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Saturday, July 28, 2012

The toast is: "England -- this precious stone set in the silver sea."

Of the Olympics opening ceremony, the NYT writes:
With its hilariously quirky Olympic opening ceremony, a wild jumble of the celebratory and the fanciful; the conventional and the eccentric; and the frankly off-the-wall, Britain presented itself to the world Friday night as something it has often struggled to express even to itself: a nation secure in its own post-empire identity, whatever that actually is. 
The country has always eagerly celebrated its past: its military victories, its kings and queens, its glorious cultural and intellectual achievements. But it has a harder time celebrating its present. 
Shouldn't be so hard. London is now the cultural capital of the English-speaking world.

Thanks to a thing called Cactus VPN (which I've been meaning to talk about), I've watched a lot of British TV lately. The BBC offers shows of such high quality as to make America's product seem unwatchable. I hope my praise justifies my content-filching: Many Americans would pay for that stuff if the BBC would permit. (Incidentally, I've seen the first episode of the U.S. answer to Sherlock. Fun, but nowhere near the high level of the Cumberbatch/Freeman/Moffat version.)

In the United States, classical music struggles to stay alive. In London, huge crowds turn out to hear great music at the Proms. What impresses me most is that these concert-goers are not rich people but the people, and they pack that massive hall to hear difficult works. Americans, by contrast, snub anything unfamiliar. You'll never find an oddity by Langaard or the whole of Les Troyens on the program at the Hollywood Bowl. While a number of superb contemporary composers -- including Richard Einhorn, a fellow liberal blogger -- live in the United States, the UK has more than its share. I am confident that John Tavener's works will still be played centuries from now.

In America, art is dominated by fraudists like Damien Hirst. There's a fair amount of fraudism on the U.K. art scene as well, but the British still appreciate people who can actually paint and draw and sculpt. I hate the term Stuckism, but I like what those artists stand for: They've banded together to combat fraudists who keep confusing art with literature.

Speaking of literature: The U.K. can brag about Salman Rushdie, Julian Barnes, Neil Gaiman, Peter Ackroyd, Alan Moore and many more. If you ask ten people to name a good popular living novelist, at least five would choose J.K. Rowling. British comic book creators are not only the best in the world, they made it possible for adults to talk about that medium in mixed company.

America's culture -- both popular and highbrow -- has become a marionette corpse, manipulated by shadowy figures and made to chase anything that looks like a dollar. Our bad art indicates a society on the decline. Britain's cultural vigor indicates a society on the mend.
Comments:
A staple of American comedians has always been skits about rude French waiters. It's not that they are rude but that they don't suffer fools.

It's about time we realize we are not all that or are god's gift to the rest of the world.

When I was in high school there was a movie out, "The Ugly American" pretty much said it all. Too bad the republicans and the Obama-crats didn't learn the lessons.
 
Do not forget Banksy.
 
omg, I am addicted right now to Jeeves & Wooster. I've read this entire series of novels and short stories by Wodehouse, several times over, and it's just so charming to see them come to life. Hugh Laurie is awesome as Bertie, and Stephen Fry is no slouch as Jeeves. It's one of my permanent tabs on my browser and I dread the day I make it thru the entire series. (It's on youtube in 10 minute increments.)

It's so interesting how Hugh Laurie is now known for House, where he speaks with an American accent. I'm far too squeamish for hospital shows, but every now and then I manage to watch House, and I never could pinpoint why I liked it till my son explained it's based on Sherlock and Holmes, with a medical mystery setting.
 
My European friends are always baffled why the USA has become such an ill-informed, far-right country. I tell them it's not just Fox, Rush, and the right-wing mediasphere - it's the heavy hand of censorship in the so-called "objective" media, so the truth can't get a word in edgewise. Unless an American reads overseas content from the Internet on a daily basis - which is small minority of the public - they will be grossly misinformed about nearly any real-world topic.

Economics 101? Forget it. Any knowledge of international history of the last century? Forget it. Science at the level of college survey course? Forget it. There's a pre-installed media template that does not deviate from the level of high-school boosterism.

