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Posts Tagged ‘Society’

Bah, humbug, that Olympic opening ceremony was a mess

October 8th, 2012 No comments

Why I’m the curmudgeon over Danny Boyle’s Olympic distract-a-rama

 

It’s the internet, stoopid. And the crumbling of our brains. That, I’ve realised, is why I’m the blight at every enthusiastic mass-praising of Danny Boyle’s Olympics opening ceremony.

“Wasn’t it marvellous!” Brit-crowds crow. The gang was still burbling about it when I was in London last week. Mass adoration always irritates me. Unless I am the recipient.

But the lemming-like rush to declare it was such a fabulous event made me think of Leni Riefenstahl or Cecil B. De Mille and those grandiose cinematic extravaganzas which were calculated to make the poor schmuck in the cheap seats drop his popcorn.

Well, it was technically astonishing, and an awful lot went on. Then you’d expect at least those qualities for your £27 million.

However it was all over the place, and to my mind failed to fulfil three key requirements: was it a good piece of entertainment for the people in the Olympic Stadium?

Was it lucid and compelling for the vast television audience?

Did it act as an introduction to the great sporting event it was to usher in?

Taking the last first, the spectacular obviously meant to knock people’s socks off and be the memorable part of the evening. But the Olympics is about talented and dedicated athletes, not about directorial ego.

Was it lucid for a television audience? Probably more so than for the punters in the arena, who could only see bits and didn’t have the long-lens benefit of the cyber- and TV viewers.

But it was still very bitty – ooh, there’s Kenneth Branagh, now forget about him because the grass is all disappearing, there’s Tim Berners-Lee who invented the World Wide Web, now there are people on hospital beds and lots of dancing and finally, finally, it stops. It was a mass of ideas and half-ideas stuck together with verve, chutzpah and lots of money.

Had the theme been Berners-Lee’s incalculable gift to society (he’s a Brit after all) and that alone, it would have been clear, clean, and obviously afforded all sorts of spin-offs. You can get anything on the Internet, and a brilliant creative person like Danny Boyle could have chosen from a myriad possibilities. Choice, however, was not the keynote of the night, but rather a philosophy of throw everything in. And that does, in fact, mirror the effect of the internet on our lives, but no clear line was drawn between Berners-Lee’s fleeting appearance and the rest of the show. No, the ambition was bigger than that.

As Charlotte Higgins wrote in The Guardian, “it was bewildering enough, at times, to its domestic audience; abroad it must frequently have been plain incomprehensible.” (Although she went on to explain that it made sense to the British, saving for some stuffy Tories.)

It sounds a bit like the disdain for dreary old ‘facts’ that is being displayed by the Republican presidential campaign in the US. Lord, why should anyone be able to understand this fiesta? That would be commonplace and predictable.

The Olympics opening ceremony ritual has gotten out of hand, with the Greeks and the Chinese much to blame for their ludicrous shows that went on way too long and cost way too much. Maybe Rio will calm things down a little. Maybe.

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Let’s not have a debate – let’s DO something about the media!

May 1st, 2012 No comments

Angela suggests that the cliche ‘we need a healthy debate’ should go the way of the News of the World

 

‘What we need is a proper debate about the media.’ ‘We need a debate about all these issues.’ Boy, am I sick of hearing and reading that. The get-out clause of politicians seems to have leaked into the discourse of the dissenters and complainers, yet they should avoid this phrase like the plague.

The latest instance is in the surprisingly strong judgment of the Murdochs by the House of Commons Select Committee which heard their evidence on phone hacking and associated sins last summer. The ‘not a fit person to run a media company’ was adopted, apparently, at the urging of Tom Watson MP. Watson, a doughty campaigner who has his own history of pain with News International, has used stronger language for the Austral-American media moguls in the past, and not always well-advisedly. Watson calls News Corp ‘the Mafia’

However, the ‘not fit’ quote was not embraced with enthusiasm by half the committee, five out of 11. Surprisingly or not, depending on your degree of cynicism, the split went along party lines. The five dissenters are Tories, featuring the lovely novelist Louise Mensch. ‘We all felt that was wildly outside the scope of the select committee and was an improper attempt to influence Ofcom,’ Ms Mensch was quoted in the noticeably benign story about the report in Murdoch’s flagship paper in his homeland, The Australian. News Ltd story on the report (Australian)

But still. Today, it is as if someone has pointed up into the sky at night, at the white circular luminous object hanging there, and said “The moon!” The love (or hatred) that dare not speak its name has indeed been named. ‘Not a proper person’ – as I observed on Twitter, the wording has been used in the past about moguls Maxwell and Al-Fayed. Were you under the impression that Rupert Murdoch and co were running all those news organisations out of a desire to make the world a better place? Surely, the old guy loves newspapers, and I cannot fault him for that. I love newspapers, even as I prepare to wave newsprint goodbye from the stage of history. But balanced with love of the print, the sound of the presses – even the lining of the canary’s cage the next day – newspapers, as the press, have to play a central and responsible role in informing citizens about the world around them. This is the role of the media in democracies.

