Sunday, September 24, 2006

Reality Updated

Certain times of one's life are usually accompanied by exclamations of "oh, you're f**king kidding!" spewed forth in a resigned, yet furious tone. This is one of those times, fun-seekers...

Rock for Dullards™
Tommy Lee's Rockstar Supermegahypernova has a winner - the skunk-haired ego-prince Lukas Rossi.
Monkeyboy Lukas Rossi - Oh dear god...

Now, before you all say "Mark, it's only a TV show, and no-one with real talent would be a contestant" - YOU'RE WRONG (and possibly haven't had sex for a while). There were a couple of entrants in the pile, as detailed previously (do try to keep up) that were talented singer-songwriters, blessed with stage presence and great voices.

Unfortunately, Lukas Rossi does not appear to be one of the cream. Not to say he's terrible. One only had to listen to Zayra Alvarez (mental) or Storm Large (what a name! Right up there with Dick Thrust) to know that he's head and shoulders above them. He just didn't have a superabundance of what another fave TV show is named after: "The X Factor". He has intriguing 'style', especially in the hair department, and spends wayyy too much time on makeup and prettification to really rock in any sort of meaningful way. Always fiddling with his clothes and appearance, there's seemingly very little about him that is anything other than superficial.

Again, before anyone decides to point out the obvious (ie. popular music is, for the most part, one of the most superficial activities on the planet), I just feel that "pissing about with one's hair for hours per day" was lower on the list of duties for Jimi Hendrix than, say, becoming one with his godlike affinity with blues, jazz, rock and the white Fender Strat. I could be wrong, but I'll happily fight ya for it...

Hey ho, here we go down the Corporate Rock rut again. ;-) With a bit of luck Magni Ásgeirsson (deeply talented and soulful), Toby Rand (the most "rock and roll" of the lot) and even ol' Ryan Star (edgy and possibly a little out of the musical zone he should be working in) will have the wit and perseverance to have careers in the music industry that have some kind of value to them above and beyond that of impressing all your mates down at the Whisky or Rainbow on the Strip or The Joint in Vegas. They certainly seemed to have the talent and tenacity.

The X Factor
This one still keeps dragging me away from the computers (or the shed, or the ridiculous amount of D-I-Y I'm supposed to have done already). With the initial few series, it was necessary to show the judges' characters as grotesques - a conciliatory role between two hardened businessmen within the industry, one of whom is portrayed as a complete bitch.

Now though, the great un-hosed (the British public) is familiar enough with who these people are for the producers to be able to show them in the more human role which they actually occupy in reality. Therefore, the comments and criticisms that are selected for broadcast are much more enlightening and reasoned, as they are generally about those entrants who actually do posess some innate, if raw, talent. Of course, they still throw in the odd talentless munter whose family and friends have told them they're the greatest singer on earth, in the vain hope that what the world needs is a voice like a squeezed corpse housed in a frame that bears a horrifying resemblance to someone having a nightmare entitled "When The Oil-Rigs Came Alive And Started Yelling At Me".

Well, you've gotta have some laughs, right? And it beats playing "Death F**k 2: Zombie Apocalypse" until your thumbs bleed, doesn't it?

Actually, I'll get back to you on that last one...

Thursday, September 21, 2006

Kicking my preconceptions in the nuts

"America, fuck yeah!" as the US foreign policy advertising slogan goes...

Well, funnily enough, advertising in the US is something that's floored me recently. Yet again, there's a surprise cunningly secreted up the sleeves of our colonial upstart cousins (if you're not getting the humour in these comments about the US, go read another blog, eh?).

GEICO Insurance (which doesn't, as far as I'm aware, have a market in the UK) has had a mascot in the form of a gecko for the last six years, which has been voiced by various different people in their animated TV advertising.

Recently, production house Rhythm & Hues Studios have brought him into the 3D world with a CGI creation voiced by Brit actor Jake Wood. This is a voicing that has a real "working class, dodgy car dealer, slightly shifty, but ever-so-Brit" feel to it. Very much not a blue-collar US citizen voice.

And bizarrely it's going down a storm in a country not known for its tolerance or comprehension of British regional accents (asking a Londoner if they're from Australia, for example...).

In fact, it's going down so well that it has won awards and plaudits from across the board. Advertising Week has thrown gongs at it, it's been voted one of the most recognisable icons in advertising in the US and its popularity hasn't seemed to dwindle with the years or the changing actors drafted in to give the little fella life. Here's a taste:

You can also check out the full range of GEICO's TV ads here.

