Monday, July 23, 2007

Enormous Turnip Awards - Clapham Junction

Clapham Junction, written by Kevin Elyot and broadcast last night on Channel 4 as part of it's Gay Season, should perhaps have been subtitled 'One Ring to Bind Them All' since its narrative centred around the meanderings of a civil partnership wedding band through the lives of a group of gay men in London.

The opening scene indicated that we were to be presented with something very different to what gay drama had offered up in the past. Delivered entirely without irony, it saw a TV commissioner rejecting a gay-themed script because he felt the whole "gay thing" had passed its sell-by date. If only Mr Elyot had listened to his scripted avowal. Rather than illuminating the prevalence of homophobic violence in today's society, Clapham Junction laid bare the writer's internal homophobia. What followed had little to say about the lives of gay men in 2007.

The gay lives portrayed here were, for the most part, brutish and without redemption. Sexual couplings were drug-fuelled, violent and often took place in public toilets, where heads were banged off walls and cocks thrust through cubical partitions. We had the usual array of queer stereotypes, including the married man who gets a bit in the toilets on the way home from work, the self-loathing psycho who loves his Nan but commits acts of random violence against other gay men, the frustrated schoolboy and the alcohol-swigging predator, who can't keep it in his pants, even on his wedding - sorry, civil partnership - day. And most startling of all, there was a man who was "inside for interfering with youngsters." Quite what a paedophile was doing in a drama which announced itself to be the story of 36 hours in the lives of a group of gay men is anyone's guess. Lesbian characters were wholly absent.

"I like the Third Reich," said the 14 year-old history student, as he made sexual approaches to the sex offender, conjuring up hackneyed images of merry queers in Nazi uniforms, mincing about to Liza Minnelli records. "Perhaps we enjoy sniffing around in dark places," said another character at an oh-so-polite, middle class dinner party which vainly attempted to contextualise the queer zeitgeist in a stream of clumsy dialogue.

Later, one of the awfully polite women at said dinner party goes all funny because the sex offender lives close to her. She's so affronted that she has to run home lest the vile paedo interferes with her son. Rushing to her son's room, she discovers he's gone. But what's this she sees across the street? It's her boy, framed in the sulphurous light emanating from the window of the paedo's lair. She rushes over and an unlikely confrontation ensues. Meanwhile, our cute-faced psycho gets a taste of his own violence and ends up trying to touch up the gay doctor, even though he's stretched out, bashed and bloody, on a hospital stretcher. Wouldn't you? You see, the doctor notices that the psycho has The Ring, which actually belongs to the doctor's partner, who gave the ring to the waiter after he had sex with him. The waiter then got murdered on the common and was discovered by the psycho, who had actually met him earlier in a club. They all lined up and with a big heave-ho, the enormous turnip was pulled up out of the ground.

Clapham Junction was TV drama trapped in a self-loathing, 1980s timewarp. It was like witnessing a piece of right-wing propaganda emerge from a parallel universe where Russell T. Davies' Queer as Folk, with all of its pathos and exuberance, never happened.

Clapham Junction, step up to the podium and accept your turnip.

Saturday, July 21, 2007

Bad Art - Kieran Doherty Wall

Oh, my eyes! Just look at this thing I discovered on a gable wall in West Belfast.

It's not exactly a mural but a painting on boards, which have been joined together and framed.

The subject of this art atrocity is republican hunger striker, Kieran Doherty, who died in 1981 after 73 days without food.

I've no idea who the 'artist' of this piece is, but he or she should be stopped from inflicting such art crimes on the general public.

I'm particularly taken with Mr Doherty's mutant arms, one of which reaches forward to rest awkwardly on his leg while the other hangs limp, as if broken. Observe the breast pocket and those little creases on the right sleeve and bellow with laughter.

Public art should surely do something to lift the tone of an area and imbue its residents with a sense of community pride and identity. This dreadfully inept painting just makes me want to turn my gaze away to hide my embarrassment.

Somebody, please take it down and get an artist who actually knows how to paint to design a replacement.

