Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Current Affairs

Let's delve briefly and slightly distastefully into the field of current affairs, shall we? Before I go and wash-up.

Re: Russell Brand and Jonathan Ross; about five hours ago I wrote the following - "Given that presenters have been sacked for being found to have taken cocaine in their own time (Bacon, Deayton), and the head of BBC1 went for allowing a program about the Queen to be edited in a controversial manner, I can easily see Brand and Ross going, too.

I don't think people are complaining at this particular instance of Brand and Ross being rude on radio, and I don't think it's right or fair to ay 'you are not the target audience of the program and didn't listen anyway so you have no right to complain either'. I think people are complaining about the fact that the BBC is not any old broadcasting entity, isn't commercial or private; it's a public service, paid for with what amounts to a tax, and therefore its audience is EVERYONE in this country (who pays said tax), and it has standards to uphold. Radio 2 used to be called 'the light program'.

I believe in the BBC. I believe in public service broadcasting. I still don't like ITV, never have, and bar X Factor don't watch anything on it and never really have. I also found bits of Brand and Ross' behaviour in this instance amusing. I'm finding it difficult to reconcile that with that I believe the BBC should be doing.

I think the underlying thing to all this is the economic climate; here is, in Ross, an astronomically well-paid individual, a figurehead of a national institution, bellowing 'he fucked your granddaughter' into the answerphone of an old man in the name of comedy and public service. What the fuck?"

About 90 minutes ago I found out that Brand has resigned from the BBC, effectively, I suspect, falling on his sword in order to save Ross. By accepting full responsibility, he... not quite exonerates Ross (who, lest we forget, may have been the guest but is most definitely the most senior broadcaster of the affair), but perhaps does enough to save his career at the BBC, especially given that Andrew Sachs (a man who has "never harmed anyone" aside from every single Spaniard who set foot in the UK between 1975 and... probably 1988, and who found themselves affronted by his terrific portrayal of a racial stereotype in the form of mimics the length and breadth of dear old blighty) has accepted the suspensions, resignation, and apologies, and said he'd like the matter to cease.

This is his granddaughter's Bebo page, btw. She seems like a nice girl.

I am still massively conflicted over how I feel about this; I love the BBC and am only too happy to pay my license fee. I like both Brand and Ross as TV presenters, from what little I've seen of them. But this incident was little more than two boorish egotists egging each other on in the most childish way possible, and I can't reconcile that with what I believe the BBC should stand for.

ANYWAY far more interesting than that, is Charlie Brooker's satirical zombie thing on E4, Dead Set, which last night featured Davina McCall eagerly eating someone's guts.

I am positively certain that this whole, five-part show arose purely from an off-the-cuff joke about the phrase 'dead set' and BB contestants and viewers being like zombies; why? Because there's precious little satire (producers are egotists! young thrusting media people are amoral! BB contestants are idiotic show-offs!) and absolutely no new ground broken in the zombie genre. SO FAR. Tonight might be a revelation, of course. But I doubt it. Aesthetically it looks exactly like Danny Boyle's terrific 28 Days Later, and so far the only salient point it appears to be making is that, well, sometimes people are just as bad / dangerous / etc as zombies. What it hasn't done is subverted anything, satirised anything, or shown of Brooker as anything but the mealy-mouthed wannabe he is. God knows what that makes me.

Brooker rose to 'fame' off the back of TVGoHome, an actually pretty funny spoof TV listings website in the late 90s that I read as a student. It was incredibly mean-spirited. He then coat-tailed Chris Morris, who had already jumped the shark, so to speak, when he ran a Jam sketch that featured bereaved parents dragging tiny coffins around a park on leads, as if they were reluctant pet dogs. I'd adored Morris up until that point, taken rape jokes and more as biting, incisive satire and dark humour. But infant mortality... no. The coffins-as-dogs sketch had been predicated by one about a dead baby and a plumber that got close to the point of no return; the bereaved, shocked mother begged, and finally bribed, the plumber to plumb the infant corpse into her central heating, so he'd be warm, and make a gurgling noise, as if he were still alive; it was bleak, and dark, but there was just a hint of humanity in there, which seemed to make it OK to my 20-year-old self. 9 years on, I'm not sure how I'd take it.

What am I saying? In Shaun Of The Dead, someone is berated for saying "the 'z' word", "because it's ridiculous". That, together with Simon Pegg's bleary-eyed obliviousness as he walks to the corner shop through a plethora of zombies he takes as fellow hangover suffers, subverted the zombie genre far more than Dead Set seems capable of. Instead, much like the remake of Dawn Of The Dead with Sarah Polley from a few years ago, it is a nothingness piece of circus games; entertaining, but no more - the DotD remake itself being a halfway house between 28 Days Later (look! zombies that run!), and it's direct namesake / progenitor (oh! shoppers as zombies!).

So until someone in Dead Set exclaims "fuck me; zombies!" and shows that they might just have seen a zombie film themselves by whacking the undead's heads off straight away without the "what are they?" learning curve first, Charlton (not Charles) Brooker will remain a poor man's Simon Pegg.

Which means the person coming out of Dead Set looking like a subversive genius on the verge of making a spectacular career about-face, is Davina. Go girl.


Tom said...

I think you're being a bit harsh on Dead Set there. Brooker has repeatedly stated in the press that his intention was not to 'subvert the zombie genre' a la SotD, nor was it meant to be overtly comic. It's supposed to be a brain-dead schlock-fest with an eye towards making a british 24-style show with all the cliff hangers and plot-twists that entails. That kept in mind, it's a great deal of fun, which seems to be something a 29 year old man should be able to recognise without fuss. Ho Hum.

Sick Mouthy said...

I'm thoroughly enjoying Dead Set as a piece of mindless zombie schlock - parallels with 24 are ludicrous, though; I'm not getting any sense of real drama or plot-twists or cliff-hangers in that style at all.

If Dead Set seems like anything, to me, it seems like an attempt to make a feature film on the sly; once shown together and trimmed of adverts, I suspect it will clock in at about 120 minutes, too, and it certainly feels paced like a film to me - nevermind all the exhortations to watch in widescreen, surroundsound, with the lights off.

I was expecting more, quite a bit more, than just some low-rent TV zombie schlock, though, for two reasons; firstly, Brooker's persona, and secondly, the fact that it's a zombie piece, and zombies have ALWAYS been used as either satire or social commentary (or both). The only thing that makes it any different from any other made for TV horror event is the presence of Davina.

Tom said...

While I'd love to disagree with you, I'm basing my view of the show primarily on the first episode and the preceeding press with Brooker as I've been elsewhere for Tuesday and Wednesday's shows.
From what I saw though, it came across - in tone at least - as a very definite response to US shows of 24's ilk, albeit far nastier.
If only in terms of production, it's a slick affair which yes, does resemble a feature film. I don't think there's anything wrong with that. 24 has always been an 18 hour long action film. If anything it shows a great deal of ambition and that's something I'm sure we can agree would not go amiss on our screens here in blighty.
Also, I wouldn't go as far as to say all great zombie films use our undead friends as social commentary or satire. I didn't take anything like that away from 28 days later though I readily admit I could have missed the subtext there.