Always outnumbered. Generally overdresssed.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Not Voodoo's Heroes of Prose: Charlie Brooker

The second in a series of features in which I pontificate about people who write really well in an utterly transparent attempt to establish myself on some kind of equal footing with them.

This week Charlie Brooker.

I was going to save him for later, but he wrote this piece on the horrible horrible Windows 7 launch parties thing that Microsoft made. It's fine when he's writing about TV, but when he starts on advertising then I'm like oi Brooker stay the fuck off my patch you trout-faced old hack.

He's over at his desk laughing. Ha, ha, ha. That's the relationship we have you see.

All male journalists under 30 want to write like Charlie Brooker. Which is ironic, given that he's rapidly approaching 40.

The extraordinary thing about him is that, in an age when the media cares less and less about talent and more and more about youth and beauty, he's managed to build an extremely successful career, work with Chris Morris, present TV shows and poon beautiful former Big Brother contestants, on the basis of a powerful imagination and an expletive-laden prose style. And it all starts with the writing - initially for PC Zone, then for his own website TVgohome.

TVgohome is still the funniest thing on the internet. It doesn't seem to get old. I had to stop reading it during the years I spent working as a medical secretary because people kept coming into the room to find me with my head on the keyboard apparently crying. Whilst I was living in South America I used to read it to remind me that there were parts of the world where humour was relatively widespread.

Here is a hasty and inadequate survey of some of the characteristics of his writing:
  • hyphenation and conjunction - so A&R men are shark-eyed, Nathan Barley is cock-haired, his friends are shitcreeps, etc. By stacking a load of these up you can create the impression of language straining to accommodate spleen, or misery or whatever else you're trying to express.
  • surreal flights of description, but studded with weirdly poetic detail. So here, describing his experience of a minor neck operation: 'What if, just at the crucial moment they stuck the needle in, I was seized by some awful Tourettes-like urge to suddenly jerk around on the slab, cackling like a madman in a rainstorm, deliberately severing my spinal cord against the cold, hard spike?'
  • precise technical specifications. In 2002 Nathan Barley was using a Sony Vaio laptop and a Nokia with an infra-red connection, today Brooker revels in the full name of the Mac operating system 'Mac OS X v10.6 Snow Leopard'. These add sudden moments of focus and clarity and give the whole schtick an Easton Ellis-type hypermodern feel. (He's up on product numbers because he used to work behind the counter at CEX, not sure which one, maybe down the road from Dave Trott's place, which raises the possibility that they might have met, and probably argued, neither one aware of the other as a culturally significant prose stylist.)
  • Cloacal fixation cf. the fictional Ralph Fiennes vehicle, Widdleplop III on TVgohome.
  • All of these things put to the service of an amazed horror at human selfishness, cruelty and self-regard eg.: 'While filming himself receiving fellatio from a coke-twisted anorexic work experience girl plucked from the corridors of his uncle's TV production company, Nathan Barley momentarily interrupts his warm-gummed prickbliss to read a text message from the Ananova automatic news update service informing him of the latest Afghan death toll, before sliding his hideous gitprong back into position and intuitively grasping the back of her head like a man trying to pierce a basketball with his fingers.'
Interestingly, it is a rule in advertising that the more like Nathan Barley someone actually is, the more likely they are to namecheck Nathan Barley as a self-aware conversational gambit.

So there you go. Charlie Brooker, we salute you.

Next week will be less predictable, I promise.

I'm not going to be posting much tho', because I've just started this MA and am already having anxiety dreams about writing a book.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Britons: America's Australians

I don't know who made this ad - might be Fallon, might easily be the first execution of the idea that DDB took them from Fallon with, it's impossible to tell from the caption in the Campaign article I nicked this picture from. Lazy journalism if you ask me.

At any rate, this ad is around at the moment in every paper format going. They even wrapped Time Out London with it the other week, which I found ironic, given that the picture clearly shows no city on this island.

Good times. They're out there.

Not literally out there obviously. But somewhere. In America maybe.

The British are peculiarly susceptible to this idea: somewhere there is a glamorous city where you will shake off your social anxiety and be much more like a fun-loving, and yet fashionably sardonic, character from a 1990s sitcom. You'll get phone calls behind the bar. You'll play pool on those tables with the massive pockets. Women will assume you're intelligent, because of your accent, even if you're technically an idiot.

In fact, this is the archetype, if not for all advertising, then at at least for the majority of advertising for booze.

