes you either Adolf Eichmann incarnate, or a cheerleader for war criminals and genocide.

I suppose the closest I'll come to expressing a view on it is that both sides are permanently locked in a cycle of revenge; one side to the point of devaluing human life based on ethnicity and religion, the other being pig-headed extremists with no sense of self-restraint.

So perhaps Israelis and Palestinians have something in common after all.

It's a conflict that, at present, looks as though can only end either with mutual annihilation, or both sides uniting behind a common threat or common cause. Ideally, that cause would be a permanent two-state solution. Until that unlikely event, "Come, friendly asteroids and fall on the Holy Land."

A few months ago, I took a look at government simulation game, Democracy 3.

Along the same lines, in 2007, ImpactGames released a simulation of the Arab-Israeli conflict called Peacemaker. It was pay game but has was released as freeware in 2013 (available here), which is all the more pertinent due to the present military bombardment of Gaza.

The wider goal of the game is to promote peace and impart a deeper understanding of the difficulties facing both sides – and the wider world - in coming up with a solution to the conflict.

As a player, you choose to be either Israel or the Palestinian Authority. To avoid losing, as Israel you have to prevent a Third Intifada and as Palestine you have to prevent a Fatah-Hamas civil war. Anything else that happens – including the creation of a two state solution - depends on your immediate response to randomly generated events (tank attacks, terrorism, arrests and assassinations) and domestic policy decisions.

The frequency and impact of the events depends on which of the three difficulty levels you choose. You do well by building trust amongst your opponents (i.e. Israel – granting more Palestinians work permits; Palestine – denouncing armed rebellion). The key to full progress and "winning", however, is to carefully balance your decisions to avoid tipping things excessively in favour of the extremes (on both sides).

For example, if you're Israel and you respond excessively to a terrorist attack (to avoid looking weak to voters), you risk more reprisals, which lead to more extreme measures, and you eventually lose. If you're Palestine, showing weakness provokes militants into thinking you're unsuitable to lead "the struggle" – so they end up taking matters into their own hands and digging you into a deeper hole.

All of your hard work over several in-game months can be undone by a single incident or a single revenge attack.

It's not 100% accurate and doesn't have all the nuances of the conflict, but it's pretty damn close and I could see how it would be a useful tool in education, or anyone else for that matter who wants to put themselves in the shoes of decision-makers and get an idea of both sides of the conflict.

Of course, in real life it's not a game and there's only one difficulty setting.


Sunday, 6 July 2014

Putting the Death back into Death Metal

I've always wanted to know what putting a death metal band inside
a soundproof box during the middle of summer would look like.
(Pic : culture24.org.uk)

It looks like we have a winner for "Idea of the Year".

"Brutal" death metal band, Unfathomable Ruination, are taking part in an art piece in London whereby they play in a soundproof, airtight metal box until they pass out. Three times a week. Until August.

The difference between death metal and brutal death metal seems to be that "brutal death metal" is normal death metal where they put sound cuttings from horror films before each song, and the vocals sound like the recordings of inside someone's stomach after they haven't eaten for three days.

I have absolutely no idea what artistic merit this has. I don't know if it's some statement on the visibility yet simultaneous invisibility of extreme forms of music and art – like some Schrödinger's cat experiment. Is a performance still a performance if nobody can see or hear it?

Or, perhaps they're just asking the questions - and they're questions I often ask myself – "How can I make this more brutal?" "How can I needlessly endanger my life today?"

The most likely explanation though is that this doesn't have any wanky pretentious overtones. Some people just want to see some other people with funny beards and black t shirts climb inside a steel box in the heat of the summer; slowly baking in a self-powered oven to songs with titles like Extinction Algorithm in Procession.

It's probably most people's preferred way of experiencing brutal death metal. After all, most heavy metal has always been an auditory collision between art and stupidity.

Not only is this
something straight out of Metalocalypse, but I'd imagine the inside of that box smells like sweat, farts, brain damage and steel.

