Friday, 30 April 2010

Election Debates

Even though I know thanks to viewing figures, that more people saw Piers Morgan want to go cruising with Kevin than saw Nick Clegg storm the Leaders' Debate, I felt it somewhat remiss of me to pass up this television extravaganza and make more than a passing reference to it.

In homage to a combination of caring who runs the nation, and having 90 minutes on my hands, I just watched the debate on iPlayer, and as I sat there, time ticking away, I suddenly realised why politicians are rarely on the mainstream media (except for Boris Johnson), and that's because they're quite dull and have a tendency to speak a lot without saying anything (except for Boris Johnson).

The politician I would most happily slap this accusation onto is David Cameron, who appeared to be flirting with liberal voters so often, it was somewhat reminiscent of Wile E. Coyote laying traps for Road Runner. I half expected to see a pile of Liberal ideas, as directed by a sign saying "Liberals vote here!" with a loosely concealed snare lying round it connected to an anvil overhead. Thankfully, though, generally, Wile E. Coyote is the one to get crushed, and to extend this metaphor, ideally, Liberals would see through it, while Conservatives would be aggrieved at his defection from their own ideals, and crush him mercilessly.

When he wasn't flirting, he was randomly making up policies ("Fine, we're not cutting free eye tests!") and generally, being vague and non-committal, whilst appearing bold and decisive. "We're setting a cap on immigration!" he proclaims loudly. What is that cap? No-one knows. Will it affect (I'm using Nick Clegg's figures here) the 80% of immigrants coming from Europe? No. So he's setting an as yet undetermined cap on 20% of immigrants. How he's managed to make this appear like a clampdown I cannot possibly begin to fathom.

Gordon Brown was braying loudly in the corner, "It's the same old Tory party!" (practically the new Labour slogan by the end of the debate), and, although it pains me to say this, he's right to an extent. We've had the "B&B owners should be allowed to kick gays out" incident combined with Philip Lardner's gem "Gays are not normal" (He was talking about the teaching of being gay as you know, an okay life choice, in much the same way as I had to learn about alternative theories for the creation of life on the understanding that they're all valid.) which were essentially, betrayals of the image Cameron wanted to present, that of a forward-thinking libertarian utopia, but not, I think, betrayals of how the party actually is. Cameron it appears, is trying to hold on to the traditionalists whilst wooing the Liberals, which is like trying to hold on to your wife while hanging around gay bars. It just doesn't work, and once you're found out, you come across in both camps as insincere.

Both leaders seemed happy to attempt to demolish the Lib Dem's amnesty on illegal immigrants who have done nothing wrong and are already here. I suggest that labour (And the lib dems, in fairness, who claimed that the other parties were ignoring the problem of immigrants that are already here) should check the system, which allows for application for "Indefinite leave to remain", ie. The right to stay in this country, after 14 years of illegal residence provided there was no unlawful activity (Link) which was inserted by the Conservative government of the early nineties. All Clegg is doing is tightening this current system, and freeing up resources for chasing immigrants who pose a genuine threat to the population. It hardly seems the kind of thing they should be allowed to leap on.

But then, they tried to leap on his opposition to spending billions of pounds on a currently working Trident nuclear deterrent, and instead to try and impose less nuclear weapons worldwide. So he wants to save money and get less nuclear missiles worldwide. That maniac. He'd blow us all up, if he hadn't axed the missiles he requires. He didn't even authoritatively state he was ditching them, but they have 9 to 14 working years left, and there's no need to make a decision yet, spending billions in a hasty decision. That sounds almost logical.

Clegg too, has Vince Cable as his treasury spokesman, who has a PhD in Economics and has lectured for the London School of Economics. By comparison, the alternatives Darling and Osborne, have a law and modern history degree respectively. I know they'd have workers with degrees in economics to work it all out for them, obviously, but I'd rather have a man who knew the area in charge. You wouldn't have a plane being flown by an idiot with two pilots behind him passing him notes about how to fly it, would you? Why is the economy any different, especially given we're all passengers in the hands of incompetent people.

Vince Cable has been credited with being aware the rise in credit and the boom market was almost inevitably going to lead to a crash (Surprisingly, it took a man with an economics degree to realise that if banks let people borrow absurd amounts of money to fuel an increasingly risky fund management programme, and then the banks lose that money, and the people aren't able to pay it back, then it's not going to work).

Essentially, though, David Cameron has spent the last 3 weeks petulantly moaning "I was winning, and I was meant to win, and that beastly Nick's gone and RUINED it!" and generally crying into his sour grapes, while Clegg seems to have magically conjured up some sort of, and it hurts me to say this, Obama-esque belief in the power of democracy amongst younger voters particularly, while Gordon Brown is essentially admitting "I may be crap, but I already know where everything is".

