The Obscurer

Category: Media

Spot The Difference

Today’s inaugural Spot The Difference competition comes to you courtesy of Photoshop Disasters, in association with Metro and The Sun. Click on the image for a full-screen view. First correct answer wins no prize.

Physical Graffiti

So, has Banksy finally been unmasked? More importantly, who cares? Not I. I’m afraid I’m going to have to demur from the popular opinion that Banksy is our most finest graffitoist.
Let’s start with a couple of his recent topical daubings that have regularly appeared on news reports, often without being specifically referred to, as if the image alone speaks volumes. First there was that “comment” on the government’s 10p tax travails, where Banksy decided to draw a 10 pence piece with – gasp – Gordon Brown’s face where the lion should appear! Because, it is a 10p tax, and Gordon Brown removed the 10p band, and he is now the prime minister, and…oh, if you don’t get it, just forget it. Then Banksy’s satirical gaze moved to the Glastonbury festival; there had been some controversy as Michael Eavis, organiser fo the festival, invited a rapper, Jay Z, to perform at what has historically been a rock and folk affair. Banksy’s inspired painting: Jay Zeavis! Yes, Jay Z, and Michael Eavis, put them together and taa-daa! Er, that’s it.*

Of course, these are just two off-the-cuff recent paintings from Banksy’s conveyor belt of talent; like all artists we should perhaps judge him by some of his timeless classics. So what of them? Well there’s

  • That image of Travolta and Jackson from Pulp Fiction, in execution mode. But wait! That’s not guns they’re pointing, but bananas! Get in there! A fitting comment that violence begets violence and can, er, mm, be ended by fruit? Because no one ever murdered anyone by using fruit? Did they? I dunno. Moving on…
  • What about that one of two male police officer in uniform kissing each other. Outrageous! Banksy hits home here, seemingly suggesting the hilarious possibility that two policeman might me gay! I mean, as if! The very thought of it! Madness! Next:
  • A picture of three children swearing allegiance to the flag; but hold on a moment. That’s no flag, but a Tesco carrier bag! Nice one, Banksy! Boo, hiss, down with the corporations, that’ll learn them. Because they’re taking over the country aren’t they? Or they have government in their pocket, don’t they? Or they are the government? Or something? Whatever. Oh Banksy, you are a one!

Sigh. I mean they’re fine, they’re alright, but no more than that. Even when you take a Banksy painting I quite like – that one of a workman cleaning a wall of graffiti that is in fact an ancient cave painting – it is at best a half-decent half-thought, albeit one beautifully rendered. As for the majority, whether a picture of a dove of peace wearing a bullet-proof vest, or of a rioter throwing not a Molotov cocktail but a bunch of flowers, this stuff has all the intellectual depth of something you may find on twitter – “wot if a child frisked a soldier not the other way around lol!” – but coming in at well under the maximum 140 characters.

Why Banksy gets the praise he does I cannot tell, but equally surprising has been the reaction to these stories of his supposed unmasking where an emphasis has been placed on the shock discovery that Banksy may be a former public school boy. Again, I don’t care, but what were people expecting? Banksy’s pieces scream to me of being the work of a sniggering prankster playing at being a notorious, anti-establishment figure. Clearly a technically gifted artist and quite probably an alumnus of some art college or other his work puts me more in mind of Pulp’s “Common People” than Public Enemy’s “Fight The Power”, such is the “look at me, Mum, aren’t I being naughty” nature of his work. Now, that doesn’t necessarily mean that Banksy has come from a privileged background but I would personally be far more amazed if it turned out that he is in fact some hard-nosed, dragged-up kid from the streets who “turned to the art of stencilling…whilst he was hiding from the police under a train carriage,” man. As it is, if it is ever confirmed that Banksy did receive a public school education then I wouldn’t bat an eyelid.

* Update: A question of attribution. Since conducting some rudimentary research following writing this rant I’m not now sure whether either of these pieces are in fact authentic Banksy’s. Pure laziness and assumptioning on my part I’m afraid. Still, they are pathetic enough to pass for the Master’s work, so the general point still remains.

Morning Bell

I drive my own car. I fill it up at the pumps, and when diesel hit 121.9p per litre, which I paid outside Chipping Norton a couple of weeks ago, it really struck me that there was an intriguing advert on the forecourt of the filling station.

“A great way to start your day,” the advert announced (or something like that), and it featured a picture of some breakfasting suggestions, purchasable, one presumes, in the little shop. There was a washed-out looking photograph of an arrangement of some common-or-garden morning staples; a coffee, a croissant, a sweet Danish pastry…but then, somewhat disturbingly, a fresh, folded copy of the Daily Mail and two cans of Red Bull.

