[Guest post] Marky Mark talks the most marvellous shit

Mhairi McFarlane has bangs like a mofo and you can glean more of her awesomeness on Twitter.

It’s confident indeed to say the Talking The Most Marvellous Shit 2012 trophy has been taken already, but by jove, it’s January – and I think Mark Wahlberg might have done it. I didn’t mean to become Sarah’s sometime-correspondent on thespian hubris, but they say write what you know and I know I can’t get over how thrillingly mental this is: he’s claimed that he would’ve landed hijacked planes safely on 9/11. Continue reading

[Guest post] The ultimate celebrity interview!

Mhairi McFarlane is a kirby-grip strewing angel of vengeance and you should follow her on Twitter if you’ve got any smarts at all.

I am so sick of reading this interview. You read it all the time, constantly, year in, year out, in every glossy magazine and Sunday supplement. It’s founded on the twin principles that A) people who act are the most fascinating beings on the planet, and B) that we, the readers are totally credulous, awed plebians. The dumbstruck interviewer acts only as a conduit to divinity, drinking in their shuddering magnificence and recording their sub-adolescent witterings as if it’s brainy gold. We’re now at the stage where an actor or actress would have to take a shit on the reporter’s notebook to get a less-than-howlingly-sycophantic write-up. (Or maybe not. HE’S WHERE IT’S SCAT!) I’m convinced by now there’s a template. It goes like this.

Continue reading

[Guest post] A physical education for Liz Jones

Joel Snape is features editor of Men’s Fitness, and he think Liz Jones is wrong about sport

Firstly, let me say that I think Fatima Whitbread is awesome. Secondly: Liz Jones has written one of those Mail columns where she vacillates between self-pity, uninformed opinions, countrywide psychoanalysis and contradictory statements so fast that you finish reading it confused and vaguely angry. Normally the best thing to do in response to this sort of thing is snort and post something cynical on Twitter, but there were enough echoes of things that I’ve heard normal people say about exercise in it that I thought it was worth responding to properly. Continue reading

[Guest post] One man against the movies

Chris – of Vs Cinema fame – set himself the target of watching one film for every day of this year and writing about it. This is what it’s done to him…

I’m trying to watch and review one film for every day of the year. I go through a weary routine, once a day, of deciding what to watch. It’s usually late, and I scrape through the ever-growing stack of DVDs to find the one nearest 90 minutes in length (less if I’m lucky) that I haven’t watched. As a result there’s a group of historical epics that are taunting me from the corner, but that’s a lot of Sunday afternoon material to wade through.
I’m not complaining: this has been a revelation for me. At the start of the year I faced another 365-day stretch of my twenties wandering through a life brimming with potential I had no intention of ever tapping. A sudden decision on 1 January to watch a string of films I’d had knocking around became a nascent idea. The idea, with some help from a few friends, became a set of rules, and then a website (with an AWESOME banner from artist Ed Clews). All of which follows gently in the tradition of Dave Gorman and Danny Wallace, but with less booze.
I’m forcing myself to write constantly as a result. I’ve always fancied earning some money through writing – it seems like a wheeze, right? The Vs Cinema idea has given me something I haven’t had before: structure. It’s given me a focus on writing and I couldn’t be more pleased about that. It’s also forced me to admit one thing I may have taken for granted at the outset – I’m not actually that good at writing. I’m working on, it but I’m certainly not happy with what I produce yet. There are moments, but they aren’t common enough to be called form.
There been some other huge benefits from this. Initially I asked around for some help on gathering some of the classics but it wasn’t long until the requests started. People in my office brought me DVDs unsolicited and asked for a review; some arrived by post wanting my input and my opinion on the blog. It’s a fantastic feeling, such a boost to an ailing ego, to have even the tiniest interest from anyone else – even if you do end up giving their film a kicking.
Then there’s the downside. Watching the endless stream of disappointing, turgid dross that some people actually like. At times I feel like cinema’s own self-appointed Simon Cowell watching one entry after another, with deeply average results. Except I don’t get millions of pounds for it: I don’t get a penny. So far, my one attempt at pitching an article to a publication resulted in one of the most disappointing brush-off emails I’ve ever read. But I’ll have another crack at it.
This year hasn’t turned out to be the quiet 365 I expected. Firstly, I’m due an addition to the family in a month or so. I hope he likes historical epics. Second, I start training to be an English teacher around the same time. Some pretty big changes that suggest I’m not going to hit the target. Nowhere near at a guess. But I’m not too bothered – I’m enjoying it too much.
I’m pretty certain that I’ll be Vs Cinema for a while now, perhaps not as prolific, perhaps with a touch more quality control and probably with a quick change to that banner too. But still battling on through the stacks.