I understand this wasn't particularly witty, but one thing's for sure, if I see David Cameron, with his face like an enchanted pancake, standing on the steps of number ten, smiling and waving at his adoring fans, I will lose faith in politics forever.

Thursday, 29 April 2010

Britain's Got Talent

Everyone's favourite thinly veiled 19th century freak show is back again! "Roll up, roll up!" cries Simon Cowell, while the two smarmy sycophants he calls his fellow judges, Amanda Holden and Piers Morgan, half-heartedly repeat what he says.

As you may have guessed, the edgy and innovative ITV have changed absolutely nothing about this ratings smash, and why would they? It's a myriad of successes, even the finest minds in Britain couldn't find a single fault with it. This is, of course, why more people watched it than watched the election debates on ITV, 10.3 million for BGT, compared to 9.4 for the election debate. Scarily this means, logically, that more people care who wins Britain's got Talent than who runs the country. Perhaps we could combine them, hold "Westminster's got Talent", and have the winner form a Government ("What are you going to do for us today?" "I'm going to fiddle my expenses, live on stage! See that DVD I bought? No you don't! It was a taxi journey to Luton airport!")

We've gone off-topic. I say "we", I'm perfectly happy to take most of the blame for that. Really, I've gone off-topic. You've been wondering what I'm going to say about the judges. I'll enlighten you.

The Judges are Simon Cowell, Amanda Holden and Piers Morgan. As with all judges on these shows, they have absolutely no right to be judging "talent", and are so heavily formulaic, I'm surprised they don't just tattoo what they're going to say onto their foreheads, so I don't have to hear them actually talk. Or we could train some budgies to do their job. Amanda-budgie will give a standing ovation to anyone who didn't get "buzzed off", Piers-Budgie will be delighted to vote them through, or whistle at the contestant with barely concealed scorn for time-wasting, while Simon-budgie will look to the audience for a pause so long you'll stop and look at your watch, as if considering their opinion and everything he's seen, before giving the inevitable "You have three yeses!" whistle-sequence.

In our sadly non-Budgie reality, Simon will always be the "Hard to impress, speaks his mind" man, Amanda is "Maternal figure, looking out for the acts" whilst Piers Morgan critically reviews everything as either "Reminding him of everything good about Britain" (Not the bloody News of the World, eh Piers?) or "Hysterically bad".

In what I can describe as a misguided attempt to mix this formula up, Simon Cowell contracted the flu (Which I would be prepared to bet was something to drive this horrendous storyline along, rather than a real event. The odds of Simon Cowell catching the flu are roughly the same as the odds of Simon Cowell catching smallpox. He's a millionaire TV presenter, not a homeless man or an old, impoverished woman.) and everyone's favourite Louis Walsh was drafted in "Last-minute" to judge.

Louis Walsh was, of course, Britain's favourite formulaic character from one of the other shows in Simon Cowell's stable. Fortunately, he is almost pleasingly anarchistic in this show, and you can really tell he lo...Oh goodness, I can't lie, Louis seemed to be less "Difficult to please" and more "Arrogantly dismissive", and was essentially alone in all but the most obvious of judgements, while Amanda and Piers appeared to rebel by voting against him.

Simon Cowell came back and so forth, but to be honest, if you care about the story, watch Eastenders or something, that's not what drives this show at all, it is the contestants! And they have delivered, turning up hundreds, nay, thousands of people who think they have a gift. Even I, with my untrained eye, can see they do not possess anything more than a misguided ego and wilfully horrid friends telling them "It'll be a laugh!", before taping it and playing it any social function they attend for the next 15 years. "Oi, Dave! Get the video! Tim's comin'! I haven't watched that muppet sing f'years!" (This makes every contestant's choice of song hilarious if you think they're going to have to watch it with their "Mates" about 10 years into the future).

And inevitably, they will sing. Oh, they sing or they dance, but if we remove music from the equation we are whittled down to about 3 contestants. And we found one of them in this show, Kevin Cruise, who sang too, but the sheer spectacle of the man brought me to my very knees weeping with laughter, which I think was unintentional, and therefore, even more hilarious. He came on a ship-thing and said he was a ship entertainer.

Briefly, I thought the man was insane, and was talking about the little cardboard ship he had with him, and was about to pull out sock-puppets of the captain and the chef and speak to them, and his act would essentially be a man losing his mind right there on our screens! "Ahoy, there, Captain Hand, how be the ship today?" "Oh, fine lad, she's in top condition" he would mouth back with his hand, then he would get his left hand to talk to his right hand "Alright chef, what's for dinner?" "Risotto, cap'n!", so that he himself is totally uninvolved. I would find that bizarrely engrossing.