                          

I don't think there's any other form of music where performers and fans alike are actively encouraged to harm themselves "for the cause". That's why heavy metal is both simultaneously the greatest and worst genre of music around.

Why not take it to the next level :

The Generalissimo : Push everything – band, instruments, stacks – out of the back of a Lockheed Hercules at 30,000 ft. Band members will have to complete a song before hitting the ground, but the first person who uses their parachute is a confirmed poseur.

Metallurgical Analysis : Where better to become one with steel than inside a working blast furnace. Are there truly brothers of metal? Will Manowar be willing to die for metal – literally? Of course, as typical for most washed up metal bands, there'll still be a slag heap afterwards.

Metal on Metal : We've all be warned not to play on railways, but I'm sure everyone will agree that goregrind's one true spiritual home lies spread underneath the 1 o'clock to Paddington at 100mph. It would make an awesome album cover.

Saturday, 19 April 2014

Literary Corner : Look Who's Back

"The advantage of being older than one hundred and twenty is
chiefly tactical. One's political opponent is not anticipating it...."

(Pic : Canberra Times)
It's good I'm posting this today instead of tomorrow, as tomorrow would be the 125th anniversary of Hitler's birth and....questions....would be asked.

Timur Vermes' Er ist wieder da? (literal translation "He's back again?" - English title, Look Who's Back) has sold more than 1.5million copies in Germany. Film rights have also been sold, with an anticipated 2015 release date. It makes you wonder if they can get Bruno Ganz to reprise his (infamous) role from Der Untergang.

After being translated into English – very well, I must say, by Jamie Bulloch - I couldn't resist it. You shouldn't judge books by covers, as the old saying goes, but this one deserves an award.

Look Who's Back is a dark satire, giving Adolf Hitler's first-person account of coming to terms with modern life, after reappearing outside the long-demolished Führerbunker in Berlin with no explanation as to how he got there.

With everyone convinced he's a "really good method actor" who's been kicked out by his girlfriend, he's "discovered" by a television production company, and put on as a side-act in a popular Turko-German comedian's show, producing a tirade where he supports said comedian's ridiculing of foreigners.

He crashed and burned, shocking Germany. The press turn on him, determined to find out who the "real person" is behind the act. After skillfully turning the press's criticism against them, Hitler becomes a viral sensation, handed his own Ali G style TV show (The F
ührer Speaks) and running a blog at "Führer Headquarters" - which didn't hit close to home at all.

The most memorable bits involve Hitler's "fish out of water" commentary on modern life – from television shows, bad drivers, which breed of dog is the "Jewhound" (the answer will surprise you) and leafblowers. He even offers dating advice; usually involving women wearing summer dresses, getting pregnant and waiting for their husbands to die in glorious service to the fatherland.

This resurrected Hitler holds the computer and the "internetwork" in high regard due to the propaganda potential – and that's a key theme. He thinks "Vikipedia" is a "proto-Germanic work", describing it as "a project which brought me to the verge of tears" demonstrating "that even in the absence of the National Socialist Party the German Volk instinctively worked to support its fellow man".

It's been suspected that if Hitler were alive today, he'd listen to The Cure, The Smiths and Depeche Mode. Come to think of it, This Charming Man might make perfect trailer music for the film.

                                  

Those predictions were wide of the mark, but you do end up agreeing with Hitler on occasions. Most ringtones are "drunken clowns playing the xylophone", aren't they?

A particularly amusing section – which lifted my spirits – involves Hitler using a smart phone for the first time, which his (Jewish) Goth secretary, Fraulein Krömeier, sets up with Wagner's Ride of the Valkyries as a ringtone.
"'Hitler!' I said. 'Hitler here!' And when the Valkyries continues to ride I tried 'Führer headquarters!' Just in case the caller was in shock at having got through to me personally. Nothing happened save for the Valkyries getting louder. By now my ear was truly hurting."