And I’m scared, frankly. Scared that someone thinks that those last two items taken together are a suitable and safe way for someone to start their day. Scared that perhaps the creator of that advertisement personally kicks off their morning by necking a couple of cans of Red Bull while devouring the latest ravings that the Mail has to offer. The possibility that someone, once fully breakfasted in such a style, and no doubt swivel-eyed, delusional and frantically gibbering Daily Mail stock-phrases to boot, could then embark on a full day’s work doing, well, anything really, anything at all, quite petrifies me.

Am I wrong? Naïve? Am I the one out of step? Is a double dose of adrenaline and bigotry a popular way for people to begin their day? Perhaps, but I have to believe that it is not, that the constituent parts of this lethal cocktail are kept at a safe distance from each other for the most part, and that the only person who thinks that the Mail and taurine should be freely mixed is also the person solely responsible for this advert.

Clearly I need to take action. I don’t want that advertisement putting ideas in people’s heads and so I will be contacting the oil company – Total – myself and demanding its immediate removal (I will play the corporate responsibility card, that they should do the right thing, as well as the self-interest one, advising them that they could be sued if a high-as-a-kite customer snaps their wrist in a green-ink frenzy.) My main concern, however, is for the person who created the advert; but is it a Total staffer or an employee from an advertising agency? We need to know, because we need to track them down. Whether the author personally imbibes Red Bull while reading the Melanie Phillips column – a chilling thought – or just thinks it is a socially and/or medically responsible thing to do, here is someone who is clearly a danger to themselves and others.

But how do we do it? How can we identify this trouble soul? There were no clues on the advert itself; no credits, no copywrite symbol, no identifying marks of any kind as far as I could see. We don’t even know when this specific advert was made; the date on the copy of the Daily Mail was obscured, and the banner headline, “‘Why the English middle classes have had enough,’ by Simon Heffer” doesn’t narrow things down at all. They publish a similar article every other week: the specific article in question, if even uniquely identifiable, could have been from anytime in the last twenty-odd years.

Can you help? Please? A Red Bull drinking Daily Mail reader is a ticking time-bomb that will eventually blow, and when it does I want to know that I have done everything humanly possible to have prevented it.

Terror Twilight

I was awoken with a jolt in the wee small hours; not by the earthquake, but by my wife whispering, “There’s been an earthquake!” Somehow I managed to sleep through a magnitude 5.2 seismic shock (albeit one that’s power must have dissipated markedly by the time it reached us, considering our distance from the epicentre) but not through my beloved’s gentle prodding. What that tells you about my survival instinct I don’t know; interesting that a geological incident won’t shift me (suggesting that I care not for my personal safety) but when my wife merely turns to me (and I perhaps imagine an alternative motive for her action requiring me to fulfil some primal duty to perpetuate the species) I’m up like a shot, so to speak.

At the time of course we had no idea how localised the quake was, and so once downstairs with the kids a (depressingly) few hours later I checked the internet to see if there had been word. My home page showed a link to an article in The Guardian, and so I had a quick read.

Large areas of England from London to Manchester suffered tremors just before 1am last night as an earthquake measuring 4.7 on the Richter scale rumbled through the country for several seconds.

There were reports of power cuts in some cities and of buildings shaking – in Hull students ran into the street for fear of falling masonry – but no reports of injuries.

According to the US Geological Survey, the earthquake struck at 12.56am at a depth of 10km (6.2 miles) with an epicentre 205 km (127 miles) north of London and 30 miles south of Kingston upon Hull.

“What-what-what-what-what”, as Dannan O’Mallard would doubtless say. Do we really need to know that the epicentre was 127 miles north of London? Should it be the first geographical reference point we are presented with concerning an incident in Lincolnshire? Is it so impossible to describe anything without relating it in some way to the capital? Good – and indeed – grief. I can see why Reuters or the foreign press might mention London in passing, dealing as they are with an international readership, but does a British paper need to do the same? Perhaps, for a metropolitan audience, the sad answer is “yes, it does.”

Sorry, then, if I come across as a chippy northerner, because I really don’t mean to. Perhaps it is because I am a chippy northerner – it’s as good a reason as any – or perhaps it is a temporary effect caused by me currently reading Stuart Maconie’s rather splendid Pies And Prejudice. I don’t know the answer just yet; ask me again in a week.