© Chris Warrington, 2009

Guest review: Here Comes Everybody

Here Comes Everybody by Clay Shirky (Penguin, £9.99)

Here Comes Everybody

With Chris Anderson’s Free! coming under fire for being a) heavily cribbed from wikipedia and b) mostly wrong, it feels like a dangerous time to be writing a speculative book about how technology’s going to change everything we understand about economics and society. Fortunately, Clay Shirky hasn’t done that – he happily admits that he isn’t sure what’s going to happen next. Here Comes Everybody is a book about how technology has already changed society in irrevocable ways, and why you need to recognise that – whether you’re a TV critic unwilling to admit that his job’s worthless, a dictator who needs to start worrying about Twitter or, say, a 30-year old journalist who really should be thinking about getting a new job.

In itself, this choice of subject matter that you probably regularly use – you’ve probably had a go on Twitter, Flickr and Meetup, even if you aren’t cool enough to know about Dodgeball yet – makes for an interesting read. Books like Outliers or Freakanomics are at their best when they take what you ‘know’ about something – why the Beatles were so good or whether Giuliani’s Zero Tolerance policy actually worked, for instance – and tip it on its head. This usually takes hard statistics or at least some extra facts, and HCE is a bit different from that. A lot of it is information that it feels like you more or less already know, but haven’t properly articulated in your head yet. In fact, there’s a sense that with enough patience, you could sit down for ages with a load of tea and biscuits and work it all out starting from scratch. Now that it’s actually happened, for instance, it seems obvious why a user-contributed encyclopaedia with very few editing restrictions works when a properly peer-reviewed one doesn’t, or that newspapers as we know them are dead. The trick, of course, is that nobody predicted this sort of thing at the time, and a lot of people – most employees of the newspaper industry, say – are still in denial about it. By the end, you’ll be convinced that they should all be updating their CVs, and amazed that they didn’t all do it five years ago.

Crowd(Photo by Dieter Drescher, used under Creative Commons license.)

Thankfully there’s no temptation to shoot the messenger, simply because of how likeable Shirky is. He cheerfully explains why traditional media’s doomed like a friendly, patient teacher, with a handful of diagrams and plenty of anecdotes to keep things memorable. He draws interesting parallels between flashmobs and Blitzkreig, and helpfully outlines how what you probably think about both is wrong. He tosses in a reference to In Praise Of Scribes – a fifteenth-century tribute to the art of rewriting manuscripts by hand which was printed on a press – just in case anybody hit by the huge shift in the media landscape is feeling especially sorry for themselves. He even explains why you shouldn’t look down on self-indulgent bloggers or people who don’t use proper grammar on their Tweets – although you’ll probably ignore that, because you need to have some fun. And he does it all charmingly.

Anderson’s book, oddly considering that he’s the editor of Wired, is hamstrung by the limitations of old media – with a rapidly changing social landscape, the six months or so it takes to get a book on the shelves is just about long enough for your economic model to be proven horribly wrong. Shirky’s, by contrast, plays to the strength of his medium – in a world where information is superabundant and easy to come by, what you really need is someone to sort through what’s already there, decide which bits are important and present them to you in an interesting, digestible format. In doing that, Shirky’s also done something that not many people can manage these days – he’s made a thing out of paper that can make you feel smarter and happier on the ten-minute tube journey to work. Hopefully he isn’t working on a sequel about how books are dead. Not yet, anyway.

Joel Snape is a journalist. He enjoys getting punched in the face and choking people out.

© Joel Snape 2009.