Look Who's Back is chock full of Monty Python style one-liners about World War II tactics, personalities and battles. And, of course, there's the political commentary.

Angela Merkel is, "a chunky woman with all the confidence and charisma of a weeping willow." He describes Vladimir Putin as "an interesting fellow" but adds "the moment a politician removes his shirt, his policies are dead in the water." He also says he would've left a loaded revolver on the desk of, "a war minister who was photographed in a swimming pool with a wench....while his troops were preparing for deployment."

I don't know if the following is some sort of commentary on German politics or not, but this Hitler seems fonder of the Greens than the NDP (Germany's BNP). He shares their "long-term vision for the future", citing energy independence plans. On his TV show, he agrees with the Green leader on a withdrawal from Afghanistan because there's "nothing to gain there", also asking her straight-up, "If the Greens took power in this country, which would be the first state they would annex?"

There are a few German pop-culture references that might go over people's heads. Hitler's compared to "Stromberg" - a German version of The Office's David Brent - parodied as being exactly like Hitler. As long as you know that Pro Sieben is a TV station and Bild is the German equivalent of The Sun and Daily Mail combined it's not much of an issue.

In satirical terms, this is definitely Juvevalian and reads like Johnathan Swift's work and even A Clockwork Orange in parts. There are firm echos of Mein Kampf too (obviously).

Basically, imagine Peep Show with Hitler as the main character.

There are two broad themes really. The first is a satire on the modern media, which suggests that the next Hitler would roll around like a pig in muck if they had access to social media and the internet.

That's the "warning message" here, and perhaps aimed squarely at populist hard-right parties. One of the main reasons Hitler was elected was because he wrapped his genocidal fantasies in a blanket of  common sense policies on things like transport, housing etc. The original Hitler was very much a Frankenstein's monster created by the media, gobbled up by the people. It could easily happen again if we allow other people to do the thinking for us.

The second theme is the German fixation on Hitler that borders on an obsession (aka "Hitleritis").

Hitler is still, just about, in living memory. Though in fifty years time, Hitler will be considered another Napoleon, Genghis Khan or Charlemagne and will be hard to relate to outside of history classrooms and war films.

Germans have been making fun of Hitler for years, but laughing with Hitler like this is part of the healing process, and a way to cast off the burden of guilt they might feel Hitler placed on Germany since the end of WW2. It's a process they started after reunification and through the 2006 World Cup, but hasn't totally ended yet.

Also, if Germany should get over democratically-electing one of history's greatest monsters, those of us in Allied countries should perhaps – after 69 years – learn to be good winners and let it go too.

Look Who's Back contains some very black humour that would certainly push people's buttons. I appreciate such things - and it's got me into trouble numerous times - but there are jokes and witticisms that could be considered racist or anti-Semitic. Though it's bloody obvious why!

It's good, but not quite great as the tone becomes repetitive - though it's short enough to avoid getting boring. It's genuinely funny, but it's not going to be to everyone's taste as it's very hard to make a genocidal maniac a sympathetic comic character.

For a German author to manage that is ballsy at the very least, verging on genius.

Sunday, 13 April 2014

Guilty Pleasures : The LA Beast

Innocent sweets, Satanic bowels.
Have a good day.
(Pic : shockmansion.com)

My inner existentialist appreciates the absurd, and all those who proudly state there is no meaning in the world through their actions. There's one beacon of light and inspiration out there who does the things nobody else thinks to do - the LA Beast; a competitive eater who sounds like Machoman Randy Savage and doubles up as a human dustbin.

I'm sure every school had at least one kid who would always try to do some "I bet you can't...." challenge.

One such challenge I remember was to try and kick a football over the three/four-storey main school building. One magical day, someone attempted it but the ball went one way and his shoe went straight fowards and through a window. I'm not sure if he ever went to get it back as I remember seeing him walking around with one shoe.

That's some proper Catch-22 stuff there – bollocking from a teacher, bollocking from his Mam. In the end it was both. He still got the ball over the roof though.