Murdoch senior’s well-judged performance at the Leveson inquiry – far better than the befuddled apologist of the cream-pie attack last summer – showed the flinty charm that has helped him forge a massive business empire. It also revealed a little more of the ruthlessness with which News Corp can treat those who stray from the party line..

But it didn’t indicate someone who was prepared to accept a responsible role in democratic societies – despite the risibly guileless contentions about his insouciance in the face of government changes, and his sunny lack of interest in how power shifts affect the commercial interests of his newspapers.

So…let’s not have a debate that goes on and on and all the windbags wave their bellows around about the media. Let’s get the Leveson report and insist that the Cameron government do something about limiting the power of media owners.

What? Well, maybe we can have a debate about that (only kidding).

Thanks to the Guardian, and other generous sharers, here’s the link to the full report of the Committee:

Commons Report on Murdochs and Phone Hacking

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Babel policy can be counter-productive

April 3rd, 2012 No comments

Angela considers the pros and cons of the comment-rich internet

Who guards the guardian?

Or maybe, The Guardian?

Is it ‘whimsicaleye’, who recently wrote….. ‘It’s time to smash the state.
Summer of Discontent 2012
F*** the olympics.
F*** the c**** jubilee’.

There, loud and proud, on the Guardian’s justly famed website with around 38 million unique users a month. Good stuff, eh?
Over at The Irish Times, are people reading it online for the humour of Frank McNally’s Irishman’s Diary, the polymathic brilliance of Fintan O’Toole, or the robust interventions of his well-behaved interlocutors? On irishtimes.com, comments generally appear after Comment pieces, rather than any old bit of news on sites such as TheJournal.ie.

The issue of who is providing journalistic content has gone well beyond the concept of the ‘citizen journalist’. This is the brave, public-spirited individual who reports on events, meetings, injustices, without the benefits of pay or professional training. They then post their accounts of what’s going on for the benefit of all.
But as well as the CJs, there’s a multitude of commentators, aggregators, and responders, who append their comments to news stories on websites. Some also blog and put across their view of the world – whether well-founded or not it’s often impossible to tell.
In last Saturday’s Irish Times newspaper, contributor Stephen O’Byrnes raised the issue of what you might call ‘user-generated content’, and how it should be handled. Here’s a sample…
‘Offering engagement and accessibility to Seán and Mary Citizen
is all well and good (“do keep your texts and tweets rolling in”),
but too often this is becoming a platform for political soreheads
of every hue.’

Although (as I said on Twitter) there was a whiff of elitism in O’Byrnes’ argument, he did raise a point of decision and discussion for ‘big media’ platforms. To what extent do you allow your product – which all news platforms are, if they want to make money – to go open-slather? Over the past five years there has been a mounting enthusiasm, or anxiety, among publishers and broadcasters for using and publicizing the reactions and comments of the audience. (Yes, even audience is a bit of a dirty word now, suggesting the ‘us and them’ structure of the old days of ‘gatekeeper’ journalism, when news was the sacred possession of the narrow and self-elected journalist class.) Read more…

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Kony2012

March 13th, 2012 No comments

The viral success of the Kony2012 film by Jason Russell brings together the power of social media, the idealism of youth, the horror of a human rights atrocity, and the skill of a slick film-maker in one very modern – and possibly very short-lived – media sensation.
Here’s the film…80 million hits in just a few days.
Kony2012

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Privacy still matters in open digital world

November 14th, 2011 No comments

THE woman was distraught, there was no doubt about it. Her voice was shaky, and never far from tears. ‘We just can’t understand why we are still alive and others aren’t,” she managed to say at one point, referring to her partner. They had been involved in the disastrous motorway pile-up on the M5 near Taunton in Somerset, England. Seven people were dead, and another 50 hurt, some of them with what one reporter referred to, chillingly, as ‘life-changing injuries’. This woman, speaking on Irish radio, was, if not in shock, obviously traumatised.

She and her husband had indeed been extraordinarily lucky to escape, apparently with no physical harm. But one of the mental issues that was torturing her now, she explained, was how quotes and photographs of the couple, who had escaped ‘miraculously’, were appearing in newspapers and websites, without their permission.

“We spoke to The Times of London,” she said, “but other newspapers have run stories about us, have stolen our pictures from Facebook….I will never believe what I read in the papers again.”

This was Ciara Neno’s verdict, after being interviewed on RTE radio. Her distress was evident, and deserves kindness and respect. But her alarm at photographs being ‘stolen’ from Facebook highlights, yet again, how privacy has become a thing of the past. And many people don’t seem to have noticed, nor to care. It is only in extreme situations such as this that people feel violated when their information, and images, is taken and used without their permission. Everywhere, the media is doing the equivalent of the old unethical reporter’s trick of climbing in the bathroom window to steal a photograph of someone involved in a tragic or dramatic story.

People are, in effect, putting their personal information and images up in a vast public square. The so-called privacy settings on Facebook, Google+, and others are often only a minor obstacle to mildly skilful computer-users.   Read more…

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