Sometimes, just sometimes, people in advertising and marketing redeem themselves spectacularly. Hehehe...

Kudos to Good Dog for alerting me to this.

Wednesday, September 20, 2006

All in the mind

The writer, actor, raconteur and all-round good egg Stephen Fry last night hosted the first segment of a two-part documentary on bipolar disorder (which used to be known as "manic depression" in the good old days). It was an honest account of his life coping with the condition, and featured case studies and contributions from people of all walks of life from around the planet.

As someone with bipolar disorder myself (I don't suffer from it, it's simply part of how I'm made), I found it to be very enlightening, refreshing and elegantly presented. As a man who has presented his "funny side" to the world for most of his career, Stephen showed just what the disorder can do to one's self-esteem, social agonising and inability to function in what one estimates to be a normal fashion. If nothing else, it showed the facts in a normal, measured way that hopefully will foster understanding not just in carers closely associated with bipolar people, but in the wider public.

Bipolar disorder is generally characterised by mood swings that take the form of horrid, depressing lows that lead to inertia, suicidal thoughts, negative self-image and reclusiveness, coupled with hysterical highs during which one feels able to take on any task, destroy opposition to one's plans, lead nations into a bright new tomorrow and so forth. This then spirals out of control, dumping one back into the lows in a cycle that can, at times, feel inescapable for those trapped in them.

A major problem in breaking the cycle is that the initial stages of the highs can literally be one's most productive times - you have an unshakeable faith in your beliefs, jobs that "mere mortals" would take ages to do are annihilated in record time and yet still done very well. This is a seductive and dangerous state to be in. Everything feels more intense, you feel more alive, the world seems to just click into place around you, people find you more attractive and you feel a burning desire to just get out there and do stuff, because you know it'll be brilliant.

Along with this, however, comes a nagging worry that the people who find you attractive only do so because of the state you're in (and it won't last...), that other people involved in your work need to just speed up somehow to keep up with your freewheeling mind, that maybe you're somehow better than anyone else or destined for greatness if only everyone else could just see it. These feelings then precipitate the plummet into the depths, where the rage, bitterness and anger about missed chances or "being dealt an unfair hand" lie.

The efficacy of treatment is, naturally, different for every person with bipolar disorder. What would certainly have helped me in the early stages of finding out what was wrong with me over twenty years ago, is getting over the fear of letting anyone know that I'm "mental". By that, I mean that there is an inbuilt fear of vulnerability, that somehow letting people know that you're not normal will make them run a mile and all those worries about whether anyone really likes you will be confirmed.

Many of the interviewees with bipolar disorder (including Carrie Fisher, Robbie Williams and Tony Slattery) stated that, although it has caused them almost unbearable suffering at times, if they were presented with a button that could take it away, they wouldn't press it.This strikes many people as odd, but imagine that you could live your life in regular pastel shades but every once in a while, it would flip into glorious Technicolour with surround sound and everything, and I do mean everything, would just fit into place. That's what the highs feel like before they get out of control. It also means that the cost for those periods is to serve another section of your life out in grainy, scratchy black and white with muffled mono sound. Most of the contributors felt that the high periods were where they were at their most creative and inspired.

This is not to say that being bipolar is somehow a blessing - it's not. It's not a badge to wave for sympathy, and it's certainly not something to flaunt as if other people should be envious.

Stephen's Hollywood agent, when asked about Stephen's revelatory role in the show, was quoted as saying "Contrary to popular opinion you don’t have to be gay or Jewish to get on in Hollywood, but by God you’ve got to be bipolar. I can give you any number of people for your documentary." Illuminating, huh? Perhaps not - maybe I should start thinking about moving across? ;-)

Stephen Fry and the team behind the show have, even in the first half of the piece, done a huge service if only for the simple fact of showing that there are heaps of people living with and managing the condition, they're not attempting to go on gun rampages or eat babies at dawn, and that being diagnosed bipolar is not a curse, but the opening of a door onto the future.

Well done, Stephen. I look forward to next Tuesday's concluding segment.

Tuesday, September 12, 2006

Speaking freely

This is one of the stronger pieces of evidence that democracy is (believe it or not) still alive and well in the United States of America.

I first encountered this on Crooks and Liars, a site I thoroughly recommend for those non-US citizens such as myself that may have previously, misguidedly, thought that the majority of the population of the US actually agrees with anything that their deranged administration does or says...

Of particular interest, in the light of the anniversary of the September 11th terrorist attack, is the following erudite and eloquent speech:

Saturday, September 09, 2006

Tally ho!

