Poppy Apology: He was just an idiot

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In today’s news, Daily Mail are celebrating the fact that ‘teenage lout’ Linford ‘Linney’ House has apologised to Army veterans for burning a poppy and then posting a photo of it on Facebook, allegedly with the caption ‘How about that you squadey [sic] ****s.’

I can’t help but feel a bit miffed looking at the image of Linney grovelling to an ex-serviceman and a widow, as if, by being a bit stupid back in November, he is personally responsible for their pain and suffering.

Linney is clearly an idiot. Idiots do stupid things and don’t think about the consequences. Thanks to technology, idiots can even advertise the fact they’ve done stupid things. And that is what happened in this case.

Unfortunately for the practical environmental building studies student, this act lead to his arrest under the ‘Malicious Communications Act’, as well as a disturbing smear campaign by the English Defence League, who posted naked pictures of the, then, 19-year-old from his social media pages as well as his personal contact details. Now that really is a type of malicious communication.

Rowan Atkinson has began a campaign to stop the ‘creeping culture of censoriousness’ in the country and the public’s intolerance of ‘insulting words and behaviour’.  Whilst I agree that we do need to ease off hatin’ the haters, it’s difficult to establish rules around what we deem an acceptable and unacceptable extension of freedom of speech.

One of the best things we could do with people who abuse social media is ignore them. We need to make the distinction between who is just stupid and who is a real threat.  I do not believe, in Linney’s case, he posed any real danger to the public.  He was let off trial because his post was no more than offensive. Why did we give him the time of day?  I can’t help feeling that, especially in the current economy, everyone’s stressed and angry, and idiots like Linney put themselves out like sacrificial lamb for everyone to take it their frustrations out on.

I do hope now he has apologised that will be the end of it.

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TIME Magazine: ‘Person of the Year’ Sexism

You’d be forgiven for thinking women don’t exist with a scan over TIME’s ‘Person of the Year’ winners…

For a weekly news magazine with the world’s largest circulation, and a readership of over 25 million, TIME Magazine is rather good at forgetting one important part of its audience: women.

Every December, TIME Magazine reveals ‘Person of the Year’. It’s always a devastatingly obvious, unoriginal and American choice: indeed, every serving President of the USA, bar one, has had the title bestowed upon him at least once. This year, TIME’s 2008 choice Barack Obama was back in winning office.

Rather like the BBC’s ‘Sports Personality of the Year’, it’s a silly accolade, based on the assumption that one’s achievements are better if a media institution says so. And yet, with such influence over the masses, it is concerning that in designating the title, TIME Magazine acts like women don’t exist.

For starters, ‘Person of the Year’ didn’t become ‘Person of the Year’ until 1999, having been ‘Man of the Year’ until that point. But even with the change of name, not one individual female has been given the title since.  In 2002, TIME chose three women as ‘Persons of the Year’, whom they called ‘The Whistleblowers’ for their work exposing fraud at a giant cooperation.  But it was a lame effort at highlighting female achievement – as if to say ‘three women equates to one man’. And nowhere around the world did you hear little girls saying ‘when I grow up, I want to be like the Whistleblowers’…

To be considered for ‘Person of the Year’ you need to have made an impact, whether good or bad. So for women to be so obviously omitted in the ‘Person of the Year’ selection is like saying that the female of the species has made no real impact over the last century. This is ridiculous when this year’s ‘Person of the Year’ had his prospects for presidency dramatically enhanced thanks to the endorsement Oprah Winfrey and Beyonce Knowles; two women with phenomenal influence on people’s choices and opinions.

It doesn’t matter what your political views or tastes are, it’s difficult to dispute the imprint of Sarah Palin, E.L James, Condoleeza Rice, Hillary Clinton, Angela Merkel, Lena Dunham (given Time’s Coolest Person of the Year) or even Kate Middleton. Another candidate TIME brushed aside was Malala Yousafzai, a brave Pakistani teenager shot by the Taliban for promoting women’s education. Giving Yousafzai the title would have been a great opportunity to highlight a pressing political issue.  With so many important people in the world, how TIME manages to award the title to the same person twice is beyond me.

The ‘Person of the Year’ accolade has now become a new story in its own right; and a widely accepted authority. But it is this simple designation of a title that can have a dramatic influence on perceptions of what it is to be an important figure in society. ‘Person of the Year’ may have changed title, but the message is: it’s all about the man.

£1 Fish? No thanks.

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Why are people fussed about this rubbish becoming Christmas Number 1?

Oh Christmas. It’s a time of mistletoe, wine, stressful trips to Primark, and speculation about who’s going to get the number 1 singles spot.

Naturally, anyone with good taste doesn’t want the latest Spawn of X Factor hogging up the radio. Indeed, in 2009, people got so het up with the idea that they plugged all their energy into making Rage Against the Machine’s ‘Killing in the Name’ number 1 (a song that simply reminds me of being squashed by pongy teenagers in nightclubs).

This year, meet Muhammed Shahid Nazir: the £1 Fish Man. He’s a fish seller from Queen’s Market, Upton Park, who’s released a song titled ‘One Pound Fish’. It’s a musical masterpiece that combines his every day sales pitch with funky beats.

Already, it’s being circulated around the Internet – clocking up hits on Youtube, being passed from one Facebooker to the next. And it’s hilarious, right? Doesn’t it just make you want to LOL until the cows come home?

