FAMILY ENTERTAINMENT

As with the two Peters, Hitchens and Oborne, Paul Joseph Watson is not a media figure whose every pronouncement provokes a nod of the head, yet as with those aforementioned grumpy grandees of Fleet Street, he often nails the ludicrousness of the world we live in simply by daring to challenge it. An unapologetic ambassador of the so-called ‘Alt Right’, Watson is the face of the UK branch of ‘Info Wars’, the US conspiracy theorist site fronted by the ranting human foghorn Alex Jones. Watson doesn’t adopt the breathless bluster of his American sponsor; adopting that approach for a British audience would reduce him to the level of Jeremy Clarkson. Instead, he sometimes comes across as Owen Jones through the looking-glass, the flipside mirror image of the pocket Northern Socialist.

Watson has posted a series of regular videos on YouTube over the past couple of years, both highlighting and ridiculing the increasingly fatuous fanaticism of the extreme left’s PC storm-troopers, especially on the other side of the Atlantic; as a result, he’s made as many enemies as fans, and while one may not always concur with his conclusions, there’s no doubt he’s highlighted a lot of things that needed highlighting. Until now, that is.

Watson has temporarily drawn the blinds on his YouTube window due to the fact that he can no longer make a living from it thanks to a new Star Chamber of YouTube judges, installed by parent company Google to police the medium and crack down on any questioning of the consensus. Many may be unaware that ‘monetising’ one’s uploads to YT can bring in a little revenue depending on the number of views the videos receive; Watson’s videos received astronomical views and no doubt brought in a nice little profit on a monthly basis. However, the crackdown on anyone saying anything that could be perceived as ‘offensive’ means all of Watson’s videos have now been deemed ‘not advertiser-friendly’, thus meaning he can’t make a penny from them anymore.

I’ve written on more than one occasion in the past of the transformation of YouTube in recent years. What was initially an invaluable platform for, amongst others, lovers of archive footage unavailable on DVD and rarely screened on TV – often uploaded from decrepit off-air VHS recordings or sourced from actual television vaults by insiders – has slowly seen passionate promoters of the rare and obscure edged to one side by The Man and his corporate bullyboys. Copyright laws have been tightened to the point whereby every piece of film not actually shot on one’s own camera is subjected to a ‘third party infringement’ order, regardless of how minimal its use may be. I once had a video stamped with copyright claims simply because I used the BBC4 ident for a handful of seconds as the intro to it.

This OTT enforcement of copyright has made navigating such rules something of an art-form for veteran uploaders, but perhaps responding to criticisms of alleged lax attitudes to ‘hate’ videos, YouTube has now embarked upon a censorious crusade in which any video that doesn’t promote the Coca-Cola ideal of a harmonious multicultural/LGBT/Islam-with-a-smiley-face society is penalised; anyone who takes the piss out of or merely questions this bland make-believe Utopia is denied an income as a consequence. People regularly air their grievances with the BBC as pandering to a left-leaning notion of ‘Right-On’ politics – often justified, viz. the hardly unbiased four-person panel of prominent Muslims discussing the latest Pakistani grooming network on ‘Newsnight’ this week; but YouTube has suddenly usurped Auntie Beeb as an intolerant home for one view and one view only.

Infuriatingly vacuous American airheads who call themselves ‘vloggers’ – usually squeaky-voiced teenage Disney Princess types who exude the air of hyperactive six-year-olds albeit bereft of infantile charm – make millions from their vapid videos that appeal to a generation whose heads have already been ground to slurry by being force-fed media sedatives; and these are the future of YouTube, not anybody with anything to say. My own personal speciality area tends to be satire, but satire is now as welcome on YouTube as a copy of Charlie Hebdo would be in a Parisian mosque.

A couple of days ago, the new YouTube constabulary provided me with a long list of my videos their panel has decided I can no longer make any money from. To be honest, I don’t make much, anyway – around £120 a year; I have a loyal following who will view my output whatever I upload and I also pick up casual viewers en route, but I’m a cult presence and probably always will be. I accept that some of my output is coarse in the Derek & Clive tradition, but YT already had an age-restriction system in place where rude words were concerned, so anybody stumbling upon them knew what to expect beforehand.