Saturday, July 14, 2007

Bad Art - Johnny Adair Book Cover

While walking through Easons the other day, my eyes were assailed by this laughably posed image of Johnny Adair on the cover of a book about him.

The book, 'Mad Dog' is ghostwritten by a Scottish News of the World journalist and is published by John Blake Publishing. A blurb on the back cover announces that Johnny is "Dedicated to achieving lasting peace." Quite.

I would suggest that John Blake Publishing is guilty of elevating this horrendous creature to the status of vapid celebrity with this ludicrous image. Its crass composition and lack of subtlety plumbs the depths of celebrity porn. What's worse is that its placement among equally irrelevant books by Victoria Beckham, Jordan and Jeremy Clarkson reframes the crimes of Adair as subjects of mindless gossip to be unit-shifted to equally mindless consumers.

'Mad Dog' will either end up in the bargain bin or be turned into a film, with Adair as its script editor. We are surely living in the End of Days.

Friday, July 13, 2007

The Dismal Twelfth

During yesterday's TV broadcasts, BBC Northern Ireland seemed to be doing its best to dress up the annual Belfast Twelfth of July parade as a fun-filled carnival. Presenters, Joe McKee and Clifford Smyth wittered inanely as fat, tattooed, corner boys swung their drums and beer bellies along the wet Belfast streets to the whining strain of flutes. Lord Mayor, Jim Rogers was there, spouting delusional rhetoric about how Catholics and ethnic minority people could enjoy the parade. As if to underline his foolishness, the Ulster Special Constabulary Lodge marched by.

The Ulster Defence Regiment was also represented. One banner displayed an army checkpoint. Others showed images of churches and unionist political leaders and announced their adherents as 'Bible and Crown Defenders' from various regions. Vans draped in union flags crawled by, sheltering geriatrics. "There's a great atmosphere here," said Clifford Smyth, attempting to convince himself that his trite comments had any bearing on reality.

Impartial BBC reporter, Helen Mark, talked to bystanders about how it's all wonderful for Northern Ireland. A DUP counsellor spoke of the parade as one of Europe's best folk festivals. Tourists from various nations were paraded before the camera to impart positive sound-bytes, although this tactic backfired somewhat when a man from Slovakia said that it all reminded him of the communist parades of his youth.

To listen to the voice of the BBC, you could be forgiven for thinking that the whole spectacle was akin to a Notting Hill style knees-up. All rational and objective analysis went out the window.

It was much the same over on UTV where, amid last year's recycled, cost-cutting graphics, tourists were similarly thrust before cameras and children danced on bouncy castles. "What's really nice is that for the first time in Hollywood, King Billy is leading the parade," said the announcer as a portly gentleman in a wig and period dress perched himself atop a white horse.

Back on BBC One, Sarah Travers strutted out onto a virtual, techno-set to preside over a montage of lobotomised reportage. The tone was jovial, light-hearted and filled with cliche.

"At times it seemed more like Glastonbury," said one BBC commentator, as the camera roved across a field hosting predictable, political speeches from the backs of lorries while church bands played from beneath rain-blasted tents. Here is a world where balding, municipal officials, draped in sashes, mouth Biblical platitudes while women with bad haircuts make the sandwiches and praise The Lord.

At the heart of this empty spectacle, the Orange Order was reconfigured as a family-friendly, tourist interest with the local, broadcast media as its unquestioning cheerleaders. The emperor wasn't wearing any clothes but no one on TV was prepared to admit it.

Monday, July 09, 2007

Comparing Pavements

I'm just back from an excursion to the Iberian Peninsula and I've brought back some lovely pictures of the pavements of Portugal and Spain.

Cast your eyes at the well-maintained pavements below and compare them to the dreadful pavements of Belfast city centre.

First, the Spanish and Portuguese pavements:

Now, brace yourself for an assault by the Belfast pavements:

I gather plans are afoot to regenerate Belfast city centre. Whether the money will be used to give these disgraceful pavements a much-needed makeover remains to be seen.