I quite like science-fiction conventions. There, I've said it.

Not all of them, admittedly, but those that work well, like the one up in Coventry recently are usually quite a blast. The organisers have a healthy disrespect for themselves and the whole idea of conventions without it spilling over into ridicule. They all know that they're not working on a cure for cancer, or that a shuttle launch won't go ahead without them. The atmosphere is therefore one of unforced, gentle fun. Jolly convivial and allows for a few extended spots of catching-up/business chat with various actor friends over coffee and nibblies without them having to rush off to a photo shoot or signing within seconds of sitting down.

The other extremely pleasant thing (other organisers take note, please) is that those running the show are open to the fact that people like us are not attendees or particularly virulent fans of any of the shows, but are working in the industry. We also have to grab time with some of our work colleagues in strange places (such as sci-fi conventions). This placing of us on the "other side of the table" is profoundly helpful, as it stops a whole load of awkwardness and the perception of us as gawping fans, hoping for an autograph or a few snatched minutes of superficial conversation with a guest.

Meeting up with Tai Chi Supergirl was superbly timed, as she'd just finished an activity and had a lunchtime gap of a couple of hours before needing to be sitting in the signing queue. Long chats regarding the development of a website for her newly-invigorated business drive went well. There was loads of personal catch-up time for Good Dog and her, furiously swapping notes about novels and current writers that have caught their eye. She'd recently been through some very taxing business dealings, and has come out the other side a much stronger and focused person. Good to be around people like that! ;-)

Our Lead Participant was also there, in a festive and jolly mood. Not having met Tai Chi Supergirl, they'd been introduced the night before and got on like a house on fire. We presented the final DVD containing the main show and interview segments for her perusal. Also saw one of the interviewees there and passed him a courtesy copy. Always helps to get people on-side, plus he's a fine chap and it's good to keep him appraised of what we're doing with his material. Wise to let people know that you're not misrepresenting them, I feel...

Also met up with Bond Darling, who is always a joy to be around, and Booking Babe (who was looking after her) who enjoyed my boots perhaps a little too much. Or not enough, depending on one's viewpoint, ho ho...

All in all, a positive, life-affirming day. Even with the mind-bendingly dire traffic/roadworks abortion that was the trip home. Inconvenient temporary speed limits coupled with the now obvious fact that most drivers in the UK got their licences out of a cereal packet and have no bloody idea how to drive. Or have any courtesy whatsoever.


Back to HQ to tie up loose ends on the Lead Participant's DVD project to finally put that to bed, sort out our cauldron of nebulous ideas into some kind of plans that we can put into production or a form that can be pitched to people, review the original ideas for Tai Chi Supergirl's website and fix up the PC that I botched last week...

Currently listening to: The Boomtown Rats - In The Long Grass. In most places, it doesn't even come up to patchy. Guess they just weren't the songwriters they thought they were. After Rat Trap (A Tonic for the Troops) and I Don't Like Mondays (The Fine Art of Surfacing), they seem to have fallen to bits.

Thursday, September 07, 2006

Not waving/not drowning/not sure...


It's a lovely thing to have, driving you onward in work and leisure, helping you achieve tasks in record time and inspiring others.

Trouble is, sometimes it just ups and leaves without even closing the door, giving you the uneasy feeling that it might not be back any time soon. If at all.

One of my most treasured friends calls times like these "Treacle Days", the analogy being that it's like trying to swim through treacle and no progress seems to be made for all the effort that might be going in.

Having had a great start to the week, some recent events have derailed the whole thing. All the momentum built up on Monday and Tuesday seems to have gone, and work seems an insurmountable obstacle. Intellectually, I know this to not be the case, plus I'm armed with a few handy-dandy little tricks to sneak back into the work habit while part of me looks the other way, so I know that it will pan out fine in the end.

One of the things I love doing is helping other people out. Especially if they hit situations like this.

Unfortunately, I have no idea how to ask for help any more.

Saturday, September 02, 2006

Oh dear...

Are we all just going to sit here blogging or rabbiting on MyEmptySpace while the world zooms past outside..?

I have to say though, as I randomly access other blogs via the handily named "Next Blog" button, I feel terribly English (ie. I can't read anyone else's languages!). This does somewhat limit my ability to interact and learn from other cultures. Perhaps that's what I need to do next in all that leisure time I don't have - charge my way through learning some non-English languages (starting with Dutch, otherwise my girlfriend will kill me...).

Hmmm, another project in the making! ;-)