How do I get to this magical place?

Should I take a plane or catch and ocean liner?

No old friend, you just have to drink enough Budweiser.

Then you will have no fucking idea where you are.

The other thing that lends this advert its weird archetypal feeling is that it's actually the only advert you can make for booze now, since it became illegal to show attractive people having fun, socialising and drinking.

Good times. Woo!

Monday, September 21, 2009

How not to write No. 2

Surf YouTube collecting as many intro sequence to 90s yoof TV show 'The Word' as you possibly can. Watch them over and over, and try to work out what the word is for how they make you feel.

It should exist between 'nostalgic' and 'embarrassed', but it's just not there.

I believe Quiet Storm made this one.

If you want to waste extra time not writing, try uploading your videos straight to Blogger. It takes much much longer, but it does seem to get round the no-embed code that Channel4 put on their videos, no-fun sticklers for copyright that they are.

This is going to be sort of a 90s week on Not Voodoo. For precisely no reason.

The 90s were a really long time ago

Let's just take a moment to appreciate how long, with the help of this video.

Friday, September 18, 2009

Brother Stevie's Hot Show

Next Thursday GC will be making the pilgrimage east to worship at Brother Stevie's opening at Shoreditch trendhole Jaguar Shoes.

Downstairs will be a special Not Voodoo retrospective.

Come along and say hello. That would freak me out.

TFL Design Department fucks it up again

Oh look, here's a nice idea. A short story based on the Underground, presented in the context of an Underground station, and maybe written with the input of Underground staff.

Mmm, maybe I'll get a bit closer and read some of it while I wait for the tube...

Arrrgh my eyes!

Incredibly small type plus super long line length makes it impossible to track to the end of the line so that the process of reading is incredibly laboured and boring and oh look I just can't be bothered any more.

Over at Set Square and Protractor Magazine the designers are moaning about how they've fucked up the map. Something for everyone hey TFL.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

I'll edit this later, I have to go and exercise

I love this clip, in fact I love this film. I may put up the home improvement scene, where Charlie Sheen buys a West Side apartment and, with a team of burly interior designers and Daryl Hannah, does the place up with detachable neo-Georgian cornicing and stencils to the sounds of 'This must be the place'. Aspirational with a capital A.

Also: the hair. As a heavy pomade user myself it's a weird relief to see this. Some say Mark Lamarr, and I always counter with Johnny Otis, but maybe Charlie Sheen in Wall Street is where it's really coming from on a level too deep for me to admit even to myself.

So apart from all that, I was thinking about this video because I recently read William Gibson's Spook Country. It's not a great, or even a very good book. It caused me to wonder whether it's easier to write sci-fi in a merely workmanlike way. The little Philip K. Dick that I've read is as badly written as an unexceptional edition of Razzle, in fact Blade Runner is even better once you realise what a terrible book 'Do Androids Dream Electric Sheep?' is.

Fans of Bladerunner, Through a Scanner Darkly and Total Recall may also notice that they are all essentially the same film - about a man who believes himself to be part of a system, whilst schizophrenically existing within another rebel system. This effect might not be unconnected to Dick's biscuits having been thoroughly flipped taking mind-bending hallucinogens during the 1960s.

Hem...anyway... Sci-fi is all form, no matter. It's a literature of ideas, so things like a plot or writing may be secondary considerations, merely devices that you use to get your hi-tech widgetry airborne.

Spook Country is based on a rather interesting art idea called 'locative art', massive artworks that exist on the internet that are viewed through a special GPS headpiece. Artists use the technology to create site specific installations, for instance, the body of River Phoenix lying dead outside the Viper Rooms - in the actual spot in which he died, or a hotel room full of Monet's lilies.

This is one of the heroine's (her name is Hollis Henry and she seemed to me to be modelled, absurdly, on Justine Frischmann of Elastica) first encounters with locative technology:

"Alberto was digging through a canvas carryall on his lap. He produced a cell phone, married with silver duct tape to some other species of smallish consumer electronics. 'With these, though ... ' he clicked something on one of the conjoined units, opened the phone, and began deftly thumbing its key pad. 'When this is available as a package ... ' He passed it to her. A phone, and something she recognised as a GPS unit, but the latter's casing had been partially cut away, with what felt like more electronics growing out of it, sealed under a silver tape."

At which point the modern reader will be thinking, hang on a minute Alberto, you radical cyber hipster, where's your iPhone? Don't you read Crack Unit? What you're dealing with here is known in real life as Augmented Reality.