None of the previous rules in place to protect a ‘family audience’ were apparently sufficient, however, for the strict new boundaries have narrowed the range of opinions on offer even further. Many of my own videos parody the politically-incorrect 1970s and therefore need to be viewed with that in mind, yet the humourless martinets Google has recruited to clean-up YouTube’s lingering vestiges of its original freewheeling spirit can’t even tolerate that. One particular video of mine was a spoof 70s BBC trailer previewing a night of programmes marking ‘National Smoking Day’; it’s so obviously a piss-take, yet it’s been labelled ‘not advertiser friendly’. Despite infringing no copyright, I can’t earn anything from it anymore.

I attach another innocuous video in this style to the post and ask you to watch it in order that you can decide whether or not it’s remotely ‘offensive’. The video in question being ‘banned’ as a source of income was something I challenged; when I did so, I was informed the team won’t review the status of a video subjected to this treatment unless it receives over a thousand views in 28 days; some of my videos can take months to reach that amount of views, so I haven’t got a cat in hell’s chance of reversing the judgement. It’s a rip-off and it’s an outrage. But it’s 2017. Sign up to the consensus or be cast out into the online free-speech wilderness.

 

© The Editor

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LAUGH? I NEARLY PAID MY LICENCE FEE

Anyone ancient enough may find the title of this post evokes misty memories of a half-remembered comedy series from a good 35 years ago; the truth is I nicked the title from the programme, though the title sticks in the head more than the content. From what I can remember, the satirical sketch show in question starred Robbie Coltrane before he became a ‘serious actor’, and followed a similar path to a predecessor called ‘A Kick up The 80s’, which had given an early break to Tracey Ullman. These BBC2 shows from the first half of the 80s essentially revamped the format of mid-60s TW3 sequels like ‘Not So Much a Programme, More a Way of Life’ and ‘BBC-3’, produced at a time when Alternative Comedy had gatecrashed the Light Entertainment fortress. TV welcomed it with open arms and an open mind.

If you perused yesterday’s post, you may have also viewed the video tagged onto it, which was my ‘satirical take’ on the upcoming General Election, using the well-oiled vehicle of the party political broadcast. Some of the comments that accompanied the video on YouTube repeated a complimentary phrase I’ve received on previous occasions, one I mention not to boost my ego, but because it has a relevance to this particular post – ‘You should be on the telly.’

The telly’s comedy schedule the day I posted this video on YT consisted of Keith Lemon and Paddy McGuinness on ITV, whereas BBC1 offered Michael McIntyre and Mrs Brown. Of course, comedy is subjective; what causes one person to soil their Y-fronts causes another to reach for the remote, but the view I personally have of these comedic offerings from the mainstream is that they are today’s equivalent of the Bernard Manning/Jim Davidson/Frank Carson working-men’s club school that Alternative Comedy reacted against at the turn of the 80s. If ‘comedy on the telly’ is what ITV and the BBC were serving up on Saturday evening, and that’s the company I’m supposed to crave, I’d rather not bother.

It’s hard enough trying to get a book published, so I’m certainly not prepared to promote what I consider to be a sideline by bombarding TV producers and then having to be funnelled through focus groups and committees; neither am I prepared to go to the Edinburgh Festival and spend a fortune playing to three or four people in a tiny theatre. The comedy circuit in terms of live performance remains a provider of new faces for television, but those who make up the numbers on endless panel shows are the Ed Sheeran’s of comedy; their ultimate aim is to play arenas, and it’s evident in their routines. For Irishmen and mothers-in-law as subject matters, substitute ‘My girlfriend/boyfriend said to me the other day…’ It’s what Vic Reeves and Bob Mortimer referred to as comedy for parties of office workers – comedy intended to make the audience echo George Osborne’s belief that we’re all in it together.