Sadly, though, it turned out he meant a real ship so all was well. In a sense. He was the single campest man I have ever seen, it's like he's the secret lovechild of Dale Winton and Graham Norton, which should alarm you enough to realise he will almost certainly win.

This prompted Piers Morgan to say the funniest thing he has ever said, which was "I'll go cruising with you anytime", which was, I imagine, wholly intentionally innuendo-ed.

At its heart this show is a meaningless foray into how deluded people are. Every audition is exactly the same. Anyone who does anything other than sing or dance is, essentially, crap at what they do, or it's so mundane, it's about as entertaining as watching your mum do the laundry, then three people give a prepared critique of it, questioning at times whether the Queen would like to watch it.

But look outside, that vast, vacuous heart, and the show is a lovable way to kill an hour of your time. If reading is too hard and you just want the magic picture-box to thrust an hour of your life away, I can think of little better than this show. Is Simon going to pause for 2 seconds, or 3? And then is he going to smile and say yes, or say yes and smile? Tense thoughts.

If I'm brutally honest, the only elements of this show I genuinely enjoyed were Ant and Dec, who shone so brightly in a sea of otherwise putrid dross and cluttered detritus, I can assume they are the sole survivors and have lit flares so that they can be airlifted to a better show. They seem funny and obviously are by now, pretty good at working with eachother, as you'd hope.

I realise this takes heavily from Ben Elton's Chart Throb, and therefore encourage you to read it if you have time. Fortunately, Cowell has admitted he is quitting, and I can only hope this causes the whole sordid thing to collapse under the weight of its own self-satisfied smugness.

It would be easy to take digs at Piers Morgan, but since I'm a gentleman who doesn't wilfully offend celebrities, unlike some former newspapers editors who have been named frequently, I shan't. But it was pretty hard not to call him "Piers Moron" all the way through (Private Eye).

Monday, 12 April 2010

BBC iPlayer

Due to the delightful internet speeds I get at home, the only really viable way to watch television online is to download the full show hours, possibly days in advance of watching it. Normally, of course, I would just stream the show, and after a certain point go "This is dreadful" and turn off, or finish it, rapt with excitement and tingling with the sensation of pure joy. However, once I download something, I feel, in some respects, committed to the programme. It's languishing on my hard drive, resentful and bitter that I have yet to finish it, mutinously muttering under its breath. I wouldn't be surprised if it randomly deleted data for fun at my expense. "Windows cannot find "Firefox"", etcetera. This is where the marriage metaphor ends.

So I end up watching the full programme, in bits, over the course of the week I'm allowed to view it for, then I feel somehow angry at iPlayer, like this is in some aspect their fault. "I wouldn't even be watching this if I could stream it! Ugh!" flicks through my mind repeatedly.

And why would I blame iPlayer, the service is unimaginably excellent. It is a constant joy for me to browse the site and view videos and so forth. I can scarcely imagine my chaotic existence without it, shambling aimlessly around youtube in search of entertaining television. Occasionally it demands I have to install the desktop thing again to download a programme, but that is hardly a gigantic inconvenience given how utterly superb the service is. And it's not just "Good for a television site", it's a good site overall. Easy to navigate, delightfully easy and clear to understand, and generally well-built. The only problem I have ever had is when I assume something has been broadcast on TV and it was not, and I begin to wonder where it is on iPlayer. Basically, iPlayer's only real fault is that I am inept.

And yet, sometimes, due to broadcasting rights (I imagine), some stuff doesn't go up there, which annoys me a tad, but not so much as to detract from the overall experience.

In comparing this site to other television broadcasters' online services, I have used very little of Five and itvplayer (I briefly remember Five asking me to pay to watch House on their site, and realised the internet probably has House floating about for free. And itvplayer is relatively good, except it only shows itv shows.) so in this comparison, it's primarily "4od" versus "iPlayer".

Briefly, I was a 4od man, back in the good old days, when it had full series of shows it formerly broadcast like "Black books", while iPlayer only had last week's shows. Then 4od, in what I can only imagine was a fit of childish rage and a curiously selfish nature, decided that their online video sharing service was not the best place to show online videos, and took them all down. In that single moment, I was distraught. Then I tried to find them again by clicking through all the menus on the site, going to a series of useless pages. It was like a maze, except, cunningly, they are all dead-ends. Then iPlayer embraced me. It said to me "If you don't forget to watch within a week of broadcast, we've got it, right here for you. Waiting, and easy to find" and I swooned. They even have "Series catchup" where they have every episode of a series up there.

Conclusion: iPlayer is magnificent, 4od is acceptable, itvplayer is ok at showing itv shows, Five's online service is probably ok, who knows, I don't really watch channel 5.