I grew up overseas (went to a high-quality Brit high school in Hong Kong) and I am shocked over and over at the low level of discourse in this country. Americans aren't stupid people, but are they propagandized by a corporate media machine to an astonishing degree.

What puzzles me is how the American media are synchronized so thoroughly, with so few exceptions, with the run-up to the Iraq War being the alpha example.
 
(part 1)
Britain on the mend? Are you joking?

Every reader of the 'quality' press is an expert on 'sub-prime' lending nowadays, but the banks continue to push hard hard hard to get the majority of people in Britain ever deeper into debt - with success.

Britain could easily go bust before the US does.(1) Neither of the two countries produces much any more.

I didn't watch the Olympic opening ceremony - I haven't got a TV. But I knew they were going to present Britain as typified by a farming village, with peasant girls looking after cows and geese.

Maybe for full effect they could have had members of the royal family blowing up mock-ups of industrial cities such as Glasgow, Manchester, and Sheffield? And then cut to the farming village while the band plays 'God Save the Queen'?

And as for Mr Bean! Once upon a time, there was a scam involving the 'Millennium Dome', a piece of crap architecture that was ostensibly going to be a magnet for travellers from all over the world, for centuries to come. They had an enormous statue of a woman there. The thing is, the billionaires such as Prince Kook of Wales (known to his male friends as 'Harmony') and the Hinduja brothers couldn't think of anything to put at the very centre. The scammers wanted the Dome built, but they didn't know what the hell to put in it!

Eventually they binned the idea of a globally important exhibition centre and sold off the lease to Trinity College, Cambridge, for the knockdown price of £24 million. Hello Russia! I don't imagine those who had already pocketed the billion or so paid any of it back.

Before the sell-off, at the turn of the 'millennium' (a term which functioned mainly to stop people thinking of what a disastrous century had just passed), they staged a royal ceremony at the Dome. Some kooky Spaceman Creation crap. I can't recall whether it featured fire and ice, Nazi-style; it may well have done. And because they had to keep the place open for a few months for the sake of appearances, they showed film of fucking TV comedy programmes from the 1980s inside the head of the statue. That's all they could come up with! Oh look at Rowan Atkinson - he's putting on a false nose! Ha ha!

It wasn't like that in London in 1851, Philadelphia in 1876, Paris in 1889, or London again in 1951!

A country that sells itself to the world on the basis of Americanised films glorifying its secret service (James Bond (2) ), and its vile political system based on social hierarchy with a hereditary monarch at the top - oh and did I mention comedy? - is pathetic.
(end of part 1)
 
(part 2)

I've travelled a few times in London recently, and on each occasion I've heard about 10 messages (spoken by people using a range of accents) saying I should keep the hell out of London, or walk, or ride a bike, if I'm not going to be spending money on watching the Olympics, because I might get in the way of people who are.

That's how real people living in London are being treated because of these shitty Olympic Games.

And are any journalists in any major newspaper mentioning that? Are they saying anything negative about the idiotic TV sports culture, about the advertising, about the fact that practically all of the athletes cheat by using drugs, about the hypocrisy, about the vileness of competitiveness and the cult of physical strength, about the disgustingness of the 'Paralympics' which encourage people to ignore what life is like for the majority of disabled people? Or are they all too shit-scared? Where are the anti-monarchists, even? Or critics of Hollywood or MI6 or advertising?

Advertising, consumerism, and debt are very closely bound up with each other.

The Olympic Games are about advertising big, mainly American brands around the world, getting eyeballs by showing moving pictures of drugged-up cheating athletes running around in circles and doing other completely pointless shit, for the 'entertainment' of people sitting on their arses.

And there are far more representations of the queen on billboard posters in London than there usually are. I've always had a hunch that the royal family gets a piece of the action from West End theatres, but that can't be the whole of the reason.