This is the kind of comedy TV commissioners want. Nobody in their position today would commission something as alien to the ‘communal comedy’ mindset as ‘Vic Reeves’ Big Night Out’, let alone Spike Milligan’s ‘Q’, ‘Monty Python’s Flying Circus’ or even later ventures into the surreal such as ‘The League of Gentlemen’. Every generation once had its comedy series, though just as the music scene seems to have abandoned its old practice of ripping it up and starting again, the expectation that each decade would produce one defining comedy series no longer applies. And the reason appears to be that television has lost its bottle. Even when it tries to do something moderately daring, such as the ‘Real Wives of ISIS’ sketch that appeared on the BBC’s ‘Revolting’ earlier this year, the conservatism of an audience raised on the lame comedy of the last ten years produces a hostile reaction that causes commissioners to stick to playing it safe. The fact that an established home for unconventional comedy such as BBC3 is now solely online speaks volumes.

Yet this situation has only really arisen in the past decade or so. As recent as 2002 and 2005, BBC2 produced ‘Look Around You’, the brilliant parody of firstly 70s schools programmes and then early 80s ‘Tomorrow’s World’ from Peter Serafinowicz and Robert Popper. I can’t remember the last time I saw either on mainstream TV; but they’re active online. Another occasional compliment I’ve received in the comments section on YT has been ‘Are you Peter Serafinowicz?’ – which is incredibly flattering, but perhaps reflects the fact he and I are operating in a similar area, the area being not merely making videos cut from the same cloth of humour, but the fact we’re online and not on TV.

Yes, there are undoubtedly many amateurish and pretty unfunny attempts at comedy on YT as there probably are on the telly, if not more; but at the same time, there are some very talented comic performers whose work is only available online; you rarely, if ever, see them on the goggle box.

Steve Riks is an impressionist who specialises in impersonating rock stars and putting them in unlikely situations; one of the most recent videos of his I watched was a short sketch in which Jeff Lynne rings up both Roy Wood and Noddy Holder, neither of whom want to speak to him. It was funny and simultaneously supremely silly, and Riks played all three parts. He’s also a dab hand at John, Paul, George and Ringo; but I don’t think I’ve ever seen him on TV and I don’t really expect to. How would he even pitch a premise like that to a TV commissioner looking for the next Michael McIntyre? The days when Galton & Simpson would be offered 13 weeks in a prime-time slot to write whatever they wanted are long gone.

Opinionated news reporter Jonathan Pie, who launches into a rant on politics when he imagines the camera has been switched-off, is another comedian whose work is only known to me via YouTube. The Russia Today/RT logo always appears on his videos, so his shorts may well be broadcast on the channel; but it’s not exactly the mainstream, is it? As with music, I no longer believe television is the definitive showcase for comedy today; by relying on the tired modern-day music hall-in-its-death throes vacuum of the comedy club, TV commissioners are looking in the wrong place.

© The Editor

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THE NEW POWER GENERATION

GumbyIt shouldn’t really come as much of a surprise that the fresh intake of young MPs that entered the House in the wake of last May’s General Election contains a large contingent of airhead dipsticks. They are the first full wave of newcomers elected to Parliament that belong to the social media generation, the first to have lived their entire adult lives online and to have obsessively indulged in the juvenilia that constitutes debate, the first to represent the extended adolescence that now grinds to a halt around forty. They are the first to have graduated from university when academia had ceased to be the route to intellectual expansion and had instead become an inclusive alternative to the minimum wage, providing frivolous courses and worthless degrees for classroom clowns. They are the first to have had their political eyes opened in an ideologically bankrupt age where savage cynicism renders nothing below the belt, an age without principles, conviction or conscience. Many have little or no memory of the pre-Blair and pre-Campbell Westminster landscape, where there was often substance beneath style, and the best were defined more by what they stood for than what they were against.

Of course, there has always been a sizeable chunk of MPs who are in it to feather their nests as well as a minority on both sides whose reasons for standing are motivated by a genuine desire to effect change for the better. But if the Commons exists to represent the people, it’s no wonder that some of the latest recruits are as dim as those they represent.