So Gibson published Spook Country in 2007 and already he's looking a bit Gordon Gecko. There'd be nothing to stop an advertiser, right now, producing a piece of locative art to hover above Piccadilly Circus, one that was only viewable through certain kinds of mobile handset.

Gibson then goes trundling off into this alternate reality nerd-fest. This stuff, hanging around, in geographical locations and yet in cyberspace, is it any more or less real than, for instance, voodoo, or Catholic mysticism?

I don't know, I don't care that much, what's more interesting is that you can now steal ideas from sci-fi, safe in the knowledge that rate of technological development is so fast that they'll almost certainly be viable in just a couple of year's time.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Not Voodoo's Heroes of Prose: Peter York

So this is a feature that I've been thinking of doing almost as long as I've been thinking I should start reviewing films, and maybe trying to send them out to papers, you know, nothing ventured nothing gained, like since I was 16.

Heroes of Prose are people whose written style I particularly like. Some of them will be obvious, some less so.

First up is Peter York. I first came across his writing in the excellent REWIND. Your Art Buying department should have a copy, unless you're working at some tinpot Dog and Pony operation, in which case Westminster Library has a copy, and seriously, you need to move on, you only live once and life's too short to work with people that you want to murder etc., etc.

York (real name Peter Wallis) was ascendant in the 80s and has owned the decade, from a cultural commentary point of view, ever since. As style editor for Harpers and Queens he wrote a series of articles on modern British culture, which were collected in Style Wars (published 1980). He also published a book, which I don't own, but I remember my parents talking about, called The Sloane Ranger's Handbook.

As well as being a journalist he's a management consultant, and his writing has something of the best low-bullshit business lit about it. Not only do I, obviously, like the idea of someone taking popular culture, if not seriously, then at least seriously enough to write intelligently about it, but I also love his prose style.

According to his Wikipedia entry his idol was Tom Wolfe, but he's better than Tom Wolfe in that he tends to avoid the purple writerly stuff that most American authors after Updike see as their birthright. Also Tom Wolfe doesn't know what an occiput is because he's a fucking philistine.

Here he is (in Peter York's 80s, the book that accompanied the BBC TV series, which I picked up in a second hand shop for the princely sum of three pounds) talking about, of all things, B&Q:

Actually, B&Q were not just making a profit out of the self-expression craze, they were instrumental in defining the way we thought of ourselves as we went about our labours of creativity. The B&Q warehouse approach said it all: it was big, competent and businesslike, taking care of everything from itty-bitty brass screws to lengths of 5-inch diameter wastepiping to sprigged wallpaper to burglar alarms. And by extension, we too were big competent and businesslike. We knew we could handle anything from a window lock to a complete re-wiring of the upstairs because B&Q told us we could and let us have the gear, no questions, just as if we were real builders and decorators. What a change from the stuffed, accretion-filled hardware shops of our past, staffed by professional fifty-year-old sceptics in dun-coloured work coats! What a change after the horrors of the builders' merchants ('You can have it, but you gotta buy at least three hundredweight') It all fitted in with that heady feeling of change, experiment, no limits!

The long sentences, with their ease and fluidity make you feel as though you're in a conversation dominated by someone you'd like to keep talking to. There's a speed up, slow-down, speed up technique with inserted clauses. It's like he's drunk, but he's a really good drunk. A slack-rope walker, a raconteur. His lists, as evinced above, or here (writing about Bernie Madoff's home) are exhilarating - he's a materialist, but a soulful one.

Not afraid of the exclamation marks too you'll notice.

So, buy some of his books, comb your hair into a pompadour and go clausal.

Monday, September 14, 2009

How not to write. No.1

Try to beat my high score of 5000m on this.

The copy and the music really do a lot. Anyone know what this is written in/on?

UPDATE: That really is the flash game equivalent of meth amphetamine. It's beautifully designed.
  • It's an escape game, but you can never escape.
  • To play again, you just hit the jump button - so you have no time for your ego to kick in and stop you, you're just suddenly playing again.
  • There's only one button.
  • The music is excellent.
  • The sound effects are excellent.
  • It's really exciting, but it looks like you could run it on a BBC Model B.
  • There's no explanation, it's just laden with stuff that is suggestive of a story.
Can I nominate it for a D&AD pencil? Or something. Can we nominate the bloke that made it to be president this year? Or is that all over already?