My impression is that London has not been 'sold' very much, in connection with the Olympics, to people living outside the UK, as somewhere you might want to go, either to watch Olympic events or to do other stuff. People living elsewhere in Europe (with the exception of Ireland) haven't had their minds rotted so much by the banks. They aren't going to get £2000 in debt just so as to go to London from France or Germany or Spain or Poland to watch Olympic crap 'live'. Most visitors to London will probably be British people.

So basically we have the local front-of-stage authorities and the banks encouraging British people to go to Olympic events, to watch mind-numbing sports shit, just so long as though they don't bring the wrong brand of pissy Coca-Cola with them, in which case the police will take it off them, because only Pepsi or Coke have got the contract.

And where are these poor souls going to get the money from?

The answer is that they are going to get further into debt.

Parents who spend £500 going to London from Newcastle or wherever, to sit with their children watching athletes chuck things or jump over hurdles or whatever, need to be told the truth - that they're acting bloody irresponsibly, and that soon when they lose their jobs, they might look back and wish they hadn't chucked that £500 away.

It's an outrage that a country going down the tubes stages the Olympics. Greece held them 8 years ago. It's unlikely to take until 2020 for Britain to reach the stage Greece is at now.

Still - Britain - land of comedy - yes, there might be something in that!

Footnotes
---------
(1) Of course the point has to be recognised that Britain at least has a 'proper' public health service in a way that the US does not, and that there are far fewer gun nuts in this Ultra-Patrician country.
(2) Ian Fleming called his mother 'M'.
 
You've said some very nice things about my old homeland, Joseph.
:-)
I've been in the US since 2004. I see it like this: the UK is around the size of Wisconsin, yet over the centuries has managed to achieve a lot. It's a kind of "concentrate" against the USA's diluted vastness. There's an awful lot of good in the USA but it's spread about - and fairly thinly in places.

In the UK, as in the US there are crappy aspects too - plenty of 'em, but you don't have to travel hundreds of miles to find something better or different. Something different will likely be found in the next town or even in the next street.
 
ColoradoGuy, Not only are the news channels in sync with each other but also the same news channel picks one story and endlessly repeats it all night.

Rather than go overseas for news, people should search local news reports online. The problem with the national news is that they will go on for weeks about Zimmerman or the Joker shooter, while never mentioning the police in Anaheim open firing with rubber bullets on men, women, children and babies who were gathered to protest their gunning down unarmed young men.

Even the people interested in stopping fracking or stopping tar sands from being piped have no idea that people are gathering, are organizing, are protesting these things, in DC, along the Chesapeake, in Idaho, you name it! The protests are never given publicity because if they do cover them, they will grow. The complicit media is our #1 enemy.
 
Ah, b, I was hoping you'd show up and say the kind of things you have said. Of course, you missed my point: I wrote about culture, and how a cultural renaissance can be a harbinger of a political healing. I think your country is going through such a cultural renaissance right now. Not that a contrarian such as yourself would ever admit it.

Although I didn't really write about the Olympics per se, you have done so, and in a way that confirms me in my suspicion that you care much more about being contrary than about being socialist. Cameron approves of a massive public works project and you suddenly start talking about the need for austerity. Suddenly, you're grumbling about "Where's the money?" Very Tory.

Relax. The games are going to be good for your country:

http://www.slate.com/articles/business/fivering_circus/2012/07/olympic_economics_will_london_and_great_britain_benefit_from_hosting_the_2012_olympics_.html.

Londoners may have told you to stay out for the duration, but so what? Los Angelenos said the same thing when they -- I almost wrote "we"! -- had the games. And traffic went down.

As for the images of the Queen that you keep seeing: Relax. She won't bite.
 
Write about Cactus VPN.

Are you watching Channel 4?

You dont need a VPN to watch the BBC. Just use TOR.

And I suspect any cultural uptick is most relative. I suspect post Olympics we are gonna see a big recession in London - another big recession I should say.

Post Olympics.