In an ideal world, the left and the right would be personified by heavyweights along the lines of Gore Vidal and Norman Mailer, whose clash on US TV’s Dick Cavett talk show in the early 70s stands as a timely reminder of how celebrated public figures have dumbed down beyond comprehension. Compare it not only to a contemporary edition of Graham Norton’s equivalent programme, but to the kind of gleefully lowbrow thought processes of those looking to gain access to the political arena today. An MPs hinterland once encompassed classical music (Ted Heath), historical literature (Churchill) or photography (Denis Healey); today, bar the inevitable exceptions, many unwind by tweeting running commentary on ‘The X Factor’, ‘Gogglebox’, f***ing ‘TOWIE’ or ‘Strictly Come Dancing’; some even stoop to appearing on the latter – stand up, Old Mother Cable.

It’s hard to resist the temptation to regard the upsurge in low art that has characterised the past couple of decades as something that has been socially engineered to enable those in power to get away with murder while the Yahoos are distracted by addictive trivia. That some from amongst those ranks have now progressed to the Lower House is a natural development that seems preordained. We already have a lightweight at No.10 who by his own admission is not an especially deep ideological person, issuing a stream of vacuous sound-bites his Spads assure him chime with public opinion whilst his Ministers sell the family silver to China and offshore tax-exiles as well as handing over the remaining beauty spots to industries whose drilling will complete the country’s transformation into a landfill of hope and glory.

With self-aggrandising bullies on one side and venomous gangsters on the other, the Commons is a microcosm of the rotten society it is supposed to speak on the behalf of – a society in which the police, the judiciary and the CPS are in thrall to bureaucratic box-ticking and PC pressure groups, refusing to acknowledge innocence even when a jury has awarded it; a society in which self-appointed moral watchdogs monitor speech and issue severe guidelines on what can and can’t be said; a society in which name-calling constitutes a crime and the recipients are encouraged to revert to helpless infancy rather than displaying the dignity of an adult above the insult; a society in which women are ordered to simultaneously be ball-breaking glass ceiling-smashers, Virgin Mary’s with babies at their breasts, chaste Victorian maidens and sexually promiscuous skanks whose bedroom recklessness can either be curtailed by an STD or crying rape; a society in which every man is a potential paedophile and every child is in eternal peril from the male of the species.

A society in which the plebs are supposed to be grateful that their living wage or zero-hours contract is helping the Government get to grips with the deficit whilst they are taught to view those unable or unwilling to settle for any old shit as scrounging scum deserving of the punitive punishments devised to dehumanise them; a society in which previously beyond-the-pale far-right, ill-informed opinions of immigrants are sold as perfectly acceptable and reasonable viewpoints – as long as the immigrants in question are penniless and can’t buy ministerial favour with a sack full of rubles or yuans; a society in which the few who enjoy a perfectly legal form of intoxicating relaxation are pursued and pilloried by hypocritical, fascistic lobbyists and a series of discriminatory curbs on their civil liberties; a society in which public libraries are seen as expensive luxuries when the needs of the lower orders can be met by fried chicken or pound shops; a society in which idiocy is a virtue and intelligence is mistrusted and frowned upon; a society that those born before around 1990 no longer recognise.

Whenever BBC Parliament transmits live proceedings from the Commons and new arrivals get their moment in the spotlight, I despair. At one time, I used to look at politicians and even if I disagreed with what they had to say, I could tell they’d lived a full life before donning the ministerial mantle and had come to their particular opinion via a combination of experience and education. They had earned their position. I no longer feel that. I see people I’d cross the road to avoid, people I’d want to throttle within minutes were I stuck next to them in a supermarket queue, people who are inherently stupid and devoid of both common sense and personality. Welcome to the future.

© The Editor

VIDEO KILLED THE VIDEO STAR

Corrie MajorcaYouTube has changed a great deal over the five years or so in which I’ve had an account with it. These days, every time I post a new video, I anticipate ‘Third Party Matching Content’ being slapped upon it within seconds of it appearing. At one time, using a soundtrack from a video you ‘sampled’ could land you in hot water, so I’d mute the original audio and overdub my own; then even the visuals began to be subject to copyright infringement. It begs the question what is YT for? Is it still supposed to be a platform for the powerless and unknown to make themselves heard or is it merely another corporate tool that serves the rich and famous?