Rah Rah For Randall

Last year I was going to write a post prompted by this Daily Telegraph article from Jeff Randall, the ex-Business Editor of the BBC, where he criticised his former employer for the profusion of useless timeservers at the corporation. Well he should know, I was going to say; how ironic that during his period at the BBC I found him to be such an utter waste of space. I could only imagine what talented journalists such as Evan Davis, Stephanie Flanders and Paul Mason must have thought working alongside someone so woeful. But with so much wrong in this world, and having already written one post slagging the man off, I decided a second was hardly required and so I binned it.

I’m still sure that decision was correct, but recently I have read a good number of posts and comments around the place that, when legitimately criticising the BBC’s business coverage, have spoken wistfully of the Jeff Randall era. Such instances are rare but still they haunt me (I’m easily spooked) and they are a disturbing development. For example take Guido (via Gracchii) who, in one of those posts that suggests he really should just stick to the gossip, criticises Newsnight and Stephanie Flanders because of what appears to be a simple transposing error when reporting the markets; he then finishes his post by pointedly noting that “Jeff Randall is on Sky…“, as is his style.

Well I read that as an invitation, so this week I decided to check out Jeff at his new televisual home, Jeff Randall Live on Sky News. Much water has gone under the bridge since I last clapped eyes on the fellow, and I wondered if perhaps I had been a bit harsh in my appraisal of his talents, that maybe Guido’s implication is right and that he and others have seen something I have not, and that Jeff is a far better journalist that I have hitherto given him credit for.

But oh dear no, it is all still there; Jeff still has the air of someone slightly puzzled, who is trying really hard but is not at all sure quite where he is. When he talks it seems less like he is speaking his brains than he is conducting someone else’s thoughts. Okay, but that’s just presentation, and while it doesn’t breed confidence or suggest Jeff has a mastery of his subject he may still know his stuff, even if he gives every impression that he doesn’t.

But there is more to it than that. In his BBC days Jeff’s role was to answer questions put to him by the presenter, whereupon he would typically appear clueless and flounder around for a bit, unquestioningly trotting out some received wisdom lacking in any supporting evidence, or drawing lazy and false conclusions; I particularly remember him trying to illustrate Leeds United’s financial problems by comparing its turnover against Manchester United’s, which is idiotic. Fortunately Jeff is now spared all that indignity, being both the presenter and interviewer for his own programme, and presumably fed his lines by autocue and earpiece; but still all is not well. He is a very poor interrogator for one thing, his technique apparantly being to lob the obvious and most contentious question first – the one the interviewee will be well rehearsed for – and to then fail to follow it up, plodding on to the next question regardless and making little attempt to react to and engage with whatever the other party has actually said. The result is that he allows the interviewee to speechify, to in effect be allowed to get away with delivering a PR monologue without any fear of being picked up on any of the specifics. In all it doesn’t feel like he is conducting an interview, he may as well be running through a questionnaire.

So yesterday we had David Greene of the law firm representing around 6000 of Northern Rock’s shareholders who reasoned that the government could recompense each shareholder to the value of £4 per share of their worthless stock, a statement that went entirely unchallenged by Jeff. His “interview” with Mike Turner of BAe Systems was even worse, allowing Turner to respond to the obligatory question about the company’s contentious links with Saudi Arabia by sighing, shrugging his shoulders and wondering aloud about what a cruel and unfair world we live in where people can’t just leave his great British company alone, as if concern about the Serious Fraud Office investigation into the Al Yamamah deal and the political interference that brought it to a halt was just an example of the tall poppy syndrome, sour grapes and a sadly regretable lack of patriotism. It was all pretty pathetic.

Now I have nothing against Jeff personally, he is only doing his best bless him, but had I read some of these recent criticisms of the BBC’s business coverage during his tenure I may have entirely agreed, but cited Jeff as a perfect example; so how can you explain his fine reputation among the same folk? Clearly I’ve not watched every report or read every article Jeff has ever produced, and it is possible, though barely plausible, that I have been uniquely unfortunate in my exposure to the bloke; this could merely be a difference of opinion between Jeff’s cheerleaders and myself and there’s no accounting for taste. Maybe it is all down to his supporters taking a dim view of Jeff’s replacement, Robert Peston, who is himself no great shakes; it may be a straightforward case of absence making the heart grow fonder. But just perhaps, could it be the very fact that Jeff has spent much of his post-BBC career regularly criticising the corporation he used to work for that has so endeared him to some? Not for me to say, but whatever the reason the solution is simple; should anyone praise Jeff’s journalistic abilities I will just point them in the direction of his Sky News show and leave it at that. Nothing more will be required, and I never need write about him again.

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