Harry
 
@ b "most visitors to London will probably be British people"

lucky Brits! And that's how it should be. I remember wanting to go to the Atlanta Olympics. Just a day's ride down 75, & between 2 cousins & a friend I had 3 places to sleep. Only problem was.... no tix! They had been mostly sold to foreigners. American could not see the Olympics in our own country, Atlantans couldn't see them in their own town (my friend in particular was beotching about this) cuz foreigners were given preference over the tix. Unless you had a family member on one of the teams, Americans were pretty much put on standby. That was just plain wrong. Those tix should of gone to the American people first. That said, I hope the Brits enjoy their Olympics
 
sonrisa - hardly anyone is actually going to the Olympics in London. Many of the seats are empty. For PR reasons, the organisers are now ushering in 'youth who've made a contribution to their community', and even the same soldiers who during their working hours are guarding the games, just to make up the numbers.

Even the BBC is reporting this (here). Soldiers were brought in to 'make up for the security shortfall', and now they are being brought in to sit on the seats, to make it look as though anybody cares a damn that one country is competing with another country at handball, or some bloke's run really fast along a track.

As with other Olympic games, only a small proportion of the money is made out of filling seats - much more is made out of scams involving construction, transport, and security, and out of sponsorship and TV advertising contracts.
 
If the Olympics are a public works project, then so are bank bailouts and the weapons industry. While they 'create' jobs (especially for Polish guestworkers working at a small proportion of what a few years ago would have been the going rate), they push consumerism, personal debt, and passivity. You say I ask "where's the money?", but I was focusing on how working class people who waste money on the Olympics are in most cases getting themselves further into debt. That can only be bad.

This isn't Keynesianism. Working class people going 'spend spend spend', spending borrowed money, is exactly what our enemies want. Keynesianism involved the use of working class 'demand' as a lever, but it wasn't based on it; it was based on rising industrial productivity.

You mistook my point about Londoners. I'm a Londoner as much as anyone. My mother and grandfather were born within a few dozen yards of the river in central London, and most of my ancestors on my mother's side were from slum areas in inner London. I've lived in London for what adds up to a large proportion of my life. I'm OK with the Lambeth Walk and Down at the Old Bull and Bush, and especially with My Old Man's a Dustman, but I dislike Dirty Old Town, which I think is fake because no-one really relates to London in that way. I'm London area 'council trash', and 'south London scum'. It's Londoners who are being told to stay out of the transport system in London, so that people (whether they come from London or elsewhere) can go to Olympic events.

Yes OK I'm a contrarian. But so are you. In 2007, you were slagging the Bush administration for running a deficit. But where is the money going to come from for your desired public works projects, if not from deficits?

I'm no 'ultra', not any more. I'd support nationalisation of the banks. I even know what I'd support next: government activation of mortgages to take full ownership of private houses, in order to convert them immediately into public housing, at very low and very highly subsidised rents. But a reformist escape from current troubles seems vanishingly likely. So although I would support a political movement that had policies like this in its programme, and similar ones, and wasn't fake, I think it's pissing into the wind to 'call' for one. 'Prepare for Armageddon' seems far more like it.
 
Joe - is there an element of the grass being greener, in the way you think of the UK and its glorious culture and loads of Prom concerts etc.?
 
John Kenneth Galbraith said the US weapons industry was "socialist" in all but name.

Influential forces have done a big confusionist job with that word 'socialist' in the US. Bigger than in western Europe? I don't know - maybe not - but markedly different. Was the idea of the 'little man' set up in the US in opposition to the idea of 'community'? But the US is no different from other 'advanced' western countries in that say 80% of the population are proletarians. Something to do with the promotion of a 'land of opportunity'?

I won't comment on the Galbraith statement, except to say I think Galbraith was right up there with Karl Popper, near the top of the league of people who've been hailed as being amazingly wise at seeing the big social picture, but who in actual fact were lifelong spewers of vacuous rubbish.

It's true that I don't much care for anyone who's a big gob in the media, but some take the biscuit more than others.

One pre-mass-media big gob whose stock is bound to rise on CELEBDAQ is Thomas Malthus.
 
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