The internet now allows that to happen on a global scale.

LA Beast's most popular video is where he drinks a 20-year old bottle of Crystal Pepsi. I don't think drinking a two-decade old bottle of fizzy drink is something many people have done before, so this was a valuable education (NSFW).

                               

Who's up for a toothpaste sandwich? I'm sure you're not actually supposed to eat toothpaste because it can cause heart attacks, convulsions and brain damage. What makes this one particularly funny is the fact he spits orange juice out, not the overdose of sodium fluoride he's ingesting. If you're going to go balls out though, I would've chosen a higher standard of bread. It might be worth it if your farts smell of Aquafresh afterwards mind.

                               

I like pineapple. In fact, it's one of my favourite fruits. I can guarantee one way to put me off it for life would be to attempt to eat a whole one. The whole lot – including the stem and skin. This challenge was made more extreme through the application of some sort of "Deep Heat" stuff on his testicles, which meant they were going to feel like "lounging on a beach ten inches away from the Sun."

Not wanting to get too sciency, but pineapple contains an enzyme which is very effective at digesting proteins called bromelain, which is why pineapple is often served with tough cuts of meat like gammon. Gums and tongues also happen to be made out of proteins. That wouldn't usually matter, but in this case....

                               

It's not only food challenges, and this one is quite conventional : pinning clothes pegs to the face.

                               

The spines on a cactus are generally a big alarm-bell-ringing sign that they shouldn't be eaten. Let the LA Beast smash that barrier.

                               

Kids and grown ups love it so, the epic shits of Haribo.

Most people should know that some ingredients in sugar-free sweets produce a.....laxative....effect. In small amounts they're fine, but did you know there's a 5lb bag of sugar-free Haribo bears? The reviews themselves are warning enough. Say you ate the lot in just over an hour. Who would willingly bring such a digestive apocalypse upon themselves?

There's a fine line between comedy and horror. I'm sure that bathroom has been witness to sights, sounds and smells that are beyond comprehension. This was something else; one man's arse turned into Hell's jazz trumpet. (WARNING : V. NSFW from about 11:00 in)

                              



That was fucking awesome. Have a good day.

Sunday, 6 April 2014

Album Cover Art....in MS Paint


Most album covers are pretty over the top, but very creative. Metal album covers even more so. What could make them stupider and funnier at the same time? Recreating them in MS Paint/Paint.net/GIMP of course!

I stumbled across this ancient internet thread at Nuclear War Now, and various other sites. It can be quite difficult to use a mouse to draw stuff, so this underlines the talent some of these people have.

Manowar's Blow Your Speakers from Peretcadsart
:
Your speakers. Blow them.

Blow Your Speakers


From bnh on the Nuclear War Now thread – Motorhead's Ace of Spades. It perfectly encapsulates Phil Taylor's vacant expression.



Agnostic Front's Cause for Alarm :




Piledriver's Metal Inquisition. Underlining the seriousness of metal.
"Pildriver"



From Equinox777 – Czech Black Metal band, Enochian's Night Monumental Evil. Having fun in the snow/circus training centre. They'll catch their death of cold.



You can improvise too. Screaming pasta makes for a very close approximation of Morbid Angel's Altars of Madness. This sums up what was going through my head when watching Arsenal this afternoon.

It's not just metal either. Here's an interpretation of Talking Heads' seminal New Wave album, Remain in Light. I think you'll agree it's pretty much spot on.



From Ultimatum, here's a damn good attempt at Grace Jones' Island Life :
 
This is probably my favourite. A recreation of Witchfinder General's Death Penalty. It's the faces that do it for me. You can see the anguish, terror and dread.


It wouldn't be right to blog on this without having a go myself. So I choose something relatively simple - the complete abortion of a collaborative album from Metallica & Lou Reed, Lulu. The dummy has clearly had a stroke and has put on a few pounds around the chest area.

And I forgot the TABLE! TABLE! TABLE!


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