Over the past five years, I’ve produced several series on YouTube. First up was a parody of a 1970s ITV regional company magazine show, ‘Cumberland at Six’; this was followed by (among others) the spoof documentary ‘Exposure’, the weekly ’25 Hour News’ bulletins, various ‘Top of the Pops’ spoofs, and what has undoubtedly been my most popular saga (in terms of views and audience response), ‘Buggernation Street’, an ongoing soap opera in which any resemblance to another ongoing soap opera is purely intentional.

‘Buggernation Street’ is not for the faint-hearted; the humour is bawdy and near-the-knuckle, but is a graduate of the same Great British academy of licentious satire as James Gillray, George Cruickshank and the Earl of Rochester – even Derek and Clive. Every resident of this grubby terraced street is engaged in some illicit sexual practice, and a good deal of the humour arises from descriptions of these activities being discussed in broad Lancashire accents by the most unlikeliest practitioners of them imaginable. The footage is drawn from early 70s ‘Coronation Street’ episodes, invoking instant nostalgia if you’re old enough to have been watching back then; for those who remember long-gone characters such as Jerry Booth or Alan Howard, it’s a twisted trip down Memory Lane; for those who don’t, it doesn’t really matter. The parody takes on a life of its own and can be enjoyed by anyone not easily offended. Albert Tatlock, for example, was always a grumpy old git; but in my take on the character, he becomes a foul-mouthed bullshitter who calls a spade a f***ing spade. The utter ridiculousness of the likes of him or Ena Sharples or Minnie Caldwell talking about intimate personal (and invariably sexual) subjects is partly what makes it funny.

Putting together each episode was no straightforward re-dubbing exercise. Simply placing rude words into the mouths of the characters wasn’t enough; there had to be a storyline to follow as well. And because I had certain favourite characters, I would try to ensure they appeared each time, something that necessitated upwards of six or seven different old ‘Corrie’ episodes being recut into one ‘Buggernation’. Working without a script, I’d improvise dialogue once I’d worked out how each sampled clip could be segued into the next. There would usually be a central plot with a couple of subplots underneath it; and there was continuity too. Dipping into one episode randomly, the viewer could be confronted by references to events that had occurred several episodes previously, so it paid to follow the saga from the beginning. As an avid viewer pointed out, the emphasis on ‘Dad’s Army’-style catchphrases and the anticipation of them appearing also played its part.

‘Buggernation Street’ survived intact online for a good three years, spanning 28 episodes, until recently. ‘ITV plc’ has begun cracking down on the show, forcing me to remove the all-important pilot episode that introduces the cast because it was ‘blocked worldwide’. There was supposed to have been an EU ruling that allowed the use of copyrighted footage for purposes of satire, but I’ve yet to see this ruling prevent the censorious (not to say humourless) intervention of ‘The Man’. I monetise my videos, making a miniscule amount of money from each one if it acquires a sizeable amount of views; but if there is any copyright infringement, this stops. Fair enough; I can accept that as long as the video can still be seen. When even this isn’t enough to satisfy the claimant, the said video then receives the ‘blocked worldwide’ tag and I’ve no option but to take it down.

For me, the YouTube video is an outlet for a certain type of ‘artistic expression’ (for want of a less poncy word) that is supposed to represent the democracy of the internet. At the moment, this democracy feels more like it’s based on the Chinese model, with a glut of ‘official’ videos from the likes of Vevo and others clogging up the system and pushing the amateur to the periphery. A recent video of mine was blocked due to the BBC claiming copyright infringement simply because I used about ten seconds of the BBC4 logo at the beginning of something that ran for over 20 minutes; for the first time, I disputed the copyright claim and the video has been restored until the dispute is resolved. I’d put a lot of work into the video and it had been an instant success, not even gaining one single notorious ‘thumbs down’ on the way past 1000 views. It seemed a petty objection to me and I wasn’t prepared to concede defeat.

The way things are going, YT could end up as bland and predictable as MTV within five years, completely negating its initial intent. It wasn’t supposed to be one more promotional juggernaut for record companies or movie studios, but that’s what it’s on the road to becoming. Enjoy while you can…

© The Editor