Monday Morning Memento Mori

I'm sick of trawling the internet for mortality stats so this is the last ever MMMM. No warning, just sudden and final. The best any of us can hope for really.

So, suggestions please for a new Monday morning feature. And no carping, seriously, if you're relying on an advertising blog for your hard existential truths you are living in a strange reality indeed.

If you need a continual reminder that you're days are numbered, get a tattoo or something. That's what I'm going to do.

Friday, September 11, 2009

I'm a tiger. A tiger. Rrarrrg!

So here I am, back in W12 - at home during the day, with the children, the elderly and the chronically ill.

Not all in my flat, although I can hear the happy cries from the playground down the road, which makes me feel like a Victorian child with TB.

Really need to work on my self-concept.

No, no. The idea is that I'll be freelancing from here and also starting an interesting MA in about a week's time.

So if you need a freelance writer, do get in touch. I'm available about two days a week. I discharged some of my remaining advertising duties yesterday - requesting work for my portfolio and going to run in the NABS Interagency 5k with the last place I worked at.

That was a weird event now wasn't it? I particularly liked when we were led in physical jerks by a woman with a Bobby Brown radio mic and the voice of Barbara Windsor, flanked by her two silent aerobic cronies.

Overall, it was fine.

Only it was a bit like we were acting out a metaphor for advertising for the entertainment of a spiteful tribal monarch wasn't it? Maybe an socialist African warlord. To wit:
  • No one knew why they were doing it. I asked several people, those that would talk to me muttered something about their agency, when pressed a few confessed to a desire to crush their enemies underfoot.
  • Onlookers stood back as we passed, observing our sad straining faces with blank incomprehension. 'It's clearly painful, it looks meaningless, so why are they doing it?' That's what they were thinking.
  • Before the race everyone knew everyone and chatted awkwardly, and during it, we ran silently, each one of us alone with his own pain.
  • The few that streaked ahead seemed to be made from something more rubbery and nerveless than flesh and bone. After a while the idea of ever catching up became frankly laughable.
  • Everyone else ran in a dishevelled pack - sneakily overtaking one another over grassy corners.

GC came in around 200th. There were 700 runners, but you have to try pretty hard to be pleased about coming in 200th in anything. Maybe I should have thought creatively and elbowed my way to the front of the funnel - which was pretty clogged, as per the above, by the time I got there.

In other news Dan Germain, chief beard at Innocent has posted about the interview I did with him for Athlete's Foot Magazine. Nice bloke, but he swears like a thin, bearded, alive version of Bernard Manning. Here's a link, straight back atcha Dan.

Haven't heard a peep out of Gary Garnczarcyk at Malmaison. I liked him, as you will see if you read the piece.

Tuesday, September 08, 2009

YouTube recommended it to me... I'm just passing on what I was freely given.

Seriously though, first person to convince their creative director that this is what youngsters are doing these days, and use it in an advert for a tumble drier, gets some kind of incredible award.

Shiny, shiny.

If Brüno had an ad agency...

... it would be Das Comitee.

You don't have to be German to find these ads complexly offensive. And not in a good way. Someone should explain that to them.

Monday, September 07, 2009

Not Voodoo: new and improved

  • GC is back from Istanbul and more curmugeonly than ever.
  • Don't think this point form post is just me slacking off the hard graft of sewing long, intricately clausal sentences together.
  • Oh no.
  • It's punchy.
  • Punchy.
  • Or as the Art Director used to say 'panchy'.
  • But then, she was Italian.
  • Istanbul is great.
  • You can smoke tobacco there, from a bong, even if you gave up smoking like three years ago.
  • It's traditional.
  • You can have your calf muscles soaped up and manipulated by a wiry old man with a moustache and incredibly hard thumbs.
  • Their idealised feminine silhouette is wastey-hippy.
  • Pantherine.
  • And yet, kebabs?
  • Corsets.
  • Like Parisians, river-dwelling, sensualist, so good at cooking they've even made innards delicious.
  • You can haggle there. They like it.
  • Seriously.
  • Can't recommend it enough.
  • I've discovered something I really don't like though, and that's genre-straddling covers of third rate pop songs. Ok, cover 'Smoke gets in your eyes' or 'Mona' or something. There's no need to produce a mambo version of 'Clocks'. There's enough shit in the world without recourse to U2's 'Elevation' played on balalaika. Jeezus. I'm trying to smoke a bong here.
  • Probably not going to give up this blog.
  • Probably starting a new one to run concurrently.