Or, it could leave you feeling as cold as a wet haddock. Because the thing about the ‘One Pound Fish’ song is that it isn’t all that funny. Or interesting. Or musically enchanting. And yet, Nazir has been signed by SONY, and hailed as the next ‘PSY’. The papers have even turned his ‘One Pound Fish Song’ into a story of triumph and social significance – the tale of a man ‘coming to this country to make a better life for himself.’ Please. It’s a man singing about fish.

The ‘One Pound Fish Song’ is simply the symptom of a complacency epidemic, whereby we’re all so hungry for the latest ‘hilarious video’ or song that we have abandoned all sensibility. Artists such as Rebecca Black have paved the way for ordinary people to cash in on the public’s desire for cheap, lazy, stupid stuff – and don’t we just lap it up.

The Official UK Singles Charts has already named ‘One Pound Fish’ as a ‘renegade contender’ for the number 1 Christmas spot.  It is likely that many people will be buying the single, thinking of themselves as X Factor reactionaries, only to line the pockets of another musical powerhouse.  There’s no need to fuss over who’s going to be number 1: there’s a ‘turn off’ button on your radio, and your personal music collection to tune into.  At least one can count on the vegetarians not to buy the ‘One pound Fish’ song, right?

Image: The Evening Standard

Let’s Stop Now: The Hoax Gorefest

Australian pranksters laugh off anger over hoax call to Kate

It is both sad and shocking that last week nurse Jacintha Saldanha took her life after falling for the prank of two Australian radio djs.

The djs, Mel Greig and Michael Christian, managed to obtain medical information about the Duchess of Cambridge after Mrs Saldanha put their phone call through to another nurse, who believed them to be the Queen and Prince Phillip.

It was a stupid prank. Curiosity about someone’s medical status should never be the impetus for a hoax. Besides, it was not clear what the djs, Mel Greig and Michael Christian, intended to achieve – medical information? A conversation with sickly Kate?  Little thought went into their stunt, though no amount of thinking could have predicted such a terrible outcome.

There are people to blame in this story. There were administrative errors on the hospital’s part, and the djs should have known better. Not everyone appreciates pranks, or is, indeed, equipped for them. But there is also a wider societal problem at the heart of it – the fact that, nowadays, mistakes can be so easily publicised.  One cannot conceive how Mrs Saldanha, and her colleague, would have felt in the quake of their error; realising that they had become the latest fresh meat for the newspapers and public to feast upon.

We think of ourselves as an evolved society, but we still have practices and behaviours that mimic the rituals and fashions of generations from centuries ago. Not least, there is the human capacity to lust after human suffering and humiliation. We watch our modern day gladiators on shows such as the X Factor, revelling in their pain and glory. And, boy, were there carcasses to be ripped apart in this debacle.

Can you imagine how poor Mrs Saldanha felt in the aftermath of the hoax? When the newspaper articles began to flood in, cashing in on her error. Celebrities struggle to cope with bad publicity, but we underestimate how the average person deals with being thrust into the limelight, especially if it’s for all the wrong reasons. It would feel completely catastrophic and overwhelming – even worse if you have a sensitive or shy nature, or a strong sense of pride in your work.

And, now, papers such as the Daily Mail continue to flesh out what has happened; ever more anxious that the Australian djs should pay for their actions.  It is frightening to see the self-prophesying language used to describe the pair; as if intending to make history. Grieg’s father was quoted as saying ‘I’m very concerned for her. I’m not sure where this is going’ – even though we cannot be sure what he was alluding to- and it has been widely reported that both Grieg and Christian are having ‘intense counselling.’

These presenters were foolish, but we need to ease off the punishment pedal. If there’s one thing we can learn from what happened, it’s that turning human error into a gorefest can have disastrous consequences.

James Arthur: Welcome to the Ex-Factor Club

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So, James Arthur (aka vacuum face) has won X Factor, 2012.

Well done to him. I hope he enjoys the next few months of fame… because that’s all they’ll be.

Wanting someone to win X Factor is a bit like wanting someone to win being Henry VIII’s wife – the only thing that’s gained is a place on the chopping block. And yet, time and time again, people vote for their favourite contestant, thinking it’ll do their career the world of good, even when history so clearly tells us that topping the X Factor is the kiss of musical death.

Consider former ‘winners’ of X Factor. Granted, Leona Lewis (1 out of the 9 winners to date) has had long-term success. But then think about Steve Brookstein, Leon Jackson and Matt Cardle. Goodness knows what they’re up to now. Probably singing karaoke, or working in McDonalds, whilst their Xmas single of yonder year rots in the sales section of HMV. The only winners whose whereabouts can be accounted for are Matt Cardle (recently spotted at an animal sanctuary) and Alexandra Burke, who’s been working for the Argos channel.

X Factor’s 2004 winner, Steve Brookstein, has been deeply critical of the competition, claiming that the show is a ‘scam’ and that Simon Cowell offered him ‘£12,500 to go away quietly.‘ What’s clear is that if Cowell wants you to be successful, he’ll give you the publicity and funding to do so. But, mostly, he’s just casting actors in his very own TV show, that always has the same plot, starring:

  • The bonkers one (Kitty Brucknell and Katie Waissel)
  • The comedic duo (2 Shoes and Jedward)
  • The older, worthy person (Mary Byrne and Brenda Edwards)
  • The quirky girl (Diana Vickers and Janet Devlin)
  • The boy (from the pub next door) (Matt Cardle and Shayne Ward)
  • And other characters…

It’s the most depressing, repetitive TV show out there – that generally reaches the same anticlimactic conclusion. If you think that by voting for James Arthur to win, you’ve enhanced his career, you’ve really lost the plot.